What is Spinal Decompression and How Does it Work?

Decompression Therapy is applied with the goals of relieving pain and promoting an optimal healing environment for bulging, degenerating, or herniated discs. Nonsurgical spinal decompression is non-invasive and works by gently stretching the spine, this changes the force and position of the spine, which takes pressure off the spinal discs, which are gel-like cushions between the bones in your spine, by creating a negative pressure in the disc.

Spinal decompression is a type of traction therapy applied to the spine in an attempt to bring about several benefits including:

  • Creating a negative intradiscal pressure (pressure within the disc itself, acts like a vacuum) to promote retraction or repositioning of the herniated or bulging disc material. (Pulls the herniated or bulging disc material back into the disc). **
  • Pressure is taking off of nerves and other structures in the spine (relief of sciatic pain)
  • Create a lower pressure in the disc that will cause an influx of healing nutrients and other substances into the disc. (Promotes the passage of healing nutrients into the disc and fosters a better healing environment.

The patient remains clothed and lies on a motorized table, the lower half of which can move. A harness is placed around the hips and is attached to the lower table near the feet. The upper part of the table remains in a fixed position while the lower part, to which the patient is harnessed, slides back and forth to provide stretching of the spine. While on the decompression table, the spine is stretched (lengthened) and relaxed (decompressed) intermittently in a controlled manner and tracked by a precise computer program.

The treatment applies a specific force to the compressed discs, and the computer alternates the decompression force with relaxation periods. Usually, there is a series of 10-20 alternating decompression and relaxation cycles, for an individual treatment time of approximately 15 minutes. The patient should not feel pain during or after the decompression visit, although they should feel stretch (lengthening) in the spine.

Spinal Decompression Therapy is an affordable, nonsurgical and safe alternative for neck and back pain without the use of drugs, pills or needles. Patients are tired of taking pills that simply mask the pain (with many side effects!). Patients are frustrated with getting shots that work the first and second time and then eventually have no effect. Patients are fearful of getting surgery (laminectomy and microdiscectomy) as they have seen first hand from friends and relatives who’ve spent $1,000s, had weeks out of work, scars, risked serious side effects – only to end up with “failed back surgery syndrome”.

**It has been clinically proven that spinal decompression creates negative pressures as low as -110 Hg3 within the injured disc during the treatment session. Normally, pulls exerted on the spine trigger sensory receptors in the back to tighten the muscles surrounding the vertebrae and discs in an effort to protect them from injury. Spinal Decompression bypasses this response by slowly pulling on the spine and relaxing the back over an extended period of time, allowing the discs to be repositioned without tension and without causing spasm and muscle guarding.

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Who Benefits from Spinal Decompression/Who Cannot Use Decompression? What conditions does it treat?

If you have lasting back pain and other related symptoms, Spinal Decompression Therapy not only significantly reduces back pain in many patients, but also enables the majority of patients to return to more active lifestyles.

Patients that have any of the following symptoms/conditions are candidates for Decompression Therapy:

  • Back Pain
  • Neck Pain
  • Sciatica (pain, weakness, or tingling that extends down the leg)
  • Numbness
  • Bulging, Herniated or Protruding Disc
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Degenerative Joint Disease
  • Worn Spinal Joints (Posterior Facet Syndrome)
  • Injured or Diseased Spinal Nerve Roots (Nerve Impingement)
  • Hypermobility
  • Compression Fractures
  • Joint Pain
  • Discogenic Pain (Pain Originating from the Disc)
  • Spinal Stenosis
  • Post-Surgical Pain

If You have ANY of the Following – Decompression is NOT for You”

  • Pregnant
  • Fractured or broken vertebrae
  • Spinal Fusion
  • Tumor
  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
  • Advanced Osteoporosis
  • Metal Implants in Spine, Artificial Disc, or other implants in spine
  • Failed Back Surgeries, Multiple Surgeries without Recover (pain improvement)
  • Taking a Blood Thinner Medication

Is It Effective?

Research has shown – YES, nonsurgical decompression therapy is effective. In fact most patients experience some type of pain relief and increased mobility within the first five to six treatments and upon completion of initial protocol overall pain was decreased by 88.9%!

One study, published by BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, confirmed that non-surgical spinal decompression can provide low-back pain suffers some much needed pain relief. In this research, 30 patient who experienced lumbar disc herniation engaged in spinal decompression therapy for a period of 6 weeks. The results were a decrease in back pain and increased disc height, causing the researchers to conclude that “pain reduction may be mediated, at least in part, through a restoration of disc height.”*

In another study, a 33 year old male had been suffering with low back pain for 6 years; after 20 decompression therapy sessions he reported his pain went from a level of 6/10 (which he reported was present 75% of his waking hours) to a 0/10 post 20 decompression visits. An MRI confirmed that there an increase in his disc height. **

*Apfel C, et al Restoration of disk height through non-surgical spinal decompression is associated with decreased discogenic low back pain: a restorative cohort study BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 2010:11(155)

**Auster M, Florio F, Richmond C, Wilhelm J Magnetic Resonance Imaging Findings after Treatment with a Nonsurgical Decompression System (DRX9000TM) – Case Report US Musculoskeletal Review. 2007:2;50-52

Treatment Protocols

As treatment time and frequency will depend on each patients condition, we will work with you to find a spinal decompression plan that corresponds with your body and treatment goals. Prior to your first Spinal Decompression Treatment, patients will be thoroughly examined both manually and through the use of Digital X-Ray, in order to determine which spinal discs are compressed, and if the treatment is suitable and has a high likelihood of success.

While each patients’ condition varies, here is our recommendations for Decompression Therapy:

  • 12-24 sessions over four to eight weeks.

Some conditions will require more visits, more frequently; while other conditions require more frequent visits initially then decrease in frequency over time. A re-exam is done halfway through your care plan to ensure our treatment goals are being met. Each treatment lasts approximately 15 minutes.

We recommend that you get your adjustment and decompression therapy on the same visit; with a day of rest in between each treatment.

After completion of your initial Spinal Decompression Protocol, the patient is then placed on a maintenance program which generally consists of monthly visit(s) to limit re-injury issues.


Many of these conditions are very painful and can easily turn from acute to chronic pain.

The gentle stretching and relaxing of your spine through spinal decompression therapy allows once herniated or bulging discs to return to their proper position. This repositioning of the disc alleviates pain while promoting healthy blood flow to once restricted areas.