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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Physical Therapy: New Advances In Physical Therapy Treatment

Among the most recent, new advances in the physical therapy treatment of patients with neck and back pain is something called spinal decompression. It is an improvement of the old spinal traction machines. The concept remains the similar, although we now know, better, why this treatment works so well for most patients.

First, it's important to know why spines hurt. Most of the time, human spines hurt because time, gravity and genetics conspire to cause our discs to wear out. These changes give rise to intermittent pain, at first. If we are lucky, we will get through our lives without severe, constant or disabling pain. But many are not so lucky.

The important question to ask is, "Is there an effective way to change this natural course of spinal aging and, for some people, pain and disability?" That is, actually, too broad a question. That question could be deconstructed into many different questions. I will suggest a simple answer to a simpler question.

Given the natural history of human spinal degeneration, pain and disability, is there an intervention that can, meaningfully, improve this problem?" To that, I'll answer, "Yes".

Now, I am going to get very simple in my explanation. Then I'll elaborate a little, so that professionals understand too. First, for laypersons, the reason that spines hurt, is that time compresses our spines. The more time, the more compression. The rate of compression varies from person to person, but in all persons this process occurs. Everyone loses height as they age, as a result of this process. It squashes them and that hurts.

The most direct way to treat this problem, is to decompress the spine, i.e. physically pull the vertebrae apart. You can use a sophisticated spinal decompression table as I do, or you can try to use a conventional traction table if that is what you have. Very mildly compressed spines may respond to inversion tables, though this will not suffice if you have a significant problem in your spine.

Professionals should know: Spinal discs have some regenerative potential as documented by CT scans showing improved disc height after a series of such treatments. Histologic(microscopic) and radioisotope studies show an increase in the number of cells in the disc and an increase in the synthesis of reparative molecules in discs treated with decompression. The important fact is that most patients treated this way, note significant improvement.

There are some things that machines can do more effectively than humans. One of them is to apply a load, over time, to deform a tissue. The are biomechanical terms that denote, in this case, the improvement of the spinal disc when it is pulled with sufficient force, a sufficient number of times. It is a very unfortunate fact, that the majority of the patients I treat have not been treated, offered nor discussed spinal decompression as treatment. And they may have had pain and disability for months or years. This is a fundamentally rational component of spinal treatment that should be tried with almost all patients.

So when it comes to physical therapy treatment in Atlanta, for patients with neck pain and low back pain, I recommend patients and professionals, alike, consider learning more about, and trying, spinal decompression.

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