Diseases & Conditions

What Is Spinal Decompression Therapy?

Back pain is not an uncommon complaint. In fact, 80 percent of people will experience back pain during the course of their lifetime. Spinal decompression therapy has been found to be a successful treatment to alleviate a patient’s symptoms. While other remedies may also be used to avoid surgical intervention, this treatment is the best way to reduce pain and suffering among those with back injuries.

What Causes Back Pain?

Back pain can occur for many reasons. You may fall, get into a car accident, pick up a heavy object, or have a sports-related injury that causes pain in your back. Simply aging can be attributed to back pain and injuries.
It does not take much effort to get a back injury. The back is made up of bones, discs, joints, ligaments, and muscles. If you irritate any of those components of the back, it can lead to strained muscles or ligaments, a bulging or ruptured disc, or irritated joints. While disc ruptures typically require surgical intervention, most back injuries can be treated without surgery. Degenerative issues, congenital diagnoses, nerve, and spinal cord problems can also cause back pain.

What Is Spinal Decompression Therapy?

Spinal decompression therapy is a non-invasive and non-surgical method of helping to alleviate back pain. It utilizes motorized traction to stretch the spine gently. This technique realigns your spine and takes the pressure off the discs and nerves that are compressed, resulting in pain. Spinal decompression therapy helps to promote the movement of fluids and oxygen through the spinal cord and helps to repair any damage that may have occurred. The goal is to have less pain after each treatment and long-term pain relief after several sessions.

The way the procedure is performed is a doctor will put one harness around your hips and another around the middle of your trunk. You may lie either face-up or face down on a computer-controlled table. Then, a doctor will start the decompression treatment. A stretching sensation will be felt, but it should not be painful.
Spinal decompression therapy typically lasts 30-45 mins. It may take 20-30 treatments before you get full relief.

During the two or three months that you are having decompression therapy, you may also get traditional physical therapy. This may consist of heat and ice applications, ultrasound treatments, and electronic stimulation. Acupuncture, light exercise and stretching, or visiting a chiropractor may also be helpful.

men's black hair

What Conditions Does Spinal Decompression Therapy Treat?

There are several issues that spinal decompression therapy can help you manage or fix. These include:

  • Herniated and bulging discs
  • Sciatica
  • Posterior facet syndrome
  • Scoliosis
  • Spinal cord compressions
  • Arthritis

What Can Make Spinal Injuries Worse?

Repeating the actions that cause you pain in the first place is a known reason for making spinal injuries worse. However, other things can slow healing or prevent you from getting better. These include:

  • Back and abdominal strengthening are key. The stronger these muscles are, the less likely you are to get future back injuries.
  • Use ergonomic workstations. Poor body position can cause back pain.
  • If your job requires sitting for long periods during the day, be sure to take several breaks to stand up, walk around the room or office, and stretch gently.
  • Keep excess weight off or lose weight. You may want to start with low-impact exercises to slowly strengthen the muscles and to avoid injury.
  • Wear comfortable, supportive shoes.
  • Lift with your knees, not your back. Avoid twisting, as well.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking has been proven to increase the risks of spinal disc degeneration and osteoporosis. It reduces the amount of oxygen in your body, which prevents proper healing. Smoker’s cough also can contribute to back pain.

What Medications Are Safe to Take with Spinal Decompression Therapy?

There are several medications that can help back pain while you are waiting for the full effects of spinal decompression to take place. Acetaminophen and NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, meloxicam, etc.) are first-line medications that you should take to help ease your pain. If those do not work well enough, you can ask your doctor for a prescription. Opioid drugs, while highly limited by federal mandates, are excellent pain relievers. Muscle relaxers, such as diazepam and cyclobenzaprine, are also helpful for muscle spasms around the spine.

Who Should Avoid Spinal Decompression Therapy?

There are certain conditions and diagnoses that that cause spinal depression therapy to not be appropriate for treating back back injuries and pain. Women who are pregnant are not good candidates for decompression treatments.

Patients who have a disc rupture, vertebral fracture, metal implants (such as prior spine fusion surgery), and advanced osteoporosis should not have spinal decompression therapy.

How Much Does Spinal Decompression Therapy Cost?

While some insurance will cover decompression therapy, since it is a cheaper way to treat back pain than spinal surgery, not all companies will pay.

If you need to pay for the treatments on your own, each session costs between $30 and $200. For the series of treatments, costs will range from $450 to $6,000 for spinal decompression therapy. Spinal surgery can range from $30,000 to $90,000.

Spinal decompression therapy is an alternative treatment to manage and reverse back pain. While it is similar to traditional traction, decompression therapy utilizes computers to pull and align the spine properly. Most people do not experience pain from the procedure and will feel relief after several weeks of treatment. Patients tend to feel short-term relief from back pain even after one or two treatments, but long-term relief comes after approximately 20 or more treatments. While it is time-consuming, it is a safer and more affordable option over spinal decompression surgery or spinal fusion. It is also more effective than at home inversion boards or spinal decompression treatments. While the goal of all is to reduce pressure and compression of the nerves and discs, a professional spinal decompression machine is safer and more controlled.


Gay, R. All About Spinal Decompression Therapy. SpineHealth. https://www.spine-health.com/treatment/chiropractic/all-about-spinal-decompression-therapy

Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. NINDSNIH. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Low-Back-Pain-Fact-Sheet

Wheeler, T. (2019, May 17). Spinal Decompression Therapy: Is It Right for You? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/back-pain/guide/spinal-decompression-therapy-surgical-nonsurgical#1

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button