As spine treatment centres pop up in my city, I’ve noticed that many of these facilities (usually run by chiropractors), offer Spinal Decompression Therapy to relieve pressure on herniated or degenerative discs.
The basic premise of SDT involves laying on some sort of traction table, hooked up to a computer with electronic pulses stimulating certain muscle groups. By taking pressure off the disks, which function like gel cushions between the bones in your spine, the bulging or herniated disks can retract, taking pressure off nerves. With less pressure, the spine can move more freely increasing the movement of water, oxygen, and nutrient-rich fluids which promotes healing.
The procedure is relatively simple and is usually done over multiple sessions (20-30) with some message therapy provided.
The therapy can be done without removing clothing and usually lasts between 30-45 minutes depending on the patient’s condition. The doctor attaches a harness around the pelvis and another around the trunk. Laying face down or face up on a computer-controlled table, the doctor operates the computer, customizing treatment to your specific needs.
Though research shows that risks are fairly minimal, anecdotal evidence shows that it is possible further increase disc herniation through the SDT. A study published in the 2001 issue of Physical Therapy Journal (PTJ) studied different forms of treatment for acute (symptoms for less than 4 weeks), sub-acute (4-12 weeks) and chronic (more than 12 weeks) low back pain. The published evidence available for the use of traction for low back pain received a grade of “C” (no benefit demonstrated). Another study from 2007 concluded that “there is very limited evidence in the scientific literature to support the effectiveness of non-surgical spinal decompression therapy. This intervention has never been compared to exercise, spinal manipulation, standard medical care or other less expensive conservative treatment options which have an ample body of research demonstrating efficacy. Considering the cost-benefit relationship, many better researched and less expensive treatment options are available to the clinician.” Anecdotal evidence shows mixed results.
Here’s a video of the procedure through an IDD therapy clinic in the UK.