What Is Spinal Decompression Therapy?
Steven Shoshany DC
Proven Non - Surgical Treatment for Back Pain
Spinal Decompression Therapy (also known simply as Spinal Decompression or SD), is a non-surgical therapy proven to treat back pain and sciatica caused by bulging, herniated, and degenerative discs or facet syndrome. Even post-surgical patients and those suffering from stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal) have reported significant pain relief from SD treatments. Over a series of relaxing treatment sessions, patients experience powerful pain reduction and healing. Some patients even notice an improvement in their symptoms after the first few treatments!
Spinal Decompression, not to be confused with traction, gently lengthens and decompresses the spines, creating negative pressures within the discs. This reversal of pressure creates an intradiscal vacuum that not only takes pressures off of pinched nerves, but helps to reposition bulging discs and pull extruded disc material back into place.
Simultaneously, spinal experts believe nutrients, oxygen and fluids are drawn into the disc to create a revitalized environment conducive to healing. By bringing disc pressures to negative levels, many experts surmise that SD stimulates the body’s repair mechanism, providing the building blocks needed to mend injured and degenerated discs.
“I served on the police force for 18 years. I injured a disc in my back while on duty. I got treatment from the work comp doctor and a physical therapist. I tried to go back to work, but the crippling back and leg pain wouldn’t stop. Eventually, the city forced me to take a medical retirement. I was 39 years old! I continued to live on pain medication and struggle just to sleep at night. Simple everyday became painful tasks. Finally, I heard about Spinal Decompression Therapy, and shortly thereafter found out that I was a candidate. I got my life back! No more pain and no more sleepless nights.”- Joe M.
“Chronic low back pain was a regular part of my everyday experience for almost three years, but I tried not to let it take over my life. I continued to work as an RN and stayed in shape at the health club. Then my back pain took a turn for the worst. I had trouble getting out of bed, getting dressed, and I couldn’t bend over to brush my teeth. I got an MRI and went to a board certified anesthesiologist. He gave me an epidural and a nerve block. Neither was effective. My pain began to rapidly worsen and I ended up at the emergency room. They gave me more shots and pain medication.
Finally, I heard about Spinal Decompression Therapy and decided to give it a try. I was skeptical, but to my surprise I started feeling relief after my first treatment. Now after two weeks of treatment my pain is almost completely gone.”—Bobbie
Invention Born of Necessity - How one doctor’s injury led to his invention of Spinal Decompression Therapy.
Allan Dyer, MD, PHD, is the inventor and founder of the founder of the revolutionary technology behind Spinal Decompression. As former Deputy Minister of Health in Ontario, Canada, Dr. Dyer’s many contributions to health sciences include, among others his extensive research that led to the development of the heart defibrillator.
Dr. Dyer’s own experience with back pain began when he was debilitated by a herniated disc. After conventional treatments failed, his creative intelligence went into high gear. He developed a method of exerting pull o n the spine that is far more sophisticated than traditional traction. He discovered that by slowly increasing pull-tension on the spine, followed by a hold then partial release, and repeating these steps over a 30-45 minute time period, a vacuum could be created within injured discs. This vacuum was found to assist in repositioning extruded disc material back into place, and has been credited with creating an environment within injured discs conducive to healing.
Dr. Dyer set about designing a device to implement this method. After more than six years in research and development with a team of physicians, engineers, and technicians at major teaching hospitals, Dr. Dyer introduced the VAX-D unit in 1991. VAX-D, short for Vertebral Axial Decompression, is the predicate device after which all Spinal Decompression Therapy units are modeled.
Happily, Dr. Dyer used his invention to cure his own injured disc. Soon he was able to walk pain-free and has been doing so for more than 15 years. Today thousands of Spinal Decompression units operate throughout the world, treating thousands of patients a day.
What Is Causing My Back Pain?
While only a trained medical professional can accurately diagnose your condition and prescribe appropriate treatment, a basic understanding of common causes of back pain and how Spinal Decompression works to alleviate them can help you make a more informed decision concerning your treatment options.
Understanding How The Spin Works
Your spine is composed of 24 bones called vertebrae. In between each vetebra is a fibrous disc (annulus fibrosus) filled with a jelly-like substance (nucleus pulposus), which provides flexibility and cushioning to the spine. The vertebrae protect the spinal cord, which runs through a tube at the back of the spine called the spinal canal. In the lower portion of the back, spinal nerves exit the spinal canal between the vertebrae and unite as they move down through the pelvis. Some of these spinal nerves join to become the sciatic nerves, which travel down through the buttocks, along the back and sides of the thighs and calves, and into the feet.
