Spinal decompression therapy is used by chiropractors to treat spinal disc injuries and to alleviate low back pain. In combination with chiropractic biophysics this technique helps restore normal spine alignment and produce long-term pain relief.
Before we discuss the benefits of spinal decompression therapy, can you please explain what it is, how it works and what a patient will experience during a treatment session?
Dr. Luke Stringer: Absolutely. But before we can dive into exactly what is spinal decompression, there are a couple of different types of spinal decompression. And obviously there are quite important differences between the two. The one that’s probably better known is the spinal decompression therapy used to treat disc injuries.
So, imagine a jelly doughnut, the bread’s the outside of the disc, the collagenous tissue and the fluid within the disc is the jelly. So, through trauma, car accidents or poor posture at work, over time that wear and tear is going to create damage in a disc. And once the disc, the bread of the doughnut becomes damaged, the fluid, the jelly begins to sort of shift out of that collagenous tissue. It shoots into a nerve root or a nerve canal. That’s what the nerve roots come out of. So once a disc fluid hits the nerve root it’s going to create pain, typically pain that starts to refer.
So, there’s several different names for all these kind of decompression machines, for example, there’s a Cox machine, there’s a bunch of other ones. But the premise is, you align a patient flat on their back and you will traction the low back or the neck. You’re going to, essentially, for example, if you are focusing on the lower back, you’ll pin the pelvis down, you’ll strap a piece of equipment around the torso and it will just gently open up. So, imagine you’re working on that X axis and you’re just going to pull along that X axis and it’s just going to continue to open up and then it will close that space, open up, close that space. And the whole idea is by creating space within a disc, it creates a vacuum. And the vacuum of air is going to pull the disc loop back to the central part of the disc. And by doing that, by getting the disc fluid off the nerve, we’re obviously going to correct the pain. They’re going to travel less, and it’s going to bring the pain and centralize the pain more. It’s an awesome treatment.
Typically, with discs, that have been significantly damaged from car accidents its quite effective. However, the tricky thing is once you’re not in that decompression device, when you’re upright and gravity is hitting the spine, that disc fluid, due to your spinal alignment and gravity, is going to be essentially shifting straight back into that nerve canal.
We have you practice something called chiropractic biophysics, the most researched form of chiropractic. Through detailed analysis involving exam and x-ray, we can figure out the alignment of the spine and how that alignment is putting pressure onto the disc. So, our traction involves decompression, however, they involve alignment, so spinal alignment. For example, let’s say you don’t have enough curve in your low back and your curve’s flat. It should be 40 degrees. Well, that means you’re going to put a lot of stress to the front of the disc. So, if you jump into a traditional spinal decompression machine, you’re going to pull open the spine, it’s going to create a vacuum, you’re going to feel better. When you stand up, the curve is still flat. It’s not 40 degrees. So, you’re going to continue to put stress to the front of the disc.
Our traction is going to focus on improving the curve in your lower back. So, when you do this repetitively over time, you can objectively change the shape of your spine. It’s just two things. One, it improves disc space, it creates a vacuum like the traditional spinal decompression therapy. However, the chiropractic biophysics technique is objective. By objectively changing the shape of your spine you can create better load into the joint, the tissue and the disc, which offers long term correction. So, when we practice our spinal decompression therapy, we’re going to be able to offer people more of an objective long-term improvement than the traditional kind of the machine that just opens and closes the joint. And that’s why we get awesome results and patients are super happy with their treatment that we do here.
The typical experience is obviously you’ve got to go through the evaluation which we have discussed on a previous podcast. The detailed analysis will be done of your spine and that analysis will dictate the type of treatment that you do. And then the treatment is going to be two, three times a week. Obviously, your case will dictate how often and how long for maybe four, six, eight, ten, twelve weeks long.
Again, case will dictate it. Damage in the spine, degeneration, the amount of misalignment we have. Essentially, we’re going to put you in the posture you should be in. We’re going to create tension into the spine. And by creating tension into the spine, the ligaments are going to be able to heat up. And when ligaments heat up, it’s called the creep effect. They allow the spine to stretch back into its normal position. And by doing that, you can create more of a long-term solution than just the traditional kind of decompression therapy that works along that X axis.
How would you explain how spinal decompression therapy targets lower back pain and relieves it?
Dr. Luke Stringer: Absolutely! We just touched on this earlier, right? Each case has got to be case specific. But first of all, you have to evaluate the case and figure out what’s causing the pain in the lower back.
So, let’s say that you’ve had a car accident. You were rear ended at 60 miles an hour. You come into the office, we shoot an x-ray, and we can see from that car accident that your alignment of your spine has been shifted. So, if you’re just eyeballing the spine, your shoulder, hip, and knee should be on top of one another if you’re looking at your body from the side. So that means the top bone in your lower back should sit on top of the bottom bone and should have a 40-degree curve. Let’s say that trauma shifted your spine forward. So, the top bone is now an inch in front of the bottom bone and the curve, instead of measuring 40 degrees is measuring 20 degrees. As we just discussed, by shifting forwards, you’re going to create more stress to the front of the spine, to the back. It’s going to increase pressure in the disc. Pressure in the disc can create pain, it can engage nerve roots, it can refer.
We can do the evaluation, and we can examine the x-rays, and we can figure out where the spine needs to go. And then specifically with the awesome equipment we’ve got here we can get your spine into its normal alignment, and then we can gently put tension through the middle of your spine to the low back, for example. By gently holding it up for six to twelve minutes over time, the ligaments heat up and by heating up the ligaments, you can actually bring the spine back into alignment. And it’s awesome because we can get people out of pain, but it’s also a long-term fix.
