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Century Park Pain and Health Clinic

2393 111 Street NW
Edmonton, AB, T6J 5E5
Phone: (780) 628-7219 • Fax: (780) 628-7339
[email protected]

Frequently Asked Questions about Spinal Decompression

Spinal Decompression is a revolutionary new technology used primarily to treat disc injuries in the neck and in the low back.

What is Spinal decompression?

Spinal Decompression is a non-surgical and drug-free answer for disc related problems of the lumbar or cervical spine. Many people across the country and around the world have found relief from the pain associated with herniated discs, bulging discs, facet syndrome, degenerative joint disease, pinched nerves, and other spinal afflictions from decompression therapy. Spinal Disc Decompression uses computer-aided technology to apply gentle, non-surgical decompression to your spine which increases circulation into the spinal discs and joints, thus helping to relieve the symptoms that cause pain and dysfunction. Back to Top

What conditions does Spinal Decompression treat?

Do you have a herniated disc, multiple herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, facet syndrome, or any other type of spinal problem? Is your doctor suggesting surgery, pain management, or physical therapy? Have you tried traditional Chiropractic or physical therapy and just could not get enough relief? You may be a candidate for non-surgical spinal decompression. Spinal Decompression is an effective treatment for pinched nerves, sciatica, bulged or herniated discs, radiating arm or neck pain, headaches, degenerative disc disease and facet syndrome. Back to Top

What will I feel?

This is one of the best parts about spinal decompression. Treatments should never hurt and your comfort is a critical part of the treatment.

For lower back patients, the patient can be positioned on their back or stomach, which ever is more comfortable. This design is a feature of the Triton DTS table that is missing from many other tables. Once positioned on the table, padded straps are used to securely fasten the patient for treatment. For neck patients, the patient is put on there back in a semi-seated position where a soft rubber neck harness is used for the treatment. Once in place for the treatment the computerized equipment starts to pull in small increments, as set by a qualified doctor. By using small increments the body is allowed to relax into the treatment which allows the treatment to be more effective and more comfortable. Once the desired amount of tension is reached it is held for 45-60 seconds (dependent on the condition) followed by a 30 second interval of a decreased amount of tension (approximately half of the upper limit). This continues for 15-25 minutes and then is followed by a slow incremental lowering of tension until no tension is left on the patient.

Many patients have stated that it doesn't feel like the table is pulling hard enough or that they can handle more, which tells us that it is doing its job properly. The less the patient feels with the appropriate amount of pull the more relaxed their body has become and the more effective the treatment is likely to be. This aspect of treatment is very important as proper parameters (settings) are what make this equipment work. Experience goes a long way when it comes to patient outcomes. Back to Top

How does Spinal Decompression work?

The pumping action of the table does two things:

Before and After Treatment Before and After Treatment

1. As the table pulls on your spine it slowly stretches your spine and increases the space between the two spinal bones (the disc space). This creates a negative pressure or vacuum in the disc which helps to suck the disc back inwards and away from the nerve that is being pinched. Although the amount is very small each treatment, with consecutive treatments it creates more space for the nerve and decreases the size of the disc herniation.

2. Secondly, the pumping action of the table sucks nutrients in and pushes nutrients out creating a nutrient exchange (imbibition). The increased level of nutrients in the disc allows the disc to have the nutrition it needs to speed up the healing process. Because discs don't have a large blood supply they do not get a lot of nutrients on there own. This is why most people don't just get better on their own, we typically cause as much damage to our discs in a day as we can heal with the natural imbibition. With spinal decompression we greatly increase the nutrients to the disc which provides the building blocks necessary for discs to heal more rapidly. Studies have shown that the disc space can increase 1-3mm over the treatment cycle that is provided. Although that seems a small amount it can have a large influence on the space needed to get pressure off of the sensitive nerves in the area. Back to Top

Does Spinal Decompression work for all spinal conditions?

No and this is the reason that we do not recommend spinal decompression to every patient who comes to our office. We only treat people who are good candidates for this type of treatment. Our first goal is to give you an honest opinion of what we think will be the outcome of your case. That being said, according to several published peer reviewed studies, patients have had good-excellent clinical improvements 82%-93% of the time - a statistic which we have also found to be accurate in our office. Again to get these types of results we must first determine if this is the right treatment for you. If it isn't, we will try our hardest to find a treatment that will be right for you.

Typically, we see dramatic improvements with:
- Sciatica (pain or pins and needles radiating down one or both legs)
- Radiating neck pain (pain or pins and needles radiating down to shoulders, arms or into hands)

Very good improvements are seen in:
- Chronic neck pain
- Chronic low back pain

Tougher cases, such as spinal stenosis or patients with significant bone spurring, our success rates are a bit lower but still higher than a lot of the other options out there. The most important part to remember is that we will evaluate you and give you options. If we don't think we can help you, we will tell you and try to find an alternate solution. Back to Top

How long does it take?

Every patient is different but most patients typically undergo 20-25 treatments. Treatments are frequent to maximize the imbibing of the disc and allow the body to heal. Many patients report significant improvements with as little as 6-8 visits. Some even report feeling improvements after just one. Usually you will be in the office for about 30-45 minutes. Back to Top

How much does it cost?

