Decompression is the newest form of traction. Traction has been around for decades. The modality of traction has developed over time as have most treatments. The theory behind it is that over time or with serious injury the discs in your spine can become compressed or herniate. This can cause irritation and pain. Essentially you get pain in your neck or back or even radiating to your arms or legs. Decompression takes this pressure off for a time, allowing your body to recover and heal.
Patients will usually feel relief almost instantly while on the decompression table. With the Chattanooga table that we use you put a belt around your waist and one around your chest for low back issues. For neck issues you put your head on a little pad that sits just below the base of your skull. You lie comfortably on a table as a gentle pressure pulls the weight off of specific regions of the spine. Treatments vary from person to person. Anywhere from 5 to 20 treatments is normal. I do not normally recommend more treatments than that unless we are seeing constant and steady improvement.
Decompression can be used as a lone treatment or in conjunction with other modalities. It is often used for disc herniations, sciatica, radicular symptoms (pain down the arms or legs), or low back pain that does not respond to other treatments. If the injury is acute this therapy can cause some discomfort, and should be discontinued if it is painful. The number one side effect that I have noticed is that during treatment the patient feels great and they get used to feeling good, but when getting off the table the pressure returns and the pain seems increased for a short time this can usually be minimized with proper reloading.
The research on decompression is limited and the studies done have been of limited quality. Because of this lack of best evidence most insurance does not cover decompression. Despite this, there are many positive case studies and the experience that I have had with my patients indicate that it is effective in many cases.