I got asked a very legitimate question a little while ago regarding if I thought my spinal decompression treatment was worth it. Given that I’m still having issues with my back, *I* consider it a reasonable question anyway. 🙂
The very short answer is YES.
The detailed answer, with all the wheres and whys takes a little explaining however.
First, let me start with the obvious caveat that lawyers have none the less made mandatory anymore; your medical professional is the best person to advise you if ANY form of treatment is suitable for you Specifically.
Likewise everything I’m going to write here comes from a layperson. A moderately well read layperson who has put the advice given to personal use and seen benefits, but I am NOT a licensed health care professional in any form. Everybody’s physiology and biochemistry is a bit different too, so results may vary.
A Little Background:
Yes, I am still having troubles, but they’re largely focused on my lower back at this point. The area that I had decompression on was my neck or cervical spine area.
My neck was worse off, which is why the doctor decided to try it first. The degeneration there caused all manner of problems. I had sleep issues, severe headaches that were a mix of extreme tension headaches and migraines, brain fog and trouble focusing, and probably a dozen other issues, including a Parkinson’s-like tremor in my left arm. All that from pinched nerves in my neck caused by the spinal degeneration. My neck was at stage 3 spinal degeneration per the diagram below.
My lower back / lumbar region, on the other hand was at phase 2.
I had the headaches since the mid 1990s also. Since there was no real neck pain to accompany them and the other symptoms, I had NO idea for years that it was actually a spinal issue. Flair ups were bad enough and I was scared enough of addiction to opioid pain killers that I was taking 8 extra strength Advil pills at a time. If I didn’t have a constitution like Charlie Sheen’s, I probably would not have a stomach or liver left at this point. DO NOT do what I did there.
The real breakthrough came about 9 or 10 years ago. I was sitting at the PC, suffering through another severe headache when I heard something on the balcony of our apartment (probably just a bird or the neighbor’s cat). I turned my head to the left, and my neck popped so loud it sounded like a gunshot going off. My pain almost instantly went from an 11 on a 1 to 10 scale down to a 2, and a zero within minutes.
Over the following years, we tried multiple treatment options. Chiropractic treatment was variable. My first chiropractor actually tore a disc in my neck! The one after that was much better, but could only hold the situation at bay pain-wise. Acupuncture did wonders for the pain itself but nothing to fix the actual degeneration either.
By the time I was considering the spinal decompression, my MRI scans showed I was getting close to the point of either surgery or letting the bones fuse themselves together.
Side Note: You can see that process in the diagram above. it’s the body’s answer to protecting itself when it can’t actually heal the compressed disc(s) on it’s own. The vertebrae will literally grow out towards each other and try to fuse together.
Surgery, as I pointed out in previous posts, is expensive and has a very high fail rate over time. Decompression is $4000 vs anywhere from $100,000 and frequently more for surgery that fails regularly, and typically transfers the strain to other parts of the spine. I also saw enough benefit from the earlier alternative medicine that I had legitimate reason to believe decompression could work.
So, LONG story short, I was in nearly 25 year, long-term bad shape and out of options when I tried decompression. It still helped me.
I’ve never told that whole story in 3+ years of time here because I try to avoid personal drama online. It’s toxic and it focuses on the problem instead of moving forward. In this case though, it’s important to understand how bad off I was before treatment.
The Right Doctor Makes All the Difference:
The reason the lower back pain is still there and there are a few minor ongoing neck issues is that I chose the wrong doctor. He was very hands-off, letting his office staff run the computerized automatic decompression table, didn’t communicate well, etc…
We also got off on the wrong foot when we did my initial test treatment to see how I’d respond. The treatment did OK for my neck but he refused to look at my lower back that day, and sent me home in so much lower back pain that I could barely get in and out of the Mustang. I verbally lit him up when I showed up for the next treatment and told him if he did that again, I’d cancel treatments, get a refund for the balance and trash him on every review site I could find.
I didn’t have a treatment problem after that, but needless to say, we were politely cold to each other from then on. My original neck treatment pack was 24 treatments with a review of progress at that point and possible continuation for the full normal package of 36 (12 extra treatments).
He also just gave me the vibe of somebody more interested in dollars than patient well-being, but that is only a personal opinion.
So second long story short, assuming you have options in choice, is to find a doctor you feel comfortable with, will answer questions, and gives the vibe of caring as opposed to wishing you’d hurry up so they can be off to something else. In the case of the greater Nashville area, I had at least 4 other clinics I could have looked into beyond the local one.
My actual progress, combined with my dislike of the doctor meant I never even went back in for the re-evaluation or possible lower back treatment.
The Process Will NOT Be Fun, At First
I wrote about this in my earlier posts. I had quite a bit of subdermal scar tissue along my spine at the neck. Normally this kind of scar tissue only forms as a result of surgery and other “invasive” incidents or procedures. It DOES happen otherwise though, and the longer term your injury is, the more likely the scar tissue is there, or at least fibrous tissue that VERY closely resembles surface scar tissue. In the case of spine problems, the tissue will or may form to try to protect and reinforce the area around a damaged or compressed disc.