With such a dense network of nerves traveling throughout the back, it is easy to see how a slight upset in the delicate architecture of the spine may cause great discomfort. Accidents and injury may damage discs and vertebrae, putting pressure on nerves. This results in tingling, numbness, muscle weakness, or even sharp shooting pain. Shown in the illustration below are some of the more common diagnoses for the back pain that will
be covered at the length in the coming pages.
Consider These Facts on Back Pain• On any given day, 6.5 million people are in bed because of back pain.
• Approximately 5.4 million Americans are disabled annually due to back pain.
• Back pain is the # 2 reason for hospitalization.
• Up to 85% of the U.S. population will have back pain at some time in their life.
• After cold and flu, back pain is the number one cause of work absence.
• Spine surgery is the second leading surgical procedure in America, with the total number in the U.S approaching 500,000 per year.
• An estimated 93 million workdays are lost each year due to back pain.
Lift with Your Legs, Not with your Back!
Many bulging and herniated discs can be attributed to lifting objects incorrectly. When picking up an object from the floor, bend at the knees, keeping the spine as erect as possible. Rise using the strength of your legs, as their study, more simplistic architecture is designed for such exertions. Putting great amounts of pull or pressure on the spine, when bent forward or backward, can compromise its delicate alignment.
Of course, there is no right way it lift an object that is simply too heavy. Listen to your body, and if you feel any discomfort while doing heavy lifting, back off and save your back!
“For three very long years I had severe lower back pain. Doctors tried epidural, to no avail, and said I would have to learn to live with it. I’d been using a walker to get around and could not stand more than five to ten minutes without excruciating pain. My activities were very limited; I was unable to sleep in a bed for three years. After reading an article on Spinal Decompression Therapy, I decided to try it out.
After 12 visits, I am now sleeping in a bed, and my walker is put away. I’m able to go shopping for over an hour without any increased pain. I’m cooking meals and cleaning without having to sit down every five minutes because of the pain. My family cannot believe the changes. I thought I would have to live with this for the rest of my life. I am so thankful that I tried this and would encourage you to do the same.”—Mariella S
Bulging and Herniated Discs
Spinal Decompression Specialist Dr. Steven Shoshany in NYC
Bulging and Herniated Discs
Discs are located between each vertebra and provide flexibility and shock absorption for the spine. The thick, fibrous outer disc wall, known as the annulus fibrosus, surrounds a jelly-like center, called the nucleus pulposus. Discs undergo tremendous amounts of stress, which can sometimes lead to a bulging disc, a weakening of the disc wall that causes the disc to bulge out and press painfully on surrounding nerves. A herniated disc occurs when the pressure within a disc becomes too great, tearing through the disc wall (annulus fibrosus), allowing a portion of the nucleus pulposus to protrude. The escaped nucleus pulposus may then impinge painfully on the nerve roots, leading also to numbness, tingling, and/or muscle weakness associated with the condition of sciatic pain. The illustration below gives a bird’s eye view of what exactly is going on when a disc bulges or herniates.
The Jelly Donut Analogy
Comparing the disc in your back to jelly donuts gives you a good idea of what happens when a disc hernaites. Picture in your mind a jelly donut, plump with the strawberry filling. Have you ever set a box of donuts on your office chair, only to absent-mindedly plop down on them a few moments later? What happens? The jelly oozes out under the
pressure. When a disc ruptures or hernaites, the same thing happens, except, unlike the jelly donut, a herniated disc can be repaired! That’s where Spinal Decompression comes in.
Sciatic, Spinal Stenosis
What is Sciatica?
Sciatica is the sensation of pain, tingling, or numbness in the buttocks, and/or legs produced by an irritation of the sciatic nerve. Multiple nerve roots extend from the spinal cord between the vertebrae and join to form the sciatic nerve, which branches as it descends into the buttocks, down each leg to the ankles and feet. The primary causes of sciatica and herniated, bulging, or degenerated discs, which induce pressure on the spinal nerve roots.
Other causes include small, bony growths on the spine (bone spurs) or compression of the nerves through injury. In rare cases, the sciatic nerve may be irritated by conditions such as piriformis syndrome, tumors, or pregnancy.
Where Does it Hurt?
