Nerve compression, commonly called a “pinched nerve,” results when a nearby structure puts pressure on a nerve or its root. It’s common in the spine, where vertebrae, discs, bone spurs, and herniated material can extrude into the spinal canal, which runs the spinal cord and associated nerves. As the space narrows and the nerve roots become compressed, you experience pain.
When the pain doesn’t remain at the compression point but rather travels down the length of the nerve, it’s called radiculopathy, and it occurs most often in the neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine) because these areas move the most.
At Santa Cruz Osteopathic, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist Dr. Richard Bernstein offers state-of-the-art treatment options for nerve compression and radiculopathy, including the SpineMED® platform. There are two types of decompression therapy to relieve your pain and restore your ability to function, which the doctor explains here.
The spine laid out
The spine is your backbone, consisting of 24 interlocking bony vertebrae with pillow-like intervertebral discs between them. Extending from the base of your skull to your tailbone, the spine is strong enough to bear the weight of your head, stiff enough to allow you to stand up straight yet flexible enough to let you bend and twist.
Each disc contains two parts: the firm outer annulus and the gelatinous inner nucleus. Over time, your spinal structures sustain damage from the wear-and-tear of daily movement, which can eventually cause the annulus to crack and allow the nucleus to ooze out or “herniate.” The material may compress nearby spinal nerves or their roots, causing a great deal of pain.
The vertebrae themselves can also lead to compression. They’re joined together by small, bony facet joints, and together the discs, joints, and bones form the spinal column, which surrounds and protects the inner spinal canal.
The spinal cord runs down the length of the canal; peripheral nerves exit through holes between the vertebrae and head out to regions of the body like the arms and legs. If the canal has narrowed (spinal stenosis), the discs have degraded (degenerative disc disease), or if osteoarthritis has inflamed the joints, nerve roots can become compressed, leading to spinal pain and radiculopathy.
A common example of lumbar radiculopathy is sciatica, where spinal stenosis or a herniated disc compresses the sciatic nerve root located at the L4-L5 junction of the lumbar spine. The pain starts in the lower back, travels through your buttocks and down the outside of your leg, and may even reach into the foot.
Understanding the two types of spinal decompression therapy
Spinal decompression is a nonsurgical, noninvasive procedure that relieves back and neck pain caused by compressed nerve roots. Damaged intervertebral discs often don’t heal on their own because they’re under constant pressure from the weight of the spinal column and the head above them. The decompression process reduces the pressure inside the discs, allowing nutrients, fluids, and oxygen back into the disc space to heal the tissue.
The SpineMED platform can be used for decompression in both the lumbar and the cervical spines.
1. Lumbar spinal decompression therapy
If your problem lies in the lumbar spine, Dr. Bernstein first secures the restraints to keep your pelvis stable during treatment, then tilts the panel with your pelvis just enough to target your problem area. Finally, the computer-controlled system gently pulls the vertebrae and discs apart, relieving compression in that area.
2. Cervical spinal decompression therapy
If your problem lies in the cervical spine, Dr. Bernstein first tilts the panel to target the affected area, then positions your head in a cervical cradle. Finally, he attaches restraints around the bottom of your head to stabilize your neck. Again, the system gently pulls the vertebrae and discs apart to relieve compression.
Spinal decompression is a completely painless treatment. Each session lasts about 30 minutes, after which Dr. Bernstein uses complementary treatments to help relieve your pain. He recommends 20 sessions, once daily during the week, with a weekend rest period for maximum relief.
Am I a good candidate for spinal decompression therapy?
SpineMED is a safe, effective treatment option that doesn’t produce side effects or complications and is appropriate for those aged 16 and older. However, patients with conditions that compromise the spinal column’s structure (e.g., osteoporosis, spondylolisthesis grade 2 and above, tumors, or fractures) aren’t good candidates for the treatment.
If you’re experiencing back pain, getting an accurate diagnosis is important to receive effective treatment. Call Santa Cruz Osteopathic at 831-464-1605 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Bernstein, or book online with us today.