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Spinal Decompression

Reasons to Have One, What to Expect, Associated Risks & More

Key Points

  • Spinal decompression, a treatment that alleviates pressure on the spine, may be necessary for conditions like back pain, degenerative disc disease, bulging or herniated disc, sciatica, spinal stenosis, and radiculopathy.
  • This treatment can be performed either surgically, which may involve removing parts of the spine, or non-surgically through traction and stretching.
  • While non-surgical spinal decompression is generally risk-free, surgical methods can have potential risks including spinal cord injury, cerebrospinal fluid leakage, nerve and blood vessel damage, and paralysis.
  • The article provides a comprehensive guide on what to expect during and after the procedure and suggests important questions to ask your doctor about spinal decompression.

6 Reasons You Would Need Spinal Decompression

1. Back or Spine Pain

Pain in the back or spine may occur due to factors such as accidents, musculoskeletal problems, and aging. Conditions such as a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, and scoliosis may also contribute to pain in the back or spine. Spinal decompression is a common treatment for back and spine pain.[1]

2. Degenerative Disc Disease

The natural aging of the spinal discs is known as degenerative disc disease, which is characterized by pain in the lower back or neck when twisting, bending, or flexing. The inflammation caused by degenerative disc disease can worsen other spine conditions such as osteoarthritis in the spine, herniated disc, spondylolisthesis, and spinal stenosis.[2] Decompression therapy may be used to relieve pain from degenerative disc disease when medications, exercise, and physical therapy are not effective.[3]

3. Bulging or Herniated Disc

A bulging or herniated disc is a disc that has ruptured to leak jelly-like fluid on nearby nerves. Many discs that rupture are located in the lower part of the spine and can cause back pain or sciatica. Bulging and herniated discs are more common in older adults with weakened spinal discs and in those who have suffered injuries. Herniated discs produce symptoms including back pain, muscle spasms in the back, and leg muscle weakness. This condition can also be treated using spinal decompression.[4]

4. Sciatica

Sciatica is a symptom that indicates a problem with the sciatic nerve that runs from the lower end of the spinal cord to the back of the thigh above the knee joint. Sciatica can be caused by factors such as injury, obesity, bad posture, spinal stenosis, and a ruptured disc and is characterized by weakness, numbness, or pain anywhere along the sciatic nerve. This spine condition is commonly treated using exercise, medication, or spinal decompression surgery.[5]

5. Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a condition in which the spaces in the backbone become more narrow to put pressure on the spinal cord and nearby nerve roots. This spine condition is most common in adults over the age of 50 due to factors such as degeneration, arthritis, and tumors. Spinal stenosis produces symptoms of weakness, numbness, cramping, or pain in the arms or legs; it can be treated by using prescription medications, corticosteroid injections, and spinal decompression.[6]

6. Radiculopathy

Radiculopathy is any disease that affects the spinal nerve roots, such as a bulging or herniated disc.[7] Spinal decompression is a common treatment for radiculopathy.[3]

Understanding Spinal Decompression

Spinal decompression is a back pain treatment that stretches the spine and changes its position to take pressure off the spinal discs. Spinal decompression can be performed as a surgical or non-surgical treatment.[3]

Spinal decompression surgery may involve the removal of one or more bones or parts in the spine. Removing a piece of the vertebral bone can help relieve pressure being placed on the spinal cord or nerve roots. Removing materials from herniated discs also helps decompress the spine to relieve back pain.[3] Doctors will use different approaches when performing spinal depression surgery based on the root cause of back pain.[8]

Non-surgical spinal decompression therapy involves the use of traction and stretching. This helps realign the spine and relaxes the back to reduce pain. Non-surgical spinal decompression can be performed in several different ways, though the most common method involves the use of a harness that fits around the pelvis to slowly adjust the lower part of the body and relax the spine.[3]

