Roughly 84% of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lives, according to the National Institutes of Health. But not all back pain requires surgery. In fact, the goal of physical therapy is to help alleviate symptoms of pain and discomfort and reduce the risk of future orthopedic surgeries.
For people who are experiencing chronic back pain, nonsurgical spinal decompression may be the answer you’ve been looking for. Spinal decompression therapy is a type of physical therapy treatment intended to alleviate lower back pain, specifically when the pain is due to a damaged disc in the spine.
In this page, we’re going to walk you through exactly what spinal decompression is, the types of conditions it helps treat and the benefits of choosing it over surgery. If you have questions at any point, please reach out to one of our clinics and schedule a free consultation with one of our physical therapists.
What Is Spinal Decompression?
Spinal decompression is a type of traction therapy that works to gently stretch and reposition the spine. During the treatment your physical therapist will use a manual lumbar traction table to gently help stretch and angle your spine to relieve pressure on the damaged discs or pinched nerves within the lower back.
You may be wondering exactly what a manual lumbar traction table is. We promise it’s not a torture device — it’s a table that has straps around your pelvis and trunk, and it allows your spine and core muscles to stretch without you having to bend in uncomfortable positions (like static stretching would require). It’s a more ergonomic way to stretch your back that also helps reposition your spine to help alleviate future pain and symptoms.
What Types of Conditions Does Spinal Decompression Treat?
Spinal decompression is often recommended for lumbar spine conditions that affect the discs of the spine and often result in pinched nerves. These conditions include:
- Bulging or herniated disc — A bulging or herniated disc occurs when the spine repeatedly puts pressure on one side of a disc. Over time, the jellylike center of the disc may begin to bulge outward or even break open (herniated disc), which can cause one of the nearby nerves to be compressed. This is the root cause of the pain and symptoms you may be experiencing.
- Degenerative disc disease — Degenerative disc disease is a naturally occurring condition that is often triggered by age or repetitive movement in the spine. Over time, the gel core of the spinal discs starts to wear down and dry up, leaving less cushion between the vertebrae within the spine. This can cause a pinched nerve and pressure on the other discs of the spine.
- Sciatica — Sciatica can be caused by a number of spine conditions (such as the two mentioned above), but it essentially describes the pinching of the large sciatic nerve in your spine that runs from your lower back all the way down to your calves. When this nerve is compressed, it can cause pain, tingling and numbness anywhere from your lower back, down through your buttocks and hamstrings, and into the backs of your lower legs.
While this is not the exhaustive list of conditions that spinal decompression can help treat, these are the main conditions that drive people to this type of treatment. Really, spinal decompression can help with anything that has caused a compressed nerve and muscle tightness in the lower back.
What Are the Benefits of Spinal Decompression?
The main benefit of spinal decompression is that it is noninvasive. You are not undergoing surgery to relieve pressure on your pinched nerve; you are simply stretching.
The most benefits will occur when spinal decompression is coupled with other physical therapy techniques, such as therapeutic exercises to help strengthen the core muscles around the spine to alleviate pressure on the discs and nerves in the lower back. Your physical therapist can work with you to create a customized treatment plan to help not only relieve your current symptoms, but also reduce your risk for future symptoms and drastically reduce your risk of needing surgery down the road.
If you’re ready to find relief from your chronic lower back pain and reduce your risk of needing surgery down the road, contact our team at Lattimore Physical Therapy. You can request an appointment online or visit our locations page to find a clinic near you. Let us help you find relief, so you can get back to the lifestyle you enjoy.