In the illustration below, the letters L1-L5 refer to the lumbar (lower) portion of the spine and s1 refers to the first segment of the sacral vertebrae. Over 90% of herniated discs occur in the lowest two levels of the lumbar spine, between L4-L5 and L5 – S1. The colors reflect the regions of the lower body potentially affected by compression of each given lumbar and sacral nerve root. Do you experience pain, tingling, or numbness in any of these regions?
What Is Spinal Stenosis?
Stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal due to the encroachment of disc material or bony growths that squeeze and irritate the spinal cord and/or extending nerve roots. This can lead to pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in the legs ,feet or buttocks. The benefits that may stenosis patients derive from the
Spinal Decompression may be due to it’s positive repositioning and rejuvenating effect on the herniated and degenerative discs that often accompany stenosis. Spinal stenosis, which may be found in conjuction with any of the above conditions, is commonly a contributing cause for sciatic symptoms.
Degenerated Disc Disease
What Is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Degenerated disc disease is not technically a disease, but rather a state of disc
Dehydration and deterioration due to a combination of cumulative trauma, poor dietary and exercise habits, and aging. As discs degenerate they become more prone to failure from physical stress, which may tear disc fibers and result in more complications, such as osteoarthritis, disc bulging, disc hernaition and stenosis.
Many spine experts surmise that the vacuum of negative pressure created in the discs by Spinal Decompression can actually help attract moisture from surrounding tissues, rehydrating and revitalizing thinning and torn degenerating
If You Don’t Use It, You’ll Lose It
Traumatic spinal injuries may cause patients to avoid their normal daily activities. Without proper treatment, pain will progressively worsen, resulting in decreased physical activity and gradual weakening of the supportive spinal muscles, leading to accelerated disc degeneration.
Going, Going …and Finally Gone.
Phase One: Dysfunctional – Phase one of degenerated disc disease, is categorized by tears around the outer surface of the annulus. Further damage to the disc and surrounding tissue is exacerbated by the less effective disc.
Phase Two: Unstable- In Phase two, the joint progressively loses strength. Disc changes include further tearing along the horizontal axis of the disc, greater loss of the disc height, and cartilage degeneration.
Phase Three: Stabilization-Further loss of disc height, disc space narrowing, moderate to severe endplate damage, disc fibrosis and the formation of osteophytes can eventually cause surrounding vertebrae to fuse together.
What is Facet Syndrome?
Facet syndrome, an inflammation of the facet joints, is one of the lesser-known causes of back pain. Facets are the bony wing-like protrusions extending form the back of the vertebrae that align with the facets on the vertebrae and discs. At the point where the facets of two vertebrae meet are small ligaments that join corresponding facets together.
Bearing the Brunt of Unhealthy Discs
As a result of lost disc height for one reason or another, the spine may shift its weight, adding pressure to facet joints. Bearing the brunt of all that weight can lead to tearing or degeneration of the ligaments, as well as inflammation of surrounding tissues. Adhesions over the joint surface usually form over time, leading to loss of mobility and breakdown of facet cartilage. Symptoms are usually characterized as a deep ache in the lower back that may extend to the buttocks, hip, and even below the knee. Facet syndrome is often associated with degenerative disc disease and soft tissue damage in the lumbar spine.
Contributing factors to Spinal Injury and Disease
Age: As we grow older, discs may dry and crack, losing flexibility and the ability to cushion the vertebrae. Good diet, plenty of exercise, and water intake can help slow the process.
Exercise: Exercise keeps the muscles surrounding the spine strong, decreasing injury susceptibility. Exercise also helps to maintain healthy blood flow to discs and surrounding tissues.
Diet: A healthy diet with appropriate supplementation will help ensure that your bones and tissues are receiving proper nutrients.
Activities: Maintain an awareness of what your body can handle. Falls or reckless exertions on the body, such as lifting heavy objects, can lead to severe spinal injuries. Be smart!
How Spinal Decompression Works
High intradiscal pressures cause discs to bulge out and press painfully on nerve roots. They also make for a compressed, anaerobic environment unsuitable for healing. Spinal Decompression produces negative pressures within the disc, creating a vacuum effect which many doctors believe helps the disc draw in nutrients and fluids to promote the repair of injured discs and surrounding tissues. This vacuum has also been shown to aid in the retraction of escaped cushioning gel from herniated discs.
