Decompression is a treatment option for patients that are experiencing painful symptoms from a disc injury. This may be simple neck or low back pain, but more commonly causes pain or numbness/tingling into the arms or legs. The standard of practice is to investigate the region with an MRI to confirm the level of disc involvement and the severity. Decompression is a great option for a patient that does not want to have surgery, injections or is tired of taking medications.
To understand how decompression works, first let’s cover some basics about the anatomy that is targeted with decompression. The disc is a shock absorbing structure in between the bones in the spine. It is easiest to imagine the disc as a car tire that is laying on its side. It is made of an outer layer of cartilage rings and the center is a gel substance. There are two main types of injury that happen to the disc. The first is a disc bulge. This is when a weak spot develops in the outer cartilage rings and the “tire” bulges outward further than it should. The second is called a herniation. This is when the “tire” has a tear in it, sometimes allowing the gel material to leak out of the disc.
These disc bulge or herniation injuries can be painful by themselves, but they can also cause nerve irritation. This will cause pain or numbness/tingling into the arms or legs. In severe circumstances, there can be weakness in the extremity. A patient with this level of involvement typically has the leg give out on them, or drops things frequently, or feels as if their limb is much heavier than it should be.
The biomechanics behind decompression are built on changing the pressure inside the disc. Again imagining the car tire analogy, if you add more pressure it will make the bulge/herniation worse. However, if you cause a decrease or negative pressure in the disc, the bulge/herniation will retract inwards. This is exactly what decompression does. Decompression cycles through gentle phases of pulling pressure and relaxation, in order to cause disc retraction and stimulate scar tissue formation around the weak/torn area.
The ideal position for decompression is laying face up. The two areas most commonly treated are the neck and the low back. The treatment for the neck involves supporting the head as the machine gently pulls toward the head of the table. Treatment for the low back is done by supporting the lower chest and gently pulling on a strap that secures around the waist. Decompression therapy is safer than using an inversion table because of the neutral position and it avoids unnecessary stress on the ankles and knees.
At our office, we have specific guidelines to follow outside the office in order to optimize the healing potential of decompression treatment. This will ensure the greatest amount of nutrient absorption into the disc and allow the best outcomes to be achieved.
Call our office for a free consultation to see if you have any questions and to see if you could be eligible for neck or low back decompression.