Many people have bulged or herniated discs in their low back or neck. A low back disc bulge can cause pain in the back and often pain, tingling and or numbness down the leg, also known as sciatica. A neck bulged disc can cause these same symptoms down the arm and hand. Spinal decompression therapy has been shown to be successful in 80% of cases by not only reducing the pain and symptoms of a bulged disc but actually promoting healing of the disc.
What is a bulged disc?
Your disc is like a hockey puck that provides cushion between each vertebra. They keep your vertebrae from banging together when you run or jump. The center of the disc has a thick jelly center that provides the shock absorption capacity of the disc. The tough outer rings of cartilage that hold the jelly inside can be torn. These tearing injuries often take place with heavy lifting and bending accidents, but also from car wrecks and repetitive injuries. The discs of both low back and neck can be injured. When these tears occur the jelly can bulge out and cause pressure and inflammation around nerves that go down the leg. Or in the case of a neck bulged disc, the nerves that go down the arm. Those with bulged, herniated or ruptured discs feel pain in the spine and often tingling and numbness and even weakness in the correlating limbs.
How do you know your back or neck pain is from a bulged disc?
A thorough history of your symptoms and examination often gets us 90% certain. We rarely require an MRI but sometimes an MRI is used to confirm our suspicions. The cost of the MRI is more than the cost of the entire series of spinal decompression treatments needed so we don’t recommend MRI until necessary. X-ray is only slightly helpful in determining a bulged disc since it only shows a narrowed space between the two vertebrae and doesn’t directly show the disc itself.
What is Spinal Decompression?
Nonsurgical spinal decompression therapy is a method of reducing pressure within a damaged spinal disc. A gentle pumping action is produced in the disc which promotes circulation to the disc therefore bringing fresh blood and nutrients to the disc. Circulation also attracts fibroblasts which are special cells whose job is to directly repair the disc. Decompression also stimulates the removal of waste products that build up after disc injury. What makes this unique from most treatments for spinal disc bulges is that it actually promotes healing. It is not just a pain cover up. Researchers are also suggesting that as the disc experiences reduced internal pressure, the bulging jelly tissue can be retracted back into the disc. Some studies have shown a complete resolution of the bulged disc with before and after MRI.
What does a session look like?
- Lumbar (low back): The patient lies on the table in a comfortable position either on their stomach or back depending on the type of disc injury and what reduces pain the best for that patient. Then there is a series of straps around the pelvis and torso. The pelvic strap is attached to the computer module which provides a gentle stretch. It produces intermittent stretching meaning there is a periodic cycle to the stretch. With the protocol we use, there is a 45 second stretch followed by a 15 second rest. This cycling of pressure followed by a rest phase decreases pressure within the damaged disc. This treatment continues for 12-15 minutes.
- Cervical (neck): When treating the cervical spine, the patient is lying on their back with a bolster under their knees. There is a padded unit that the head lies on and a little flexible strap that goes across the forehead, there are two soft pillars that give a gentle traction to the base of the skull gently separating the vertebrae. Like the lumbar protocols, the decompression is intermittent with 45 second pull phase and a 15 second rest phase.
Conditions that respond well to spinal decompression
Although spinal decompression was originally intend for disc injuries to the low back or neck, these other conditions respond favorably as well.
- Spinal stenosis
- Degenerative disc disease
- Osteo arthritis
- Facet syndrome
How long will this take?
While each patient is different, many get great results in just a couple weeks. Most will require 20 sessions or less.
What is the cost?
Our package of 20 sessions costs $1500 and includes the following:
- Spinal decompression
- Spinal manipulation if indicated
- Massage to muscles that may be contributing
- Therapeutic ultrasound and electrical stimulation to help reduce pain
- Core strengthening exercises using biofeedback (see below for more information)
- Training in simple and easy to use home McKenzie protocol exercises
- A home TENS unit the patient can keep
- The powerful herbal anti-inflammatory product Theracumen
- Disc gard - a supplement containing nutrients the body
- Although spinal decompression is FDA approved for disc injuries, Insurance doesn’t cover it, but may cover some of the therapies that are part of our package. These cases will be handled on an individual basis depending on your insurance.
