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What is a Spinal Decompression?

Spinal decompression refers to a surgery that relieves the pressure on the spinal cord or one or more compressed nerve roots passing through the spinal cord 1. This neurosurgical procedure mostly used to treat patients with myelopathy, radiculopathy, or claudication. The spinal decompression process involves stretching the spine by using a traction table or motorized device to relieve back pain or leg pain. Spinal decompression therapy, also known as non-surgical spinal decompression, uses traction or decompression tables to relieve pain. This helps to move the bulging or herniated disc tissue into the original place and promote heals.

This decompression therapy mostly used as a safe, affordable, and extremely effective alternative to spinal surgery. This non-surgical decompression therapy differs from surgical spinal decompression technique. The most common spinal decompression surgeries include microdiscectomy and laminectomy, which have a greater risk of failure. Non-surgical therapy uses a spinal decompression table or other devices to stretch the spine. This stretching changed the position and force of the spine to take the pressure off the spinal discs. This change creates a space and negative pressure within the disc, which allows the fluid inside the disc. This results in retraction of the herniated or bulging disks. Ultimately, this therapy promotes the movement of oxygen, water, and nutrients inside the disc for a quick and effective healing process 2.

The primary tool in non-surgical spinal decompression therapy comprises a spinal decompression table. Most practitioners use two types of decompression tables: one with a cable system that pulls the patient body, and another comprises an upper and lower body portion to move the body independently. Neurosurgeons recommend the second type of table for the best possible patient outcomes by preventing muscle guarding 1.

Who is an ideal candidate for a Spinal Decompression Therapy?

Spinal decompression therapy helps patients who suffer from debilitating pain because of degenerating, bulging, herniated discs, or posterior facet syndrome. The ultimate goal of spinal decompression includes relieving the patient’s chronic pain from the back, neck, shoulder, or leg. This therapy also effective in pain management and treatment of the conditions like sciatica, injured nerve roots, and worn spinal joints. Some contraindications for this decompression therapy include spinal fusion, pregnancy, metastasized cancer, osteoporosis, spinal tumor, broken vertebrae, and patients with artificial discs 3.

An ideal candidate for decompression therapy should possess some conditions like spinal instability and back pain related to bulging or herniated discs. A patient already undergone several conservative treatments may try this option. The doctor of chiropractic will explain the options to the patient before performing this therapy. Moreover, healthcare professionalswill help patients in deciding the best approach for the decompression procedure 4.

How do Neurosurgeons Perform a Spinal Decompression?

Non-surgical spinal decompression therapy requires a professional doctor of chiropractic and other healthcare practitioner trained as a decompression technician to perform successfully. Before this therapy, the doctor will put a harness around the pelvis and trunk of the patient. Later on, the patient will lie on a specialized table by putting their face down or up. The doctor will use computerized technology to create a negative intra-discal pressure in the spine and operate accordingly. This non-surgical therapy lasts 30 to 45 minutes, and patients require almost 20 to 25 treats within five to seven weeks 2. Doctors suggest to use other types of treatment before or after this therapy. These include 5:

  • Electrical stimulation: The physiotherapist may suggest transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) stretching exercises and soft tissue massage to improve the condition. This uses electric current for the contraction of certain muscles.
  • Ultrasound technique: This uses sound waves to generate heat and promote healing.
  • Heat or cold therapy

About 70% to 80% of the patient’s symptoms diminish after non-operative treatment 4. In case of persistent pain of patients, surgery may be necessary to relieve the pressure. Consult with your doctor to select the best option for you.


  1. Lo, W. L. A. et al. Impact of nonsurgical spinal decompression on paraspinal muscle morphology and mechanical properties in young adults with low back pain. J. Int. Med. Res. 48, (2020).
  2. Daniel, D. M. Non-surgical spinal decompression therapy: Does the scientific literature support efficacy claims made in the advertising media? Chiropr. Osteopat. 15, 3–7 (2007).
  3. Choi, J., Lee, S. & Hwangbo, G. Influences of spinal decompression therapy and general traction therapy on the pain, disability, and straight leg raising of patients with intervertebral disc herniation. J. Phys. Ther. Sci. 27, 481–483 (2015).
  4. Koçak, F. A. et al. Comparison of the short-term effects of the conventional motorized traction with non-surgical spinal decompression performed with a DRX9000TM device on pain, functionality, depression, and quality of life in patients with low back pain associated with lumbar disc herniation: A single-blind randomized-controlled trial. Turkish J. Phys. Med. Rehabil. 64, 17–27 (2018).
  5. Haro, H., Maekawa, S. & Hamada, Y. Prospective analysis of clinical evaluation and self-assessment by patients after decompression surgery for degenerative lumbar canal stenosis. Spine J. 8, 380–384 (2008).




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