What is Spinal Decompression Therapy?

Spinal Decompression therapy involves the gentle traction of the neck or lower back to decrease tension in the discs, joints, and muscular tissues around the spine. It is an ideal treatment for herniated or bulging discs, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, sciatic leg pain, and spondylosis. Traction is administered two ways, either manually, or mechanically, and it’s something that can be done either in a clinic or at home.

Does it provide long-term relief?

For most people, spinal decompression therapy can provide long-term pain relief after a few sessions, which is why it’s such a sought-after treatment. Certain patients may even feel instant pain relief after their treatment sessions and in many cases, people end up using spinal decompression as an adjustment, only coming in for treatment when it’s needed again which could be every 4 – 6 months.

Initially, when starting off with spinal decompression therapy we recommend receiving treatment 2 times per week for 2 – 4 weeks, and then your therapist can reassess how it’s working for you.

Is spinal decompression therapy painful?

Our traction machine is very gentle and allows fine, accurate control of the forces being applied, so you should feel no pain during the treatment. Depending on the body part, the traction is initially applied with a low force (10 – 30 lbs) and is increased based on the body’s response. Many patients find the treatment comfortable and relaxing. Some patients may feel a bit of stiffness right after each treatment session as it requires you to be lying still for 15 to 30 minutes. Should anything happen while receiving our mechanical traction you are in control with a stop button, which stops the machine from moving should any pain or discomfort arise. 

Are there any risks?

As this is a safe, and non-invasive treatment – the risks for spinal decompression are relatively low. There are more risks in surgical spinal decompression (infection, bleeding, blood clots etc.) which is why most people look to this non-surgical version. But, as with any therapy there are precautions to look out for before receiving treatment such as pregnancy, severe osteoporosis, and severe nerve damage. 

Are there advantages to doing decompression with a physiotherapist rather than at home?

Yes! One advantage is that mechanical traction units (typically found at physiotherapy clinics) allow the application of static or intermittent traction, while allowing the user to control the rate of force applied which is beneficial when someone is needing high forces to relieve their symptoms, something at-home traction cannot provide. Mechanical traction units can also track the amount of decompression given in lbs, whereas at home it can vary depending on the angle and weight of the body.  

The only advantage to at-home spinal decompression therapy is that most weighted devices, such as an over-the-door cervical traction, are usually inexpensive and might be more convenient for at-home use. You should always consult with a physiotherapist for education on positioning, the amount of force to use as well as the duration.  

Woman experiencing back-pain

Is a doctor’s referral required?

You do not need a doctor’s referral to receive spinal decompression.

During your initial assessment, one of our physiotherapists will assess and diagnose your spine-related condition to determine if this therapy would be beneficial for you.

What is the cost of spinal decompression therapy?

There is no separate charge! It is part of our regular private physiotherapy fee. For current pricing please visit our services page

What Spinal Conditions can Decompression Therapy Improve?

  • Herniated or bulging discs
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Spinal Stenois
  • Sciatic leg pain
  • Spondylosis
  • cervical and lumbar radiculopathy
a man undergoing lumbar traction using a traction machine in a physiotherapist's office

What is Traction? 

Traction is a mechanical force applied to the body in a way that separates the joint surfaces and elongates the surrounding soft tissues. This is the opposite of compression, which is what happens to our spine whenever we are sitting or standing upright.

Traction can either be applied manually or more commonly mechanically with an electrical mechanical traction machine.

 How does a Traction Machine Work?

Depending on if you are receiving traction for your back or your neck it requires you to be laying in the supine position while being strapped into a belting system for up to 30 minutes. The belt is attached to our weighted traction machine, which gently pulls, and retracts intermittently. This causes the soft tissues to stretch, while also relaxing the muscles, mobilizing the joints, and taking pressure off of the spinal discs and nerves.

Is a traction machine better than an inversion table?

Inversion tables require you to be upside down and there are more side effects that can contribute to using them. With inversion tables you are required to tip over until your head is lower than your heart, this increases your heartbeat to slow, blood pressure to rise, and the pressure in your eyes to go up, so it isn’t a safe treatment for people with heart disease, high blood pressure, glaucoma or any other eye disease. Although similar, Inversion tables have been known to deliver short-term pain relief whereas traction delivers long-term pain relief. There is mixed evidence on whether inversion tables are an effective treatment for pain, and they are known to be expensive; costing upwards of $1,000 for fancier models.

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