Spinal decompression is the act of slowly elongating the spine, opening the spaces where the nerves live. As soon as the pain goes away, the stretched position is held for a minute. The process is repeated multiple times, coming in and out of the stretched position. Not only does this help manage pain, but it can also speed healing and recovery.
The most common type of nerve pain that benefits from spinal decompression is sciatica. Sciatica is when someone is experiencing pain in the buttock or leg along the path of the sciatica nerve. Frequently, sciatica is caused by the nerve being pinched from a herniated disc in the low back. There are other conditions such as piriformis syndrome that will not respond to decompressive therapy however. This is why it is extremely important to get a correct diagnosis from a spine specialist before beginning any treatment.
Although spinal decompression is very effective, the best results are obtained when it is combined with other therapies. For example, stretching or using myofascial release on any surrounding restricted muscles is extremely beneficial. Also, there are usually joint misalignments above or below the area of the pinched nerve. Utilizing spinal manipulation on the areas of joint dysfunction can additionally help with recovery.
Nerve mobilization (Neurodynamics) is another therapy can work in conjunction with decompression. As the name implies, this technique is used to loosen nerve tension within restricted tissues. This is done by stretching the nerve from one end and providing slack on the other end. Using sciatica as an example, the leg would be placed in a position to create a downward stretch on the sciatic nerve. The spine would then be moved in a way to release tension and accommodate the stretch on the other end. This would then be repeated in the other direction, stretching the spine and loosening at the leg.
In some cases the discs in between the spine are compressed and irritated themselves, but not enough to cause nerve pain. However, the inflammation in the spine can cause low back pain or neck pain. Spinal decompression can be used for pain relief in this situation. However, functional rehabilitation stretches and exercises will usually be necessary as well.