When one looks past the controversy, it becomes clear that spinal decompression is a solid form of treatment for disc-related pain. It is neither the faultless miracle touted by its promoters nor the shameless scam claimed by its detractors. Like most things, the truth about spinal decompression lies somewhere in the middle.
For those who have not looked beyond their preconceived notions about spinal decompression, it might appear to be nothing more than the same spinal traction that has been used for decades in the treatment of back and neck pain. But there are definite differences between spinal decompression and regular traction that are significant in terms of their effects and treatment outcomes.
Regular traction systems simply pull on the spine at a pre-set rate and force. Spinal decompression systems gradually build up the force of the pull, and the more sophisticated spinal decompression systems can also adapt to the body's reactions to the treatment. For example, the DRX-9000 system monitors the body's resistance to the pull and if the body's muscles begin to contract and fight the treatment, the machine immediately (within 1/17th of a second) 'gives' to the resistance by decreasing its pull. This adaptability of the machine allows the body to stay relaxed for the majority of the treatment and by keeping the body relaxed, the treatment effects are much greater on the spinal discs that what can be achieved with regular traction, or even the less-sophisticated spinal decompression systems.
Studies done on changes in disc pressure from regular traction found that although traction did reduce disc pressure, it was insufficient to reduce disc bulging or to significantly improve disc hydration and nutrition. This is because muscular resistance to traction forces simply limits the effects of the traction pull. The least sophisticated of the spinal decompression systems improve on these results and do reduce disc bulging in some cases because the traction pull builds up very gradually and helps prevent muscular resistance resulting in dramatic reduction in disc pressure to a mild suction force sufficient to retract disc bulges. With the higher-end spinal decompression systems, treatment effects are greater still because they can largely eliminate muscular reaction and resistance. These systems have been shown to actually produce strong suction forces within the spinal discs which effectively pull protruding disc material back into the disc as well as pull in fluid and nutrients which are believed to promote disc healing.
That being said, even the best spinal decompression systems do not work for every patient. There are of course situations that prevent the use of spinal decompression, but even with well-qualified patients, there are some people it just does not help. Although clinical studies claim a 90% success rate, the real world results are not as good. Formal clinical studies have the advantage of being able to exclude less-than-perfect test subjects and those who fail to follow the treatment protocol exactly to the letter. In the real world, there are complicating factors that can interfere with treatment results, people miss appointments, people engage in physical activities that they aren't ready for, etc..
With good patient screening, the true success rate for spinal decompression under real world conditions is probably closer to 70% by itself, and somewhat higher when combined with other forms of treatment. This success rate has proven to hold up long-term, and only a small number of patients are reported to relapse within a year of completing treatment. Even with the more modest success rate of 70%, spinal decompression is overall more effective than the more common treatments of spinal injections and surgery, which various studies have shown to provide long-term positive results in about 50% of cases.
The effectiveness of spinal decompression treatment for a specific patient will depend greatly on the nature of his or her condition. In general, spinal decompression works very well in cases of mild to moderate disc protrusion and/or degeneration. Disc extrusions (actual ruptures) and severe protrusions will sometimes get favorable results with spinal decompression, but the results are far less reliable than with less severe cases. Spinal decompression works well for patients of all ages. In fact, although some patients fear they are too old to get good results, my experience has been that older individuals actually do somewhat better than their younger counterparts, perhaps because the older patients are less likely to engage in heavy exertion that might cause a re-injury of the discs.
Is spinal decompression a legitimate form of treatment for bulging and degenerated discs? Yes. Will it be of benefit to you? Most likely it will be, assuming you are a suitable candidate for this form of treatment. I think it is important to temper your expectations though, because it is definitely not a sure-fire 'cure' for your problem. I do recommend that people with disc-related pain at least try spinal decompression before considering a spinal surgery, and most who do will be able to avoid the surgeon's knife. Even better, those people who do respond favorably to spinal decompression treatment can usually resume almost any activity they wish, while surgery patients are often limited in what they can do for the remainder of their lives.
Spinal decompression is not perfect, but it is a very good treatment option for the majority of disc-pain sufferers.
Go to the Spinal Decompression San Antonio website for more information and to get your FREE copy of 'The Spine Pain Guide', compliments of South Texas Non-Surgical Spinal Center.
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