Spinal Decompression Therapy: Can It Help Sciatica?

If you’re struggling with back pain, you’re not alone. An estimated 65 million Americans share this common complaint — and for 16 million of them, it’s a chronic problem. 

Numerous causes of back pain can each trigger different symptoms, like sciatica. Unlike muscle strains or sprains, sciatica symptoms involve your sciatic nerve and radiate down one leg. Sciatica affects as many as 40% of adults and becomes increasingly more common with age. 

Dr. Richard Bernstein and the rest of our team bring a whole-body approach to diagnosing and managing sciatica at Santa Cruz Osteopathic in Capitola, California. One highly effective type of nonsurgical spine care involves spinal decompression.

Recognizing sciatica

While sciatica symptoms can vary from person to person, they always radiate along the sciatic nerve — the largest nerve in your body. 

You have two sciatic nerves. Each one starts in your lower back, runs through your buttock and hip, down your leg, and ends in your foot. Problems arise with this nerve when it gets compressed or pinched, often by a herniated disc, spinal stenosis (when the spine narrows), or a bone spur on the spine. Or, in very rare cases, it can occur due to other health conditions, like diabetes or a tumor.

When compressed, it triggers sciatica symptoms anywhere along the nerve. The most common signs of sciatica include pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling. They can range from mild and sporadic to intense and persistent.

In most cases, sciatica only impacts one side of your body. It’s also more common in older people, and those who are obese, sedentary, or sit for long periods of time. 

How spinal decompression works

Spinal decompression is a cutting-edge, nonsurgical procedure designed to gently restore space between the vertebrae. At Santa Cruz Osteopathic, Dr. Bernstein relies on the SpineMED® decompression system

SpineMED is a sophisticated computerized table that uses the latest technology to create a vacuum effect on spinal discs. This stretching of the spine creates a negative pressure that coaxes the spinal discs to retract, which encourages bulging or herniated discs to return to their normal position. 

Undergoing spinal decompression therapy also improves the health of your spine by stimulating the transportation of water, oxygen, and other healing nutrients to the intervertebral discs so they can heal properly.

Unlike other forms of traction therapy, spinal decompression leaves patients lying comfortably on their back instead of on their stomach or upside down. However, our team might recommend lying on your front during your treatment in some cases.

Using spinal decompression to relieve sciatica

Having spinal decompression therapy isn’t painful, and it usually lasts less than an hour. 

During your treatment, you remain fully clothed on a mechanical table with a lower and upper half, and the lower half can move. 

First, Dr. Bernstein attaches harnesses to your hips and ribcage. These restraints keep you stable on the lower and upper table section. Once secured, Dr. Bernstein activates the mechanical table to move and slowly stretch your spine with the proper adjustments to make sure you get the optimal stretch from your treatment.

Dr. Bernstein usually recommends a series of treatments to relieve sciatica symptoms. Depending on your symptoms and response to spinal decompression, this could be 15-30 sessions scheduled over a 4-6 week period. 

When having spinal decompression therapy, you should only experience a comfortable stretching of your spine, which we monitor throughout your treatment.

When to consider spinal decompression therapy

Spinal decompression comes with very few risks, making it a great treatment option for most people. 

Dr. Bernstein often prescribes spinal decompression therapy for numerous causes of back and neck pain, from facet syndrome and spinal stenosis to herniated, slipped, or ruptured disc and degenerative disc disease. However, it’s not for everyone.

In most cases, we don’t recommend spinal decompression therapy if:

Ready to see if spinal decompression can help with your sciatica symptoms? Call Santa Cruz Osteopathic at 831-316-1493 or make an appointment online today.

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