The cost of a decompression treatment in our office is $100/treatment. A typical treatment plan may include around 20 treatments but this will be discussed with the patient. Our first priority is to find out what is causing your pain and come up with the appropriate treatment plan. This is a very competitive price for this type of treatment that others may charge $175-$225/treatment for. It is also important to remember that if you are investing in your back health you should be looking long term. The last thing we want is for people to receive treatment in our office and have their symptoms return. We work with you to focus on a rehabilitative process after your decompression treatments that will help rebuild the core strength in your back that is needed for long term relief. We offer a broad range of payment plans to fit your budget, and we accept most major credit cards as well as provide access to a health loan known as credit medical that can allow you several years to pay for the treatment (ask us for more details). Back to Top

Does insurance cover any of this treatment?

Unfortunately, at this time Alberta Health Care does not cover Spinal Decompression treatment. Private insurance companies may cover a portion of the treatment cost but as this is a newer procedure we advise patients to phone their private insurance provider and discuss with them what would be covered as it is not likely listed in their regular schedule of benefits. Please ask us for more details. Back to Top

Is there any research on the effectiveness of Spinal Decompression?

Absolutely! One recent clinical study of 219 patients has shown that spinal decompression therapy provided a resolution of symptoms for 86% of the participants who completed their therapy, while 84% remained pain-free 90 days post-treatment.

There are several tables that perform non-surgical decompression of the spine. The following results were obtained from DRS/Inter-Discal Decompression (IDD) therapy, Vertebral-Axial Decompression and non-surgical Spinal Decompression Therapy. Although the concept of non-surgical Spinal Decompression therapy is similar in the DRS/VAX-D, please note that each table is a registered trademark and the following research may be specific to a specific decompression table/protocol employed.

Clinical Trials:

In a recent journal article in Orthopedic Technology Review titled Surgical Alternatives: Spinal Decompression, results showed that 86% of the 219 patients who completed the therapy reported resolution of symptoms while 84% of patients remained pain free 90 days post treatment. Physical examination findings showed improvement in 92% of the 219 patients, and remained intact in 89% of these patients 90 days after treatment.

Another article in Journal of Neurological Research reported that vertebral axial [spinal] decompression was successful in 71% of the 778 cases". The success rate varied from 73% for patients with a single herniated disc. It was 72% for people with multiple herniated discs.

The American Journal of Pain Management reported "good to excellent" relief in 86% of patients with herniated discs, with back pain and sciatica symptoms being relieved. Good to excellent results were also obtained in 75% of those with facet syndrome.

A small non-randomized study in Anesthesiology News reported of the 23 patients who responded to therapy, 52% had a pain level of zero, 91% were able to resume their normal daily activities, and 87% were either working or were retired without having back pain as the cause of retirement.

In a small study to determine the long-term effects of vertebral axial decompression, the following results were obtained: "Among 23 patients, 71% showed more than 50% reduction in pain immediately after treatment, and 86% showed a 50% or better pain reduction at four years. After four years, 52% of respondents reported a pain level of zero. Thus, pain relief not only improved but lasted. This pilot study shows great promise for long term relief and new pain management techniques.

An interesting study at the Rio Grande Hospital, Department of Neurosurgery compared the effects of 20 treatment sessions vs. 10 treatment sessions on chronic low back pain sufferers. The group receiving 20 treatments of decompression therapy reported a 76.5% with complete remission and 19.6% with partial remission of pain and disability. The second group, receiving 10 treatments of decompression therapy, reported a 42.9% rate of remission and 24.1% with partial remission. Failure rate was only 3.9% for those receiving 20 treatment sessions while it was 32.9% for those receiving only 10 sessions. Remission was defined as 90% or greater relief of pain, back to work without limitations, and abilities to carry out Activities of Daily Living (ADL's). Partial remission was defined as persistence of some pain but ability to carry out most ADL's and return to work with some restriction of duties, depending on the occupation. Failure rate was defined as no change in the level of pain and or/ADL.

As you can see from the above referenced Clinical Trials, Spinal Decompression Therapy is an effective therapy for people experiencing Discogenic or Arthritic pain (pain arising from the disc or caused by various types of Spinal Arthritis). In addition, promising research suggests that the effects of Spinal Decompression Therapy can be a long-lasting solution to certain chronic back pain disorders. Although failure rates are relatively low, studies suggest that completion of prescribed treatments can reduce failure rates from 32.9% to 3.9%. Back to Top

What if it doesn't work or I'm not a candidate for this kind of treatment?

We pride ourselves on doing what is best for our patients. If I do not think that spinal decompression is the best or most cost effective option for you we will discuss other options available and find the best option for you. As we have various forms of treatment besides spinal decompression in our office you are not always a candidate for that type of treatment. I have heard horror stories of patients being told they would be cured for all types of pain if they would just do spinal decompression. That isn't always true. I promise to tell people the truth about there condition and treat you as if you were a part of my family. Sometimes patients wait too long to seek treatment and Spinal Decompression is no longer a viable option. For some conditions we may refer to a medical provider to discuss minimally invasive surgical procedures or even full-blown spinal fusion surgeries. Edmonton is home to some of the top neuro and orthopedic surgeons in the country. Again we want to do what is best for our patients and we'll treat you as if you were family member. Of course, surgery should always be a last resort (any good surgeon will tell you that). Back to Top

How is Spinal Decompression different from standard traction or an inversion table?

