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Spinal decompression is a procedure which is designed to take pressure off the spine, encouraging the spine to heal from conditions which are related to pressure. There are two major types of spinal decompression: surgical, and non-surgical, sometimes also called mechanical. Procedures to relive pressure vary greatly in effectiveness, depending on the individual patient, the condition, and the skill of the health care provider, and spinal decompression is not for everyone.
In the case of surgical spinal decompression, a surgeon goes into the spine directly to remove pressure from things like herniated discs. The relief of pressure is designed to help the herniated material slip back into place, and to reduce strain on the back while it heals. For people with extreme pain caused by spinal pressure, spinal decompression surgery can be beneficial, reducing or eliminating pain, depending on the condition.
Non-surgical spinal decompression involves gently stretching and repositioning the spine to promote the relief of pressure. In the case of herniation, non-surgical decompression is supposed to create a vacuum which sucks herniated material back into place, and in other conditions, non-surgical spinal decompression releases strain on the spine, which can in turn release pinched nerves and treat conditions like facet joint syndrome, degenerative disc disease, and other conditions which cause back pain, numbness, and tingling.
As a general rule, spinal decompression is only really effective for lumbar back pain and neck pain. For the center of the spinal cord, other treatments will be needed. Lumbar pain in particular can be extremely debilitating, and it is also quite common, as many professions put strain and stress on the lower back. For people who suffer from chronic pain, the appeal of a procedure which might reduce the pain is certainly understandable.
Before undergoing spinal decompression of either type, you should talk to your physician. Back pain can be extremely challenging to treat, and it is important to opt for the best treatment. In the best case scenario, spinal decompression will alleviate back pain, but it could also be ineffective, or it could exacerbate existing pain. Make sure that the provider of the procedure is fully licensed and experienced, and be sure to ask for an honest assessment of the potential outcome. You may also want to consider asking for patient recommendations, to give you a chance to talk with people who have experienced the procedure.