Back Surgery Alternative – Spinal Decompression

Medical treatment for nontraumatic back pain generally starts with nonsurgical, conservative treatments such as pain medications and physical therapy. Because of the high cost and risk of surgical complications, surgery is almost always the last treatment option for most back pain.

In many cases, back pain is caused by a herniated disc, protruding disc, or degenerative disc that causes pressure to nearby nerves or the spinal cord. Decompressing the spinal cord is the most effective way of eliminating the pain caused by these conditions. Spinal decompression can be achieved surgically or nonsurgically.

Nonsurgical decompression techniques are commonly known as spinal decompression therapy. Because of its noninvasive nature, and the heavy marketing efforts made by the service providers and device manufacturers, nonsurgical spinal decompression therapy as a back surgery alternative has attracted a lot of attention in recent years. Other back surgery alternatives include therapeutic massage, chiropractic, back injections, and back pain exercises.

What Is Spinal Decompression Therapy and How Does It Work?

Spinal decompression therapy uses a motorized traction system/device such as a therapeutic table to stretch the lower back. It’s essentially a revised form of traction therapy equipped with a computer and/or monitoring system. Spinal decompression therapy is often used to relieve back pain associated with herniated or bulged discs, degenerative disc disease, posterior facet syndrome, and sciatica.

A number of spinal decompression systems (also known as traction devices or therapeutic tables) are currently available on the US market. Different spinal decompression therapy providers may use different systems. DRX9000TM True Nonsurgical Spinal Decompression System manufactured by Axiom Worldwide, Inc. is currently the most popular spinal decompression system. Other systems used in nonsurgical decompression therapy include VAX-D Therapeutic Table, Decompression Reduction Stabilization (DRSTM) System, Accu-SPINATM System, SpineMED® Decompression System, Lordex® Traction Unit, and Triton DTS® traction system.

Manufactured by different companies, these systems consist of different features. But all of them include a specially designed, motorized table, which is essentially the core unit of each of the systems.

The systems mentioned above may work slightly differently with different effectiveness, but the basic idea behind each system is pretty much the same. Take the DRX9000 system as an example, this popular spinal decompression system allows chiropractors, physical therapists, or orthopedic physicians to apply precisely controlled force to the lower back to create a negative pressure inside the disc. The negative pressure creates a vacuum effect that draws the bulging disc material back into the disc and thus release the pressure on the nerve and/or the spinal cord. The device can also draw fluids into the disc, which hydrates the disc and helps the disc heal.

Spinal decompression therapy is mostly used by chiropractors and physical therapists at their offices. It consists of multiple sessions with each session lasting from 30 to 60 minutes. The whole treatment can last for months. Depending on the practitioner, the price of each session varies from $80 to $150 and the total cost of the treatment can go up to several thousand dollars.

Things to Know While Considering Spinal Decompression Therapy

Please keep in mind that spinal decompression therapy, like any other treatment, does not work for every patient. If you are interested in the therapy, carefully find out the pros and cons of the therapy and the devices used before you start the treatment. A lot of information about the devices used in spinal decompression therapy can be found at the FDA’s Web site (

Please also be aware the difference between FDA approved products (drugs or devices) and FDA cleared products. “FAD approved” means that the product has been tested in clinical trials and the trials have demonstrated that the benefits (safety and efficiency) of the product outweigh the potential harms. On the other hand, “FDA cleared” means that the product is allowed to be used without being necessarily tested in clinical trials.

The regulations for medicines and devices are different. All medicines, including chemical compounds such as ibuprofen and biological products such as flu vaccines, must be approved by the FDA before they can be used to treat patients. But not all medical devices have to get FDA approval before the manufactures can sell them. FDA regulators can clear medical devices if they believe the devices pose a minimal to moderate risk. And the systems used in nonsurgical spinal decompression, including the popular DRX9000 system, are FDA cleared, not FDA approved. Claiming a device is FDA approved when in fact it is FDA cleared is illegal.