Traction is a simple static force that is put on the patient's body with the intent of unloading the body's joints, muscles and other structures. For example, hanging upside-down is a common method to put the spine into traction. Rather than one's body weight putting stress on the spine, which is what happens when standing erect, the body weight is working to unload the spine.

Triton DTS Screen Computer Display from Triton DTS Spinal Decompression Bed

Various forms of traction have been around for over 1000 years, however, pain relief has been inconsistent and short-lived with past techniques. In fact, several clinical studies have shown traction to be an ineffective form of back and neck pain relief. The reason is unexpected, but pretty simple. Our bodies react to the static unloading (stretching) of the spine by contracting, or squeezing, the muscles surrounding the spine. Rather than achieving the desired effect of unloading the spine, the pressure on the spine is actually increased, thus increasing intradiscal pressure (pressure on the discs). This does NOT allow the discs to rehydrate and heal, which is what ultimately yields pain relief.

Spinal Decompression, on the other hand, is a modified, updated form of traction. Computer technology is used to control variations in the unloading of the spine, effectively avoiding the body's muscle contraction response. Notice in the figure that the traction tension is varied over time according to the graph. The doctor can control how many progressive tension steps are experienced by the patient before reaching the maximum tension. The doctor also has complete control over how long the tensions are held steady and how often they are repeated.

Because Spinal Decompression avoids the muscle contraction response, the intradiscal pressure is actually lowered to the point of being a vacuum, creating a negative pressure. This vacuum is what allows herniated material to be drawn back into place and permits rehydration of the disc. Once the herniated material is not in contact with the nerves and the disc is in good health, pain is relieved.

Spinal decompression is different from traction because it works. Back to Top

How do various Spinal Decompression tables compare?

After a significant amount of research, the Edmonton Neck and Back Clinic chose the Triton DTS Spinal Decompression table from the Chattanooga Group, the world's largest manufacturer of rehabilitation equipment. This table is currently the most advanced traction table produced by Chattanooga. The Triton DTS has quickly become the gold standard among spinal decompression tables due to the flexibility of patient positioning, effectiveness of loading protocols and the time-tested belting system.

Triton DTS Table Patient on Triton DTS in Prone Position

For instance, tables that support the patient under the arms have been reported to be much less comfortable, even causing injury to the shoulders and surrounding structures. Traction support under the arms does not permit the unloading to take place only at the specific problem area of the spine, unlike the Trition DTS belting system which can be very specific, if positioned properly. Furthermore, many of the tables that support under the arms do not allow the patient to be positioned in the prone (face down) position. For lumber injuries, many experts agree that the prone position, compared to the face-up position, allows the unloading of the spine to be even more specific and effective for the problem area.

Is the Triton DTS as good as other tables such as the DRX-9000 or the VAX-D. Consider the fact that the Triton DTS and the DRX-9000 have the exact same FDA classification. Some tables market themselves as "the only true Spinal Decompression" or the only FDA-approved Spinal Decompression. Is this true? Well you can decide. Please see the attached FDA documents for both the Triton DTS and the DRX-9000 to compare for yourself. With all of that stated, patients find our office to have the expertise, equipment and professionalism to get the desired result from our therapies.

DRX 9000 FDA Report
DTS FDA Report

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How does Spinal Decompression compare with surgical options?

In some cases, surgery is the only option but according to M.M. Panjabi Ph D. (considered by many to be the world leading spine expert) only 1/400 cases who undergo surgery should have. For those candidates, surgery can prove to be a successful option; however, there are inherent, and significant, risks associated with any surgical procedure. Because the spine is such a complex and important structure in the body, the risks of anesthesia are multiplied by the risk of serious injury due to surgical mistakes or complications.

Spinal Decompression is keeping a significant number of surgical candidates from ever having surgery. It doesn't help everyone, but the outstanding clinical results, as well as the results we have seen in our office, are difficult to ignore. It is responsible to weigh the safety and success rates of different treatments. Studies have shown the efficacy of spinal surgery to be around 50% (depending on the severity of the condition and the skill of the surgeon). As well, one must take into consideration the lengthy recovery time involved post-surgery - often resulting in missed work and decreased quality of life. Compare that to the studies above (70-90% effective) and you will see that the conservative, non-surgical approach used with spinal decompression is an efficient form of treatment for those patients who are good candidates and should likely be tried before surgery as it is much less invasive. Back to Top

What about other approaches like "manual spinal decompression" or "flexion distraction" or "imbibition"?

While all of these can be beneficial for the spine, none of them has any research proving decompression on the discs or long-term reduction of disc herniations. Again the first step is the most important which is to figure out which is the appropriate therapy for the person. Before starting any treatment in our office we discuss the different options available for each individual as no two people are exactly alike. Back to Top