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An Introduction to Spinal Decompression Therapy

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 8/31/2010

Have you been thinking about spinal decompression therapy? If so, read on to learn more about this controversial back pain treatment.

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    Spinal decompression therapy is a procedure that is non-surgical and non-invasive. It is used to treat certain kinds of back pain. There is controversy surrounding this back pain treatment method and many question whether it truly works or not. So, is this procedure effective, how much does it cost, is there evidence to back up its claims?

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    Associated Costs

    On average, this procedure costs between $100.00 and $200.00 per session. Most patients will require approximately twenty sessions to experience treatment goals. So, the overall cost for a patient requiring all twenty sessions will range from $1,000.00 to $2,000.00. These price ranges are just approximations, and some clinics are more expensive, going as high as $500.00 per session.

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    Effectiveness for Degenerative Disc Disease

    Spinal decompression therapy for degenerative disc disease is a topic that many medical professionals are on the fence about. This procedure has been shown to result in disc space decompression. However, several different studies have shown that when a control group and a group of patients who have had traction were compared, no significant differences were demonstrated. However, a different study of 219 patients with degenerative disc disease, completed by Gionis, showed different results. The Gionis study showed that 86 percent of the patients in this study who completed decompression therapy reported that they experienced immediate resolution of their symptoms. Eighty-four percent of the 86 percent reported that they stayed free of pain 90 days after treatment. Ninety-two percent of these patients showed improvement through physical findings, and this improvement remained 90 days after treatment for 89 percent of patients. So, different studies have shown completely different results.

    More long-term studies are necessary to evaluate fully this procedure and its effectiveness for degenerative disc disease, as well as herniated discs, spinal stenosis, sciatica, and other sources of spine-related back pain.

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    Other Conditions it is Said to Treat

    Though this procedure is most commonly associated with degenerative disc disease, it is purported to be beneficial in treating other spinal disorders as well. Such conditions include herniated spinal discs, facet joint syndrome, nerve compression and sciatica, and other similar conditions in which the spinal nerves are being compressed.

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    Procedure Explanation

    Patients will begin by lying on the decompression table. They will be strapped onto the table so that they do not slide during the session. Throughout the session, the spine is gently pulled so that a small vacuum is created between the spinal vertebra, and to elongate the spine. This pulls the spinal disc back into shape. Several sessions are needed because each session only makes a minute difference.

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    Precautions

    This procedure is non-surgical and non-invasive, but it is not for everyone and there are a few risks involved. Those who have hardware implanted into their back, have osteoporosis, fractures, congenital pars defects, spondylolisthesis of grade two or higher, or tumors should avoid this procedure.

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    Resources

    Daniel, D.M. (2007). Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression Therapy: Does the Scientific Literature Support Efficacy Claims Made in the Advertising Media? Retrieved on August 26, 2010 from PubMed: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1887522/

    Disabled World. (2007). Spinal Decompression Back Pain Relief from Disc Herniation. Retrieved on August 26, 2010 from Disabled World: http://www.disabled-world.com/artman/publish/back-pain.shtml

    American Spinal Decompression Association. (2009). Spinal Decompression Therapy. Retrieved on August 26, 2010 from the American Spinal Decompression Association: http://www.americanspinal.com/