Risks of Spinal Decompression

Non-surgical spinal decompression is not associated with any serious risks, though surgical methods may pose the risk for injury to the spinal cord, cerebrospinal fluid leakage, damage to nerves and blood vessels, and paralysis.[9]

Spinal decompression surgery also presents the same risks as any other surgery, including bleeding, infection, heart attack, stroke, coma, death, and the need for further surgery.[8]

What to Expect with Spinal Decompression

With non-surgical spinal decompression therapy, the doctor places a harness around your pelvis and places you on a spinal decompression table. The table is mechanically controlled by the doctor to slowly stretch and decompress the spine as needed. Spinal decompression therapy is not painful, though you may feel a slight tugging sensation during the procedure. There is no downtime associated with non-surgical spinal decompression, and you can resume normal daily activities following treatment.

Spinal decompression surgery takes between 1 and 2 hours and can be performed in one of several different ways depending on the root cause of back pain. General and spinal anesthesia will be used to prevent you from feeling any pain during the procedure. In most cases, your surgeon will make one or more tiny incisions on your back and gently move aside muscles and tissues to expose the spine. Then, any bones, ligaments, and/or discs will be removed as needed.[10]

Your doctor will allow you to go home after the general anesthesia wears off. You may feel weakness, numbness, and pain in the back, which will gradually dissipate over the next few weeks. The length of your recovery time can be anywhere from one to six months, depending on the type of surgery you receive and your overall health. Your doctor will give you detailed post-op instructions to follow in the days, weeks, and months after spinal decompression surgery.[11]

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Spinal Decompression

  • Will my spinal decompression treatment be surgical or non-surgical?
  • Will the treatment be painful?
  • How long will spinal decompression take?
  • How many therapy sessions will I need?
  • When will I start experiencing relief from my symptoms?
  • Will my symptoms come back after receiving spinal decompression?
  • How long will it take for me to recover?
  • When can I resume normal daily activities?
  • What are the risks of spinal decompression treatment?
  • Will this treatment address the root cause of my symptoms?
  • How many times have you performed spinal decompression?

Spinal Decompression May Also Be Known as:

  • Spinal decompression therapy
  • Spinal decompression surgery
  • Diskectomy
  • Laminotomy
  • Foraminotomy
  • Corpectomy
  • Microdiscectomy
  • Spine surgery

Frequently asked questions

  • What conditions might necessitate spinal decompression?

    Conditions such as back or spine pain, degenerative disc disease, bulging or herniated disc, sciatica, spinal stenosis, and radiculopathy might necessitate spinal decompression.
  • What are the two methods of performing spinal decompression?

    Spinal decompression can be performed either surgically, which may involve removing parts of the spine, or non-surgically through traction and stretching.
  • Are there any risks associated with surgical spinal decompression?

    Yes, surgical spinal decompression can pose risks like spinal cord injury, cerebrospinal fluid leakage, nerve and blood vessel damage, and even paralysis.
  • Is non-surgical spinal decompression risk-free?

    Generally, non-surgical spinal decompression is considered risk-free.
  • What should I expect during and after the spinal decompression procedure?

    The article provides a guide on what to expect during and after the procedure, including recovery time and possible side effects.
  • What are some important questions to ask my doctor about spinal decompression?

    The article suggests asking about the risks and benefits of the procedure, the recovery process, and whether non-surgical options might be suitable for your condition.
  • Can spinal decompression be used to treat sciatica?

    Yes, spinal decompression can be used to treat sciatica, among other conditions.
  • What parts of the spine might be removed during surgical spinal decompression?

    The article doesn't specify which parts might be removed, but surgical spinal decompression can involve removing parts of the spine to alleviate pressure.

Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

Related Health Concerns


Athlete's Foot

Broken Leg


Elbow Pain

Herniated Disc

Joint Subluxation

Lower Back Pain

Muscle Relaxers

Pinched Nerve

Psoriatic Arthritis

Rotator Cuff Injury

Spinal Stenosis





Wrist Pain

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