How does Spinal Decompression Therapy work?

How does Spinal Decompression Therapy work? 

Spinal decompression Therapy is a non-invasive, non-surgical treatment which reduces the internal pressure on the cervical or lumbar spinal discs through axial distraction.

Spinal Decompression Therapy utilizes a computerized table, on which patients lie supported by a lumbar and thoracic belting system to treat the lumbar spine or the patient is placed in a head harness to treat the cervical spine.  The table intermittently “opens up”, applying a very gentle and precise axial distraction to the spine which decompresses the selected area of the spine.  This decompression is usually held for a pre-set time (for example 30-45 seconds) and then released (15-25 seconds).  Time and force settings are determined by the doctor and programmed into the table’s computer.  The “hold or decompression” time creates a negative pressure inside the affected discs.  As the table cycles between hold and rest, fluid is pumped in and out of the disc as the pressure gradient changes.  This accelerates the exchange of oxygen, nutrients and waste products.

Studies show that Spinal Decompression Therapy increases protein synthesis inside the disc and facilitates healing.

What conditions respond well to Spinal Decompression?

For the properly selected patient, spinal decompression therapy can effectively treat the following conditions:  back and neck pain caused by degenerated or herniated discs, degenerated or damaged spinal joints, sciatica and other radiating pain symptoms.

How do you decide who is a candidate for Spinal Decompression? 

We carefully analyze any MRI’s and X-ray’s during a consultation and thoroughly review the case history.  Furthermore, we perform a careful examination to determine a patient’s suitability for spinal decompression.

We have learned that a thorough consultation and examination tell us whether or not a patient is a candidate for spinal decompression therapy, how to design their treatment and whether or not other therapies will be helpful in reactivating a patient’s core muscles and stabilization of the spine.

Research:  Spinal Decompression

SPINE (PHILA PA 1976). 2005 JAN 15;30(2):181-7.

Effects of controlled dynamic disc distraction on degenerated intervertebral discs: an in vivo study on the rabbit lumbar spine model.

Kroeber M1, Unglaub FGuehring TNerlich AHadi TLotz JCarstens C.



  • Spine. 2005 Mar 15;30(6):710. Guegring, Thorsten [corrected to Guehring, Thorsten].



An in vivo study on the rabbit lumbar spine model.


Effects of temporary dynamic distraction on intervertebral discs were studied on the lumbar spine rabbit model to characterize the changes associated with disc distraction and to evaluate feasibility of temporary disc distraction to previously compressed discs in order to stimulate disc regeneration.


Studies have shown that accelerated degeneration of the intervertebral disc results from altered mechanical loading conditions. The development of methods for the prevention of disc degeneration and the restoration of disc tissue that has already degenerated are needed.


New Zealand white rabbits (n = 32) were used for this study. The rabbits were randomly assigned to one of five groups. In 12 animals, the discs were first loaded for 28 days using a custom-made external loading device to stimulate disc degeneration. After 28 days loading time, the discs in six animals were distracted for 7 days and in six animals for 28 days using the same external device, however, modified as dynamic distraction device. In six animals, the discs were distracted for 28 days without previous loading; and in six animals, the discs were loaded for 28 days and afterwards the loading device removed for 28 days for recovery without distraction. Six animals were sham operated. The external device was situated; however, the discs remained undistracted and they also served as controls. After 28 to 56 days loading and distraction time, the animals were killed and the lumbar spine was harvested for examination. Disc height, disc morphology, cell viability, relative neutral zone, and tangent modulus were measured.


After 28 days of loading, the discs demonstrated a significant decrease in disc space. Histologically, disorganization of the architecture of the anulus occurred. The number of dead cells increased significantly in the anulus and cartilage endplate. These changes were reversible after 28 days of distraction. The disc thickness increased significantly as compared with the specimens from the 28 days loading group without distraction. Histologically, the discs showed signs of tissue regeneration after 28 days of distraction. The number of dead cells decreased significantly in comparison with the loaded discs without distraction. The flexibility of compressed discs was higher than of compressed/distracted discs.


The results of this study suggest that disc regeneration can be induced by axial dynamic distraction in the rabbit intervertebral disc. The decompressed rabbit intervertebral discs showed signs of tissue recovery on a biologic, cellular, and a biomechanical level after 28 days of distraction.

PMID: 15644753

[PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]