You’ve likely heard the term “pinched nerve,” but maybe not the medical term “radiculopathy.” When a spinal nerve root becomes impinged upon by surrounding structures or material, it sends out pain signals that travel down the length of the nerve into an arm or leg. This traveling pain is known as radiculopathy, and it occurs most often in the neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine).
At Santa Cruz Osteopathic, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist Dr. Richard Bernstein sees many patients with radiculopathy from many different causes, which is why he offers state-of-the-art treatment options such as SpineMED®, a spinal decompression therapy platform that relieves your pain and restores your ability to function. Here’s what he wants you to know about your spine and how spinal decompression therapy can help.
What’s in a spine?
Your spine, all 24 interlocking bony vertebrae with cushiony intervertebral discs between them, serves as your backbone in more ways than one. It extends from the base of your skull to your coccyx, is strong and stiff enough to bear the weight of your head and allow you to stand up straight, but yet is also yet flexible enough to let you bend, flex, and twist.
The discs each have two parts: the outer annulus, a multilayered, firm structure that contains nerves; and the inner nucleus, which has a gelatinous consistency. Over time, your spine sustains normal wear-and-tear damage from daily movement that can eventually cause the annulus to crack, allowing the nucleus to ooze out or “herniate.” The material can impinge upon nearby spinal nerves, causing a great deal of pain.
In addition, the vertebrae are joined together by small, bony facet joints, and all together, they form the spinal column, which protects the inner spinal canal. The spinal cord runs through the length of the canal, with peripheral nerves exiting between the vertebrae and heading out to regions of the body like the arms and legs. If the canal has narrowed (spinal stenosis), if the discs have degraded (degenerative disc disease), or if the wear-and-tear of osteoarthritis has inflamed the spinal joints, any of the nerve roots can become impinged, leading to radiculopathy.
A classic example of lumbar radiculopathy is sciatica. Here, spinal narrowing or a herniated disc impinges on the sciatic nerve root, found in the lumbar spine at the L4-L5 junction. The pain shoots out through your buttocks and down the outside of your leg, at times even reaching into the foot.
What is spinal decompression therapy, and how can it give me relief?
Spinal decompression is a nonsurgical procedure that relieves back and neck pain. Damaged intervertebral discs don’t often heal on their own because the discs are under constant pressure. Decompression reduces the pressure inside the discs, allowing fluids, nutrients, and oxygen back into the disc space and causing bulging or herniated discs to retract.
The SpineMED decompression platform can be used for problems with both the lumbar spine and the cervical spine.
Lumbar spinal decompression therapy
If he’s working on your lumbar spine, Dr. Bernstein secures the patented pelvic restraints to keep your pelvis stable during treatment and tilts the panel to electronically move it just enough to target your problem area. This precise, computer-controlled system gently pulls the vertebrae and discs apart in that area, relieving built-up pressure.
Cervical spinal decompression therapy
If he’s working on your cervical spine, Dr. Bernstein tilts the panel to target the affected area, then positions your head in a cervical cradle and attaches restraints around the bottom of your head to keep your neck stable during the treatment. Once again, the system gently pulls the vertebrae and discs apart to relieve pressure.
Spinal decompression is completely painless. Each session lasts around 30 minutes, after which Dr. Bernstein uses other, complementary treatments to relieve your pain. He recommends that you have 20 sessions, once daily during the week with a rest period on the weekends, until your pain subsides.
Am I a good candidate for spinal decompression therapy?
SpineMED has been shown to be safe. It doesn’t produce side effects or complications once any abnormal conditions have been ruled out, and it’s appropriate for those age 16 and older. However, patients with conditions that compromise the spinal column’s structure, such as osteoporosis, spondylolisthesis grade 2 and above, tumors, or fractures, aren’t good candidates for the treatment.
If you’re dealing with the pain and discomfort of radiculopathy, regardless of the cause, spinal decompression therapy might be a good treatment option to give you the relief you need. To learn more, and to find out if you’re a good candidate, call Santa Cruz Osteopathic at 831-464-1605 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Bernstein, or book online with us today.