When Negative Is a Positive
Much like gauging the air pressure in a car tire, scientists have been able to use pressure sensors to measure the various pressures put on spinal discs while lifting, standing, sitting lying down, undergoing traction, and during SD therapy. Like other pressures found in the body such as blood pressure, intradiscal pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). While traction, physical therapy, and manipulation may reduce disc pressures to as low 40 mmHg, only SD has been shown to achieve negative pressures within the spine. It has been clinically proven that SD creates negative pressures as low as -160 mmHg with in the injured disc during the treatment session!
Traction Is not Decompression
With traction, weights are added one by one to the end of the traction bed, which, in turn, adds tension to a harness secured around the patient’s pelvis lengthening the spine. The intention is to relieve pressure but the linear force of this traction can produce spasming which may lead to greater injury. Studies confirm that the benefits of traction come from simply immobilizing the spine. In fact, the Quebec Task Force ruled in 1996 that traction was not an effective treatment for chronic herniated discs; the results are not long-lasting and cannot produce negative pressures in the disc. Like traction, SD also lengthens and exerts tension upon the spine. However, the approach is far different, producing vastly superior results.
Fooling the Back Into Relaxing
Normally, pulls exerted on the spine trigger sensory receptors in the back to tighten the muscles surrounding the vertebrae and discs in an effort to protect them from injury- a mechanism in the body known as the proprioceptor response. SD bypasses this response by gently pulling on the spine and relaxing the back over an extended period of time, allowing the spine to be repositioned without tension and without setting off the “lock down” proprioceptor response.
The Key to Decompression
Formula for Relief
Each automated session of Spinal Decompression (SD) cycles the patient through a series of gentle pulls, holds, and releases. Super-smooth transitions between each phase of Spinal Decompression can make for an experience so relaxing during which patients often fall asleep. As a session of Spinal Decompression commences, tension slowly mounts, lengthening the spine. Up to one- half of the patient’s body weight, plus as much as 25 pounds of tension, can be exerted directly on the injured discs--- all without triggering the “guarding” proprioceptor response. This is where spinal pressures drop and decompression actually occurs.
The differing amounts of tensions administered throughout the session, when graphed on a chart, produce a logarithmic curve similar to the one shown above. After a holding period, tension is slowly decreased and the spine is retracted slowly. This cycle is repeated several times throughout a treatment session.
Is Spinal Decompression Right for Me?
You Are a Candidate for SD If
You have chronic or severe back pain caused by bilging or herniated discs, degenerated disc disease, sciatica, and/or facet syndrome.
You have been diagnosed with a clinically unstable low back.
You have failed back surgery syndrome.
You have been told to consider surgery.
You Are Not a Candidate for SD If
You are pregnant.
You have sustained a recent vertebral fracture.
You have any retained surgical hardware (titanium rods or fusion cages).
You suffer from severe osteoporosis.
You have any rare conditions such as certain spinal infections and pelvic abdominal cancer.
When Can I Expect Results?
Many patients report a reduction in pain after their first few SD treatments sessions and happily feel they have had all the treatments. They need. This is a wonderful sign that SD is working, but the scientific reality is that the healing process is not finished! Quitting the treatment regimen early usually results in a relapse of symptoms, as well as wasted time and money. On the other hand, it may take several sessions before patients experience a noticeable remission of symptoms. Why is this? Bulging and herniated discs may need several sessions to fully reposition themselves depending on your physiology. You can be sure that your spine is responding to SD’s vacuum effect, but results are not always immediate. Using time-tested protocols, SD
Can be tremendously effective at the eliminating back pain!
SD Works, Given the Chance
Many patients report more than a 50% reduction in pain after their first treatment! For those suffering form the herniated and degenerated discs, the escaped nucleus pulpous may be partially or completely retracted back into the disc after just the first session (though usually it takes longer),relieving a great deal of pain. However pain reduction does not indicate full recovery and a full recovery is essential to preventing reinjury. This may mean completing as many as 20 to 25 treatment sessions. Some patients require even more sessions. This may seem like a lot of treatments, but SD is working with your back as it heals, and that is a process that cannot be rushed. Why is this?
Much like a scab heals, tears in the disc wall need time to heal. The absence of pain does not mean the tears have had time to seal up, which is crucial to preventing the newly retracted nucleus pulpous from escaping and putting pressure back on the nerves. Completing your course of Spinal Decompression, as determined by your doctor and according to the severity of your condition, takes time. Each session prescribed is needed to maintain a fully hydrated and oxygen-rich environment for the damaged disc. The same principles apply for those with the degenerated disc disease.
