Lumbar Decompression

Lumbar decompression has been used in some form as a way of treating low back pain for centuries.

Decompression is a lower back pain treatment that relieves or reduces the pressure of one or more pinched nerves. This decompression is most often obtained through surgical means.

There are two basic surgical procedures used to decompress the spinal nerves. The first method, called discectomy, removes a portion of the herniated nucleus pulposus (disc tissue) that is compressing the spinal nerve.

The other method, laminectomy, removes a portion of the bone (lamina) that seems that is causing the pressure on the spinal nerve.

Non-surgical lumbar decompression is another method that utilizes machines that exert a traction or pulling apart of the lumbar vertebrae.

Years ago mechanical decompression was achieved via traction. Today the machines are called computerized decompression units. The only difference today is that the machines and technology are more refined and the scientific understanding of why it helps is more clear and understood. Nevertheless, the action remains the same.

Lumbar traction and lumbar decompression are basically one in the same. You can go to a center that is equipped with expensive models called decompression units or XYZ and pay $5,000-$15,000 for a series of treatments. Or, you can go to a center that has less expensive equipment and pay less than $1000 and get the same results.

Traction can be defined as the action whereas decompression is the result.

The internal pressure of the disc is measured at pounds per square inch (PSI). When decompression (traction) is used the goal is to reduce the PSI of the internal disc pressure.

The concept is to reduce the pressure or create a negative pressure thereby "sucking" the bulging disc back into the center of the disc and reducing the nerve pressure that it was creating.

Proponents of the expensive computerized units will tell you that it matters what angle or alignment the pull is in relation to the individual lumbar vertebral segments.

However, research has failed to prove such importance.

Research studies have failed to show that non-surgical lumbar decompression, through mechanical computerized traction, is any more effective than simple less expensive means of traction. Other treatment methods, such as spinal adjustments, posture correction and correction of leg length deficiencies have been shown to be effective and should be considered first.

I personally have used, in a clinical setting and for treating my own bulging disc, both the expensive computerized traction units and a very inexpensive simple traction machine and have failed to see any differences in the two. I do not believe there is any scientific evidence that shows the computerized traction to be more effective or longer lasting than simple traction units at this time.

The procedure for both the expensive computerized and simple traction decompression units is basically the same.

Both utilize strapping, one around the waist and the other around the lower chest, that creates a pulling apart action of the lumbar spine.

The computerized version is able to "sense" changes in tension and maintain a constant pull as well as control the angle of the distraction. The less expensive units can adjust for the angle as well but cannot "sense" or control the constancy of the pull to the same degree.

Nonsurgical decompression or traction is non-invasive, drug-free and safe. In low back pain cases where there is no emergency need for surgical decompression (cauda equina syndrome or paralysis) this is often a wise choice first treatment approach to sciatica caused by nerve root pressure. If this treatment approach proves ineffective surgical decompression is always another option.

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