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What are the Different Types of Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression?

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  • Written By: Stacy Ruble
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2016
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Non-surgical spinal decompression is a therapy used to reduce or eliminate chronic back pain. There are different types of spinal decompression, including traction, vertebral axial decompression, and articulating spinal decompression that includes range-of-motion decompression and kinetic decompression mobilization. Specific machines are used for each type of decompression, so claims of success are often associated with a particular company rather than a type of procedure.

The theory behind spinal disc decompression is that pain occurs when disc injuries compress the nerves in the spinal column and cause inflammation. These injuries could include herniated discs, bulging discs, degenerative disc disease, facet syndrome, spinal stenosis and protruding discs. Non-surgical spinal decompression aims to reduce the internal disc pressure to facilitate the disc's return to its natural state. Decompression also creates a space between the vertebrae, allowing for an influx of oxygen, fluid and nutrients that can help the disc heal.

Traction is the original method of non-surgical spinal decompression. Traction uses a steady linear pulling force to decompress the vertebrae. A common example is hanging upside to reverse the effects of gravity by pulling the vertebrae in the opposite direction. This method can provide short-lived relief, but then the body’s defensive reaction to the pulling is to contract or constrict, ultimately increasing disc pressure over time.

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The remaining types of non-surgical spinal decompression rely on alternating decompression with relaxation cycles, the thought being that the body will be less apt to go into a defensive posture and constrict if given the opportunity to relax. The simplest form is the vertebral axial decompression. This is done on a special table built in two parts; the top part is stationary, while the bottom part swings down or forward to create a stretching motion, usually of the lower back.

Traction and vertebral axial decompression do not allow the doctor to isolate the vertebrae being affected by the therapy. The remaining types do. Articulating spinal decompression and articulating spinal elongation are overall terms used to describe a type of non-surgical spinal decompression that uses special equipment guided by computers. This type goes beyond linear static traction by moving the spine forward, backward, side to side and in rotation.

Range-of-motion decompression is done while the patient is in a mild traction state. The therapist then puts the patient into a variety of postures throughout the decompression, focusing on areas where the spine is less flexible and the range of motion is limited. The goal is to increase the pain-free range of motion of the spine. Kinetic decompression mobilization is a deeper form of range-of-motion decompression. During this process, the goal of the postures goes beyond simple flexibility, targeting areas of the spine that standard traction or range-of-motion techniques cannot.

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