After as little as nine treatments, the disc wall may have almost completely healed. However, a small fissure remains. Continuing wit the SD protocol will allow for an enriched disc environment speed the body’s natural healing mechanism. The last remaining SD sessions will enable the disc to heal completely.
What Can I Expect?
At your first visit, your doctor will recommend an x-ray or MRI to pinpoint the specific areas of damage and discomfort. Using this information, your doctor will determine your course of therapy and whether you are a candidate for Spinal Decompression (SD).
The Pressure Is Off!
At the beginning of each session, you will be comfortably fitted with a pelvic harness designed to achieve optimal decompression of the lumbar spine. As a session of SD commences, you will notice a slow, gentle lengthening in your spine as your discs are gradually decompressed and relieved of pressure. This process is safe and relaxing. While some patients with extensively injured discs have reported mild discomfort during the first few treatments sessions, their discomfort subsides upon subsequent visits. A patient safety switch, or quick release clasps on the upper-body harness, provide an extra safety feature, allowing you to stop at any point should you feel discomfort. Each treatment session lasts approximately 30-45 minutes.
Typical Treatment Plan
A typical SD treatment regimen consists of about 20 daily sessions over four to six weeks. Some conditions require fewer visits; some require more. Many patients report their pain and other symptoms during the first few treatment sessions, and most experience dramatic pain relief after completion of their prescribed SD program.
As a session of Spinal Decompression progresses, the discs are relieved of pressure, or decompressed, creating a vacuum, many experts believe this decompressed state aids in pulling nutrients, oxygen and moisture back into the discs.
Before Surgery, Consider This!
While back surgery may be the only solution to some existing back problems, many medical professionals and surgeons themselves feel strongly that every non –invasive option should be explored before turning to surgery. Although advances in surgery have been made many procedures less invasive and more effective, surgery does come with the inherent risks. With high costs and lengthy recovery time, it only makes sense to consider all of your options before making a decision about surgery.
Failed Back Surgery Syndrome
Failed Back Syndrome is a real term used when a patient continues to suffer
from pain and loss of mobility long after surgery. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, there are approximately 200,000 laminectomies performed every year with an estimated 20-30 % of these operations reported to be unsuccessful. A laminectomy removes bone and thickened tissue that is narrowing the spinal canal and squeezing the spinal cord and nerve roots.
Great News for Post-Surgical Patients
If you still suffer form pain after surgery, we have great news for you! Post-surgical patients have experienced fantastic therapeutic results form Spinal Decompression. While those with surgical hardware, such as brackets, plates, and screws, are not candidates for SD, many post-operative patients are. If you have had surgery with unsatisfactory results or have suffered a relapse, consult your doctor about the possible benefits of Spinal Decompression Therapy.
Dramatic Results Without Surgery
Case Study: Severe Herniated Disc
Almost two years ago, Terence M. ruptured a disc while lifting a box out of the trunk of his car. As a result, he lost the use his right leg and suffered relentless excruciating pain. Desperate for relief, he went to Bala Spine & Wellness Center of Bala Cynwyd, PA to see Harvey Kleinberg, DO , a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Specialist for over 35 years. Dr. Kleinberg used Spinal Decompression Therapy to alleviate Terence’s pain and restore his lost function.
“When patients have injuries, you want to make them feel better as quickly as possible and that is what Spinal Decompression Therapy is capable of doing for many patients,” Dr. Kleinberg said.
Dr. Kleinberg prescribed a treatment plan of three 30 minute sessions a week, which eventually tapered off as the pain began to subside. Patients usually undergo about 20 to 25 treatments, and easy maintenance can keep people from ever having a repeat injury again.
“My pain was excruciatingly horrible,” Terrance said. “I thought I’d never be able to be up and about again. My pain was gone in two weeks. I was feeling so good I couldn’t wait to go back to work.”
“I Was a Pain Doctor In Pain!”
Dr. Kleinberg knows first-hand how unbearable back pain can be- he suffered from herniated discs three years ago. “I had undergone three laminectomies, but continued to suffer form severe sciatica of my problem, it took 29 treatments for a total elimination of pain. It’s been three years now and I’m still pain-free!” Because Spinal Decompression Therapy alleviated his back pain, he is determined to inform people about this non-surgical treatment for herniated or degenerative discs.
“No one should have to suffer form pain for the rest of their lives if there is a treatment outside of surgery that can offer them relief with no risk involved,” Dr. Kleinberg said.