All the new research that’s coming out on neuro-musculoskeletal pain is circling back around to alignment of the spine. And by obviously getting the spine in alignment, you can offer more of a long-term solution than just helping someone get out of pain in the short term.
Another major benefit of spinal decompression therapy is sciatica relief. Could you please explain why this therapy works so well to relieve sciatica?
Dr. Luke Stringer: Absolutely. The sciatic nerve is the thickest nerve in your body, right? Thick as your thumb. It comes out of your lower back, it’s the seven structures in your glutes, your butt, three structures in the back of your leg and then obviously down to feet and your toes.
The sciatic nerve can get entrapped and impinged in many different areas within the spine. And we obviously always have to start in the lower back because those nerves clump together and form the sciatic nerve.
Decompression therapy can essentially create better load into those lower back joints. You might have too little of a curve, it’s going to put pressure to the front of the desk that could put pressure on the fifth and the first nerve root in your lower back and your sacrum. That’s going to create pain down the back of your leg, classically sciatica. You might have too much curve, if you have too much curve in your lower back, you’re going to carry more weight at the bottom of the curve than the top of the curve. Again, it’s going to engage the nerve roots in the lower back. That’s going to create that classic sciatic pain that goes down the back of the leg.
Traction can create better load into the joint. And by doing that, and obviously supplementing that with soft tissue therapy, with nerve specific work and physical therapy, we can get really good results with that sciatic type pain, which is obviously pain that travels down the back of your leg.
And spinal decompression therapy is a nonsurgical and non-invasive treatment for bulging or herniated discs. Could you describe the success this treatment has had on relieving this painful condition, without the use of drugs or surgery?
Dr. Luke Stringer: Absolutely. We just had a really cool case in the office here. A patient came in, she’d been recommended surgery from three orthopedic surgeons and she had multiple levels of disc herniation within her lower back. She had spinal stenosis, which means the base of the spinal cord is being impinged. She basically couldn’t function. She was in pain morning to night. She was taking meds to sleep and she and her husband came in and basically said, “You guys, chiropractic is our last resort, we’re going to try this and if we can’t fix it, we’re going to go get surgery. We’ve done all do the other types of therapy, physical therapy, the pain management injections.”
When we evaluated the x-ray we found in the patient that she just had far too much curve in the lower back. The curve was nearly, essentially about 60-70% increased from what it should be. So, she’s put a massive amount of stress on the bottom two or three joints in the lower back.
By taking her through our protocols here of improving range of motion, working on spinal alignment, joint function and then eventually rolling into lots of soft tissue therapy and physical therapy over time, over the course of three months we managed to get her pain from a 10 out of 10 consistently throughout the day to essentially, she wasn’t really in any pain. The only pains she would feel is when she was just in a certain position for an extended period of time when she took a road trip and she had to sit for four or five hours, or she was watching her grandkids and she had to stand for five hours. However, the pain was far more manageable. And then a resource we gave to her to do when she’s in pain, cleared the pain out really quickly. And essentially it changed the lady’s life. She could babysit her grandkids without pain and enjoy being a grandmother.
She avoided surgery due to the way we practice and fixing the curves. She went from about a 70% increase in her curve, pretty much got it down to about a 10% increase, which was a huge swing for her. And obviously her and her husband were extremely happy.
What are other benefits of spinal decompression therapy that we have not mentioned?
Dr. Luke Stringer: I think we touched on most of them Liz, but spinal alignment is really important because how your spine aligns dictates the pressure that joint and the tissues underwrite.
We all degenerate in our lives. When your spine is in alignment, you have healthy spinal function, good range of motion, balance, strength in all the muscle groups. You should be able to function well over time. And your general changes are going to be slow and steady, just naturally. But if we have spinal shifts in the core where all these repetitive stresses are and the spine is out of alignment, once it’s out of alignment, it will create compensation.
The tissue is going to work too hard, it’s going to break down. Joints are going to shift, it’s going to create impingement on the nerves. It’s going to create pain, dysfunction. It’s going to accelerate the degeneration process.
By addressing all those factors that we’ve discussed; good joint function, good tissue, good range of motion, balance strength in the muscle groups, but importantly, by addressing the spine, and new research that is coming out in all the peer reviewed articles, which are the best articles, in all these control groups, you can go see a chiropractor, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, and you can feel better. And based on your case in four, eight, ten, twelve weeks. However, these core studies are showing that the follow-up a year later, three years later, five years later, the group, everyone, well, not everybody, but the majority of people within the study felt better when they were done with their treatment.
But the group that focused on spinal alignments through traction of the neck or the lower back. When they had that follow-up at a year, three, five years, they were the group that was still feeling and functioning like they were at the end of the study. The group that didn’t have traction alignment, spinal alignment, spinal decompression done, their pain levels and dysfunction were back to where they were when they finished the study and were, if not worse, because you’re a year or more later.
So, by addressing alignment in the spine through spinal decompression and spinal traction, you can objectively change the shape of your spine. This has great long-term health benefits, not just a quick fix. And I think that’s really cool. And when you working with people, you obviously want to give people correction for the long-term not just for a short period of time.
If you are interested in speaking with Dr. Luke Stringer visit www.southloopchiropractor.com or call (312) 987-4878 to schedule an appointment.