When you have back pain that won’t go away, you might find relief with spinal decompression. This group of treatments includes alternative therapies and surgery. Your healthcare provider will help you find the right option for you.
Spinal decompression describes different types of treatment that can offer back pain relief by taking pressure off the neural elements of your spine.
Your spine (backbone) provides support for your body. It consists of bones called vertebrae, with ligaments and spinal disks that keep it flexible. Your spinal column provides a nerve pathway that runs down the middle of these bones, ligaments and disks.
Spine injuries or degeneration (wear and tear) to your spine can cause pain. You might feel pain from compression in your spine that puts pressure on your spinal cord or nerves. Spinal decompression seeks to relieve the pressure to ease the pain.
Some common reasons you might seek spinal decompression treatment include:
Some types of back pain don’t need a healthcare provider to treat them. Acute (sudden) back pain usually gets better on its own. Pain relievers or muscle relaxants offer relief while you heal. Using hot and cold packs can help, too.
For chronic back pain or long-lasting pain, there are other treatment options. Most people start with non-invasive therapies. If home care doesn’t work, your healthcare provider may recommend surgical treatment.
Complementary or alternative medicine can relieve pain without surgery. Options you might consider:
Healthcare providers may recommend surgery if other therapies don’t help. While some spinal decompression surgeries use minimally invasive techniques, not all do. Ask your healthcare provider if a minimally invasive surgery will work for you.
Your surgical options for spinal compression may include:
After your surgery, you may stay in the hospital for up to five days. A full recovery can take months, depending on the type of surgery you had. Physical therapy can help you regain strength, movement and nerve sensation.
Deciding which procedure would work best for you depends on many factors. Your healthcare provider will make a recommendation based on your overall health history and injury severity.
In general, healthcare providers prefer a “stepped” approach. They start with less invasive and more cost-effective procedures to see how the injury responds. If those don’t work, the next level of care may include surgery.
Your healthcare provider may conduct several tests to better understand your injury. These tests may include:
Medications can cause allergic reactions, and alternative therapies may not work. Surgical options can cause infection, bleeding, blood clots or nerve or tissue damage. Discuss your options and concerns with your healthcare provider.
The right treatment can fix problems that are causing back pain. Using a stepped approach allows your healthcare provider to find an option best suited for your case, with the least risk possible. Treatment can get you back to work, school or play.
Surgical cases can have a high success rate at relieving pain. Surgery may not fix all degenerative issues. You may experience symptoms again.
In clinical trials for spinal stenosis, people who had surgery showed more improvement than those who received nonsurgical treatments.
Talk to your healthcare provider about your individual needs and outlook.
You should see a healthcare provider if your back pain doesn’t get better with pain relievers, rest, heat and cold packs. If your back pain treatment doesn’t seem to be helping, talk to your healthcare provider. You may need to try a different spinal decompression treatment.
Most women suffer from back pain at some point during pregnancy. While you’re pregnant, you should speak to your healthcare provider about your pain levels.
Research has shown some alternative therapies, such as chiropractic care, can relieve pain during pregnancy. But not all treatments may be safe or work for you. Your healthcare provider will help you find one that works for you.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
No one should have to live with back pain. If your back hurts, talk to your healthcare provider. Many treatment options can relieve symptoms. Some medicines and at-home remedies might help. And some people find relief from alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and chiropractic care. If those don’t do the trick, you might have surgical options that can ease your pain and get you back to an active lifestyle.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/18/2022.
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