Mechanical Traction Therapy involves stretching the spine, using a traction table or similar motorized device, with the goal of relieving back pain and/or leg pain. This procedure is called nonsurgical decompression therapy (as opposed to surgical spinal decompression, such as laminectomy and microdiscectomy).
Spinal decompression devices use the same basic principle of spinal traction that has been offered by chiropractors, osteopaths, and other appropriately trained health professionals for many years.
Both traction and decompression therapy are applied with the goals of relieving pain and promoting an optimal healing environment for bulging, degenerating, or herniated discs.
Spinal decompression is a type of traction therapy applied to the spine in an attempt to bring about several theoretical benefits including:
- Create a negative intradiscal pressure to promote retraction or repositioning of the herniated or bulging disc material.
- Create a lower pressure in the disc that will cause an influx of healing nutrients and other substances into the disc.
In nonsurgical spinal decompression therapy, the spine is stretched and relaxed intermittently in a controlled manner. The theory is that this process creates a negative intradiscal pressure (pressure within the disc itself), which is thought to have two potential benefits:
- Pulls the herniated or bulging disc material back into the disc
- Promotes the passage of healing nutrients, into the disc and fosters a better healing environment.
During spinal decompression therapy for the low back (lumbar spine), patients remain clothed and lie on a motorized table, the lower half of which can move.
- A harness is placed around the hips and is attached to the lower table near the feet.
- The upper part of the table remains in a fixed position while the lower part, to which the patient is harnessed, slides back and forth to provide the traction and relaxation.
One difference between various decompression therapies is the patient’s position on the table:
- Some devices place the patient in the prone position on the table, lying face down (e.g. VAX-D)
- Some devices have the patient lying supine, face up (e.g. DRX9000)
The patient should not feel pain during or after the decompression therapy although they should feel stretch in the spine.
Stretching the spine to relieve back pain is not appropriate for some patients. The following groups of people are not good candidates for non-surgical spinal decompression:
- Pregnant women
- Patients with broken vertebrae
- Patients who have had spinal fusion
- Patients who have an artificial disc, or other implants, in their spine
- Patients with failed back surgery
- Anyone who has had multiple surgeries without recovery (pain improvement)
- Patients with any of the following conditions are also not good candidates:
- Osteoporosis, or osteopenia
- Spinal stenosis
- Spinal infection
- Spinal tumor
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Any condition that may compromise the integrity of the spine
- Any condition requiring the patient to take blood thinner medication