You probably know the term “pinched nerve,” but maybe not the medical term for it: “radiculopathy.” When a root of a spinal nerve becomes impinged upon by surrounding structures or material, the nerve generates pain signals that travel down the length of the nerve into an extremity. This traveling pain, which can be a sharp jolt or a dull ache, is known as radiculopathy, and it occurs most frequently in the neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine).
At Santa Cruz Osteopathic, physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) specialist Dr. Richard Bernstein sees patients with radiculopathy stemming from many causes. That’s why he offers state-of-the-art treatment options such as SpineMED®, a spinal decompression therapy platform designed to relieve your pain and restore your ability to function. When is decompression therapy the right treatment? Here’s what Dr. Bernstein has to say.
The spine runs from the base of your skull down to your tailbone and consists of 24 interlocking bony vertebrae with cushiony intervertebral discs between them. The spine is strong enough to hold your head up straight, stiff enough to allow you to stand up straight, yet flexible enough to allow you to bend and twist.
Each disc contains two parts: the hard outer annulus and a gelatinous inner nucleus. Over a lifetime of movement, the discs can sustain wear-and-tear damage; the annulus cracks and the nucleus oozes out or “herniates.” The nuclear material can compress nearby spinal nerves and their roots, causing a great deal of pain.
In addition to disc problems, the vertebrae themselves can lead to compression. Small, bony facet joints join each pair together. Together, the discs, joints, and bones form the spinal column, which surrounds and protects the spinal canal, essentially a hollow tube.
The spinal canal is important, though, because the spinal cord runs down its length, with peripheral nerves exiting through holes between the vertebrae and heading out to all other parts of the body. If the canal narrows (spinal stenosis), the discs degrade (degenerative disc disease), or if osteoarthritis inflames the joints, nerve roots can become compressed, leading to spinal pain and radiculopathy.
What is spinal decompression therapy, and how can it give me relief?
Spinal decompression is a nonsurgical, noninvasive procedure that relieves back and neck pain. When intervertebral discs become damaged, they don’t often heal on their own because they’re under constant pressure. Decompression reduces the pressure inside the disc space, allowing fluids, nutrients, and oxygen back in and causing bulging or herniated discs to retract.
The SpineMED decompression platform can be used for problems with both the cervical and lumbar spines. The precise, computer-controlled system gently pulls the vertebrae and discs apart in the damaged area, relieving built-up pressure.
Spinal decompression is a completely painless procedure, with each session lasting around 30 minutes. When you’re through, Dr. Bernstein uses other complementary treatments to help relieve your pain (see below). He generally recommends that you have 20 sessions, once each day during the week, with a rest period on the weekends, until your pain subsides.
How can physiatry help?
Physiatry (Physical medicine & Rehabilitation) is a branch of medicine, sometimes called rehabilitation medicine, dedicated to diagnosing, preventing, and treating disabilities related to the brain, nerves, bones, and muscles.
Physiatrists take a holistic, multifaceted approach to patient care. They combine physical therapy and pain management to maximize the patient’s physical functioning, decrease or eliminate pain, and improve their quality of life. Ideally, this approach improves the patient’s condition enough that they can avoid a surgical solution.
A physiatrist is a medical doctor specializing in PM&R. After medical school graduation, they undergo four years of post-graduate training through internship and residency programs. The combination provides a broad knowledge of medicine, biomechanics, anatomy, and knowledge about musculoskeletal and neurological disorders that they apply to patient care. Spinal decompression is just one example of this process at work.
If you’re struggling with neck or back pain, especially if it’s combined with radiculopathy, spinal decompression may be the right course of action for you. To learn more or to schedule a consultation with Dr. Bernstein, call us at 831-464-1605 or book online today.