Even if you don’t have any subdermal ‘scar’ tissue, keep in mind that you’re still stretching muscles, tissue, etc… that have been constricted and tight for a while. Discs will try to expand to their natural shape also, and nerves will shift. It’s all going to hurt.
With all the scar tissue that broke loose in my neck, I was miserable for the first week. I lived with a cold pack on my neck. I could feel the difference in the type of pain though, and a reduction in the secondary issues I was dealing with. No brain fog, muscle ache pain vs severe migraine pain, etc… The cold packs really did help also and are important for fighting inflammation caused by the treatment.
About half way through the treatments, the pain was minimal, and I was “Hell yeah! let’s keep the ball rolling!”. By treatment 24, my neck felt like it did when I was 20.
Post-Treatment Makes ALL the Difference:
If you want to make sure you get your money’s worth out of treatment, doing the right things afterwards makes ALL the difference. Lead a dumb lifestyle and stress your back, and I’ll guarantee you’ll reverse everything you gained in a matter of mere months. Our forced move away from Nashville (mainly doing it ourselves), and a few other events put a definite strain on my lower back and neck so I’ve felt it first hand.
I’ve also stuck with the therapy and other habits that are undoing that strain and continuing my healing progress.
Here’s the work you’re going to expect to have to do:
Dietary Changes: Simple and sometimes obvious. If you’re overweight, that puts an extra burden on your spine. Sugar causes inflamation. Highly acidic food leach calcium from your bones. Changes do NOT have to be instantaneous. It’s awesome if you can quit cold turkey. If not, work on slowly reducing unhealthy foods while you search for healthy alternatives and ways to cook them where you enjoy eating them. If you’re a sugary drink junkie, like me, slowly reduce them and substitute with water. I do NOT recommend the vast majority of diet drinks as their artificial sweeteners often cause more issues than they fix. Stevia and Monkfruit ‘sugar’ being notable exceptions and natural.
Nutritional Supplements: specifically those designed for bone health and nervous system support. Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium in particular are important, if not outright vital. Get them naturally via food as much as you can. Use high quality supplements otherwise. That means no junk sold at the local drug or grocery store.
Personally, I take Animal Pak vitamins intended for competition bodybuilders. I’m anything but a bodybuilder. However, the vitamins and minerals are top quality and sourced from easily bio-absorbed sources. There are no nasty fillers or binding agents either. Did you know that many cheap vitamins use Plaster of Paris as a binding agent or silicon dioxide (ie sand) as a filler ? Think either of those are good for your digestive system?
Solaray is another good supplement company that I can recommend. Anywhere my main multivitamin falls short, such as the aforementioned Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium, I supplement with Solaray.
At Home Physical Therapy: It will take work to finish rehab of your injured spine. Because my back and neck were in such bad shape initially, I have two home traction units I use (updated reviews on them coming soon). Overall, I think they’re a worthwhile investment if you get the right ones and use them properly and regularly.
If your spine wasn’t in as bad a shape or suffering for such an extended period of time, you can possibly get away with with a massage wand, stretching, yoga and relaxation exercises. If you’re inclined to label yoga as some new age BS for soccer moms, consider that Diamond Dallas Page’s yoga program has literally saved the life and restored the health of some former big name wrestling stars. Scott Hall being the biggest success story.
Bottom line is that you have to maintain flexibility and range of motion as part of maintaining and strengthening your back.
I should include using proper lifting techniques and such as part of the general category of “therapy”. Continue lifting with your lower back instead of your knees and you’re just asking for a return to back pain. Trying to lift more than you safely can; also trouble. Take care of your body and it will take care of you. 🙂
LASTLY; IF You Were Long-Term Sedentary Because of Your Injuries: Remember it will take time to undo all of the muscle loss and weight gain. DO NOT push yourself in some blind determination to return to your glory days overnight. At best, you’ll be so exhausted you can’t do anything. At worst, you’ll re-injure yourself.
Go slow, keep your exercises as low-impact as possible (which is why I like rowing), and progress at a rate your body is comfortable with. Save the macho, “no pain, no gain” stuff for the military, and kids who will end up with their own back issues eventually. You’ll get stronger and more active, it just takes time and a sensible approach to it.
ALL of this should be considered life long stuff also. The biggest mistake that people who injure their backs make is to only do these kind of things until they start to feel better. Inversion tables are a great example. They’re frequently bought by people in the early stages of back pain. They really work too so long as you don’t have bad knees or a couple of other medical conditions that can make them unsafe.
The new owner will use them for a few weeks, feel better, and immediately toss the thing on Craigslist though. Inevitably they end up hurting again eventually too because they didn’t change the habits that got them hurt, or continue doing what they needed to rehab and strengthen their back.
Yes, the exercises and therapy takes time. Quality nutritional supplements cost money also. Consider the alternative of an unproductive, pain filled sedentary lifestyle though.
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