Spinal Decompression Therapy: Is It Right For You

Spinal decompression is a term used broadly to describe any exercise, therapy, or surgical procedure designed either to simply help alleviate back pain or to treat potentially paralyzing spinal compression. Patients experiencing back pain will often first try exercises that mostly involve stretching out the back. If the pain persists, they may try certain non-surgical therapies such as chiropractic therapy or mechanical traction on a decompression table. However, spinal compression, if treated improperly or without the proper sense of urgency, can result in permanent nerve damage and paralysis. This is why surgeries to remove tumors, bone fragments, or fluids (called “edema”) responsible for compressing the spine are always urgent. A tumor, whether cancerous or benign, can cause permanent damage to the spine and body.

If back pain persists, it’s literally vital to consult a doctor. The spinal cord is as close to an extension of the brain as any part of the body, and in the same way the brain must be protected (by the thickest, strongest of bones, the skull), so too must the spinal cord. If non-surgical decompression methods fail to do more than relieve pain temporarily, then identifying the precise source of the pain as soon as possible is imperative. Spinal compression, if continued to go untreated surgically (and treated only by non-surgical procedures that alleviate pain but do not eliminate the tumor or compressing material), can cause injury and paralysis that may never heal.Since the term “Spinal Decompression”, as stated earlier, does not apply solely to surgically operating on patients with spinal cord compression, people may often make the mistake of self-diagnosing their back problems and attempting non-surgical methods of “spinal decompression” that may prove more harmful than helpful.People with limb-threatening spinal compression may think they can get away with chiropractics or stretches such as inversion therapy, where one hangs upside down 15 times for a minute at a time with a minute break between each repetition.

These therapies, if applied to the appropriate back injury, can absolutely work wonders. But because there are often similarities between the symptoms one suffers from serious back problems and the symptoms one suffers from back problems treatable with the appropriate non-surgical therapies, one can easily make the mistake of self-medicating a serious back injury until it’s too late.It’s true that all surgeries (especially back surgeries such as laminectomy and microdisectomy) come with substantial risks. And it’s true that these risks involved (as in all surgeries) make consultation with experts vital, (especially, obviously, if attempts at self-medication have proved futile). In many cases of back pain, doctors will advise non-surgical forms of spinal decompression. One form of non-surgical spinal decompression is called Mechanical Traction Therapy, which first came into practice in the early ‘90s. There are different kinds of Mechanical Traction Therapies, which the doctor prescribes based on the location along the spine of the patient’s pain.Lumbar Traction and Cervical Traction specialize in the lower back and neck, respectively. In each of these two therapies, the patient lies on his back on a table specifically designed for Mechanical Traction Therapy as rollers massage the spine’s affected area.

Another kind of Mechanical Traction Therapy is Leander Traction, in which the patient lying face down on a specialized table receives a mix of heat and ice to increase blood flow and stimulate healing agents in the lower back.Back pain can last a lifetime. If ignored or mistreated, it can cause irreversible damage, including paralysis. Even if properly treated, there is always the chance of the pain returning with the slightest jerk of the head. Surgery, when necessary, often leaves side effects that are just as difficult to deal with on a daily basis as the back pain. I remember my grandfather, who before he passed away dealt with back pains for years before finally giving in to surgery in the final year of his life. Before the surgery, he could hardly rise from a chair, but once up, could walk fine. After the surgery, he couldn’t even stand up straight or walk without a cane. His body simply couldn’t take the surgery; it had been too late.  I remember my cousin who once bicycled across the country and would bicycle everyday until his back pain became too much for him to live a normal, active life. Hoping to reconnect with his first love, bicycling, he underwent a surgical procedure to remove tissue responsible for compressing his spine.

The surgery, I remember him telling me, went swimmingly, and for about six months, it was as if all his problems were gone. But one morning he woke up and realized he couldn’t feel his big toe. A few weeks later, he couldn’t feel his foot. He spent a week in the hospital for what doctors told him was nerve damage associated with build-up affecting the lower part of his spine. Researchers continue to work out more effective ways to treat spinal compression and other forms of back pain, both surgically and non-surgically. Spinal compression is a serious condition that if ignored or mistreated can handicap someone for the rest of his or her life. Consulting a doctor is vital for those whose regimen is giving their backs only temporary relief. Identifying the cause of the compression will give doctors and their patients the best idea yet about the seriousness of the compression; how serious a treatment to recommend, and how urgent to begin such a treatment.

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