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What is Spine Decompression?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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More commonly referred to as spinal decompression, spine decompression therapy is a process designed to relieve pressure at various points along the spinal column. The treatments usually focus on any area of the spine from the neck to the lumbar region. This non-invasive procedure is considered a viable alternative to having surgery to correct a number of issues, such as spinal stenosis or a herniated disc.

The focus of spine decompression is to alleviate pain and restore a free range of movement. In actual practice, the process uses a series of carefully monitored distraction forces to help restore the spine to proper alignment, thus relieving pressure on the discs. In between each of the distraction periods, the patient is allowed to rest momentarily. While the process usually takes several weeks to complete, patients sometimes note at least partial respite from the pain after two or three sessions.

The exact position of the patient during spine decompression depends a great deal on the nature of the back pain. For example, treating issues with the lower back call for the patient to lay flat on a decompression table. The patient may lay on the stomach or the back. However, in order to address issues involving the neck or upper area of the spine, the patient is normally placed on the back. In any situation, a series of supporting pads and straps are used to help keep the patient in a proper position during the course of the treatments.

Unlike some types of therapy, patients undergoing spine decompression may remain fully clothed during the administration of the treatments. Most treatments require the use of a pelvic harness and possibly a thoracic harness. Along with straps along the stomach and lower chest, these help to keep the patient in position. Initially, the attending physician will create a customized series of treatments, based on the particular back issues present. This treatment series is captured and logged for use in future sessions.

Along with exerting pressure to decompress discs, the spine decompression series may also include the use of ultrasound, the use of heat or cold to relax or stimulate the muscles in the spinal area, and possibly some type of electric stimulation. The order in which these tools are implemented into the treatment depend a great deal on the kind of pressure present in the spine as well where the patient feels pain.

While it is true that no therapeutic treatment achieves success with all patients, spine decompression does appear to enjoy a significant amount of success in easing back pain and improving mobility. Sciatica, a bulging disc, and other common spinal issues often respond very well to the treatment. Anecdotal evidence provided by patients indicate that in some cases, the procedure has been helpful for patients who were initially told they would not improve without undergoing surgery of some type.

Unfortunately, this non-surgical procedure is not available to everyone. Patients with any type of inserts into the spine, such as plates, screws or implants to replace discs, are not eligible for spine decompression. The treatments are not recommended during pregnancy and should not be administered to anyone diagnosed with tumors, fractures, or an abdominal aneurysm. A qualified physician can determine if a patient is likely to respond well to spine decompression and also determine if he or she meets the physical requirements for the procedure.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum


Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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