- If the cost is a concern, we accept Care Credit, which is a no interest way of financing the entire cost for 6 monthly payments with no interest. Or if you need more time, you can set up repayment for up to 60 months. If you would like to apply online and get instant approval in advance, go to CareCredit.com
There are large superficial muscles that do the heavy lifting, but before these fire, the deep “core” muscles must contract to stabilize the spine before the heavy lifting can safely occur. If a patient has had an injury to the back, it often results in weakened core muscles and delayed firing of these muscles. To avoid future injuries these muscles must be retrained to fire fractions of a second BEFORE the lifting muscles do. They also must be strengthened. At Ellis chiropractic we utilize biofeedback and other methods to help these small muscles of balance and coordination, such as the transverse abdominus and the multifidus become strong again. We also help teach the gluteus maximus to fire to stabilize the lifting muscles of the low back.
The following patients should not get spinal decompression therapy:
- Pregnant mothers – (straps around the abdominal region adds too much compressive force on a developing baby in the uterus, but cervical discs could be treated)
- Previous spinal surgery in the region with hardware implanted, like bolts, rods, screws etc. Notice: because of the gentle nature of spinal decompression if you have had surgery but there was no hardware used in the surgery, spinal decompression may be helpful in treating the failed back surgery.
Treatment alternatives for bulged discs.
Traditional medicine treats bulged discs with steroid injections and if these are ineffective, surgery may be recommended. Our package of spinal decompression, chiropractic, nutritional and physical therapies including core strengthening is successful over 80% of the time, but if we don’t achieve the desired results we work with very good local pain specialists and surgeons that we can refer to.
Research: Latest research show us that regardless of how large or severe the disc injury is 80% of patients can avoid surgery and return to normal activities.
"Serial MRI of 20 patients treated with the decompression table shows in our study up to 90% reduction of subligamentous nucleus herniation in 10 of 14. Some rehydration occurs detected by T2 and proton density signal increase. Torn annulus repair is seen in all”
Eyerman, Edward MD. Simple pelvic traction gives inconsistent relief to herniatee lumbar disc sufferers. Journal of Neuroimaging. Paper presented to the American Society of Neuroimaging, Orlando, Florida 2-26-98
“Eighty-six percent of ruptured intervertebral disc (RID) patients achieved ‘good’ (50-89% improvement to ‘excellent’ (90-100% improvement) results with decompression. Sciatica and back pain were relived.” “Of the facet arthrosis patients 75% obtained ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ results with decompression.”
C. Norman Shealy, MD, PhD, and Vera Borgmeyer, RN, MA.
Decompression, Reduction, and Stabilization of the Lumbar Spine: A cost –effective treatment for lumbosacral pain. American journal of pain management Vol. 7 No. 2 April 1997
“Results showed that 86% of the 219 patients who completed the therapy reported immediate resolution of symptoms, while 84% 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.”
Gionis, Thomas MD; Groteke, Eric DC. Surgical Alternatives:Spinal Decompression. Orthopedic Technology Review. 2003; 6 (5)
“All but two of the patient in the study improved at least 30% or more in the first three weeks.” “Utilizing the outcome measures, this form of decompression reduces symptoms and improves activities of daily living.”
Bruce Gundersen, DC, FACO Michael Henrie, MSII, Josh Christensen, DC. A Clinical Trial on Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression Using Vertebral Axial Distraction Delivered by a Computerized Traction Device. The Academy of Chiropractic Orthoopedists, Quarterly Journal of ACO, June 2004
“Distraction results in disc rehydration, stimulated extracellular matrix gene expression, and increased numbers of protein –expressing cells.”
Guehring T, Omlor GW, Lorenz H, Engelleiter K, Richter W, Carstens C, Kroeber M. Department of Orthopedic Surgery, University of Heidelberg Germany Disc distraction shows evidence of regenerative potential in degenerated intervertebral discs as evaluated by protein expression, magnetic resonance imaging, and messenger ribonucleic acid expression analysis. Spine. 2006 Jul 1:31(15):1658-65
Spinal Decompression Therapy “…Allowed imbibition and complete reduction of the visualized herniation.” Spinal decompression therapy provided an effective means of treatment for this patients symptoms resulting from discal herniation (extrusion) with associated impingement of the adjacent nerve root.” “MR imaging proved to be a useful and non-invasive technique in monitoring the efficacy of decompression therapy as it applies to this case.” “Decompression of the spine proved to be superior to the other forms of conservative care when applied to our patient. The patients’ results were both subjectively favorable and objectively quantified.”
Treatment of an L5-S1 Extruded Disc Herniation Using a DRX 9000 Spinal Decompression Unit: A Case Report. Terry R. Yochum, DC DACBR Fellow, ACCR, and Chad J. Maola, D.C. Chiropractic Economics, Vol 53: Issue 2.