Is Spinal Decompression the Answer for Herniated Discs?

About one in 10 people with herniated discs eventually need surgery, according to the Mayo Clinic. A herniated disc, also known as a ruptured or slipped disc, can affect your ability to perform every day tasks, as well as cause severe pain that can interfere with almost everything you do. There are a number of treatment options available for herniated discs—both surgical and non-surgical—with spinal decompression being touted by some as one of the better non-surgical options.

Spinal decompression is a non-surgical treatment method used for patients with back pain and other problems associated with spinal-disc injuries, such as herniated discs. The aim of spinal decompression is to relieve pressure from the disc, which, in turn, relieves pressure from the nerve.

Poor posture, improper body mechanics, repetitive stress, and acute injury all account for herniated discs. The problem of a herniated disc is often perpetuated by the fact that the compressed disc(s) restricts the flow of nutrients (like blood and oxygen) to itself, which then makes it difficult for healing.

According to Steven Hefferon, physical therapist and certified massage therapist in Germantown, MD, spinal decompression can cause a misaligned disc to be sucked back into place and create more space between the vertebrae so that more blood and oxygen can get to the area. "It also will remove any pressure on the spinal nerves caused by misalignment," he says.

There are three common methods used for spinal decompression:

  • Machine DRX
  • Inversion Therapy
  • PhysioBall

The frequency and duration of spinal decompression treatment will vary depending on the age and condition of the patient, the severity of the herniated disc, and the number of herniated discs.

While spinal decompression can be an important part of an overall healing strategy, it is important to note that it is just one aspect to treat the causes of a herniated disc.

The following are tips and strategies to maintain a healthy back.

Tips for a Healthy Back

Practice good posture. Be aware not to slouch when sitting or standing. Ideally you want to keep your ears aligned over your shoulders and your shoulders aligned over your hips. It is especially important to make sure your work surface is a comfortable height and position for you.

Take breaks. If you work at a desk, periodically get up and walk around the office and do some easy neck, shoulder and side to relieve muscle tension.

Lift with proper technique. The first rule of thumb is don't try to lift objects too heavy for you. When you do life, make sure to lift with your legs and not with your back. Bend your knees, keep the object close to your body, engage your stomach muscles, keep your back straight and align your head with your straight back, and then left with the strength of your legs. Be sure not to twist your body when lifting.

Stretch. Spend at least three minutes stretching to warm up your body before exercise or any other strenuous physical activity.

Sleep on a firm mattress. : Health experts say that sleeping on a mattress that is too soft can cause neck and back stiffness and pain. Experts recommend sleeping on your back with no pillow to support the natural curve of your spine.

Maintain a healthy weight. Excessive weight, especially weight around the waistline, can tax your lower back muscles. Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats and get plenty of exercise.

Exercise. Physical activity helps you improve your muscle strength and flexibility, which is vital for a healthy back (particularly strengthening your abdominal muscles). Yoga is a great exercise to help you stretch and strengthen your muscles and improve your posture.

If you smoke, quit. Studies have shown that smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine and can cause the spinal discs to degenerate.

Note: It is important to note that no single treatment option for a herniated disc works best for everyone. Talk to your doctor about the various options. You may need to try a range of treatments, including spinal decompression, before you and your doctor discover which treatments are the most effective at relieving your pain and restoring proper function to your back.


Hefferon, S. Spinal Decompression. What is it and will it work for you and your condition? Accessed January 11, 2010.

Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Accessed January 11, 2010.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Herniated Disk Guide: open decompression for herniated disk. Accessed January 12, 2010.

Non-Surgical Treatments for Back and Neck Problems. Accessed January 12, 2010.

Spinal Decompression Surgery. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed January 12, 2010.

Wallack, R. Spinal Decompression Devices Watch Your Back. Los Angeles Times. January 11, 2010.,0,5605030.story. Accessed January 12, 2010.