13 Nov Is Spinal Decompression Therapy a Breakthrough in Chronic Back Management?
Chronic back pain accounts for a significant proportion of the chronic pain burden (which between one third and two-thirds of the population suffer with). Yet current therapies are inadequate at treating these patients. Medications like NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen etc) and opioids (codeine, morphine etc) provide little relief to patients who have suffered for years. Expensive surgeries can help some patients but come with a whole host of risks. Surgery can actually make the pain worse, or permanently paralyze patients if they go wrong. The field is in desperate need of new therapies. New techniques such as spinal decompression therapy could be the answer.
What is spinal decompression therapy and how does it work?
A significant proportion of all case of chronic low back pain is caused by bulging intervertebral discs. This means the spongy tissue in between the backbones that make up the spine bulge out and compress nerves that are running into and out of the spine. When these nerves are compressed, it causes them to send signals into the spinal cord which travel up into the brain and are experienced by pain. Normally this pain is caused by an injury, and these nerves only send these signals when there is an injury to the body. But in this case, there is no injury and instead, the nerves fire continuously, signaling to the brain the sensation of pain when there is none.
Spinal decompression therapy uses negative and positive pressures (like a vacuum) to stimulate healing of the bulging discs. Patients are placed on a table and a vacuum (suction) is applied to the back, drawing blood flow to the region which helps to heal (usually the intervertebral discs are relatively bloodless and so heal poorly – this is one of the reasons the pain lasts so long in some patients). Patients often need between 8-12 sessions for full pain relief but this is often at a fraction of the cost of surgery bills which can run into the tens of thousands. It also reduces the need to be on daily medication as sessions are performed a few times a week for a number of weeks instead of daily tablets for years.
Does spinal decompression therapy work?
As the therapy is new, there is a limited scientific study into its effects. This can often put doctors off from prescribing it but does not mean it doesn’t work. A number of recent studies have shown that it significantly decreases pain in patients and should be considered in those with chronic low back pain.
In conclusion, spinal decompression therapy is an exciting new treatment that could provide relief to a huge number of patients currently suffering from chronic low back pain. Current therapies fall short of the mark and this exciting new avenue could be the breakthrough pain clinics have been waiting for.