More Spinal Decompression Lies You Should Know

None of my blog articles have caught more attention or been the subject of more flack than when I tell the truth about non-surgical spinal decompression like the VAX-D, DRX-9000 and other pieces of equipment that are similar.  You will recall that I am not against the use of these machines in general — only that the marketing of them is seriously misleading and the practitioners who use them frequently sell patients on long term, prepaid care plans that are highly unethical.  The marketing of non-surgical spinal decompression also frequently falsely claims superiority over other techniques like flexion-distraction — such claims have not been proved.

As a result of some of the feedback I have received, I came across an article from the journal Chiropractic & Osteopathy titled “Non-surgical spinal decompression therapy: does the scientific literature support efficacy claims made in the advertising media?” published in May 2007.

What’s the bottom line?  Does the decompression hype live up to the claims?  That’s a big, giant, whopping “NOPE!”

A little more detail, you say?  Okay.  The article examines this “heavily marketed” version of traction therapy that “can cost over $100,000.”  The authors extensively search all the major medical and scientific literature databases to find every scientific research article published on nonsurgical spinal decompression.  It turns out,  there was only 1 randomized controlled trial, 1 clinical trial, 1 case series and 7 other papers.  Each was reviewed individually. 

The authors concluded that “In general the quality of these studies is questionable.”  And that there was “only limited evidence…available to warrant the routine use of non-surgical spinal decompression, particularly when many other well investigated, less expensive alternatives are available.”

Gee, that sounds just like what I told you a few months ago.

 Also interesting was that this intervention has never been compared to exercise, spinal manipulation, standard medical care or other less expensive conservative treatment options which have an ample body of research demonstrating efficacy.  How the practitioners can get away with claiming any superiority and not be restrained from doing so is a mystery to me.

I’m not saying that any chiropractor who has a spinal decompression unit is a crook.  If he or she is charging you the same as a regular visit in order to use the experimental equipment, then that may be fine.  If he or she tries to convince you to pay in advance, sign up for a dozen or two visits or tells you how fantastic the device is compared to other treatments, don’t walk….run away and find another chiropractor.



  1. JeffreyPfeifer said,

    September 6, 2008 at 8:33 am

    Yo RochesterCiro,

    I am new to blogs and I don’t know if I am wasting my time.

    I’ll keep it short for now.

    I have a lot to say on decompression.

    My experience goes back to 1976. . . .before the hype.


  2. September 6, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    I’m listening…what’s on your mind?

  3. david walters said,

    September 8, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Sorry I posted this message in “Spinal Decompression–Fact or Crap” by accident. I meant to post it as a comment to this blog entry.

    Discussion continues here:
    Spinal Decompression — Fact or Crap

  4. mike kerns said,

    September 13, 2008 at 12:06 am

    I have tried every conservative treatment and stay the same is decompression worth the investment

  5. September 13, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    Mike –

    It wouldn’t be responsible of me to make any treatment recommendations without knowing the slightest thing about you or your condition. However, knowing what I do about decompression, if you have truly tried “every conservative treatment” and that included mechanical traction and flexion-distraction, then it is doubtful you will respond any better to non-surgical spinal decompression.

  6. drdebbie said,

    September 22, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    Thanks for tipping me off about these blog posts Dr. Kinsler, and yes I am rather amused at all the emotional responses you’ve gotten. Usually, I just ask my patients if it passes the crap test (as in, is it too good to be true?).

    I recently had a long standing patient come in who is incredibly active and healthy well into his 70s. He had some radiculopathy symptoms for the first time in his life and had found a decompression website on the internet. He went to see the doctor and they took an X-ray. He was told he had incredibly bad degeneration which was causing his symptoms and that he would need $5000 worth of care to get him back to normal. He brought this to me for my opinion. Firstly, his X-rays were not bad at all (never mind that it doesn’t really correlate with symptoms anyways) and secondly we resolved all his pain, numbness and weakness in 5 visits.

    My opinion – why not try the more investigated and less expensive option first? Chiropractic certainly is not the silver bullet for everything, but its often a good inexpensive place to start.

  7. September 22, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    Of course responsible chiropractors see examples like yours all the time. Too bad you don’t get paid the rest of the $5000 for getting that patient better much more quickly! I suppose that’s one of the problems with evidence based practice in chiropractic. Getting people better quicker actually makes the doctor less.

    I’m okay with that…I couldn’t sleep at night the other way around!

    Thanks Dr. Wright for sharing your experience from Vancouver.

  8. October 22, 2008 at 7:35 am

    To choose the right treatment is most important and if it is about pain than there should not be any compromise. Spinal Decompression is one such choice. It is the best alternative to spine surgery. Some treatments aim at pain suppression, while others are corrective in nature but Decompression therapy treats the factors that cause pain. I have been visiting an informative site for a few weeks now, it is providing good information and helping many with their medical advices. Anyone interested can visit this website Click here to read on Spinal Decompression
    Thanks for sharing this…

  9. October 22, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Looks like another one of those marketing websites for spinal decompression that uses unsubstantiated claims. How can you state that anything is the *best* alternative to surgery without having any research to back that?

    Thanks for the help with our “medical advices”

  10. Sandra Casciani said,

    August 21, 2009 at 4:59 am

    Advice for cervical stenosis…please

  11. Sandra Casciani said,

    August 21, 2009 at 5:00 am

    P.S cervical spinal stenosis

  12. August 23, 2009 at 8:58 am

    Sandra – I have contacted you offline since I have a feeling you have some specific questions.

  13. CGB said,

    September 1, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    I don’t know if it effective or not. It looks to me like a bench with a winch. I Had 3 treatments on an accu spina machine for my neck. The machine malfunctioned and over pulled. There is no fail safe on it. The magnetic clasp gave way and I was injured. It is a garbage piece of equipment and anything that is run with a windows computer scare the crap out of me.

    The Accu Spina machine is very cheaply made. It is computer controlled traction. I have been in chronic pain since 1991. The only time I was pain free was when I had an Atlas Orthogonal adjustment but I no longer live close enough to an atlas DC. AO was great. Dr David Nygaard is a saint.

    I have cervical spinal stenosis canal and foraminal and some herniations and disk dessication and tears. God hates me and I hate him right back.

    I am now using and inflatable traction collar and I am doing my own version of flexion distraction as my wife is too fat, lazy and uncaring to take the 5 minute away form the TV to do it so I to it myself every few days. It helps.

  14. September 11, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    Spinal decompression is a *tool* that must be *integrated* into a patients complete and total care plan. Many of those who oppose non-surgical decompression and claim it is no different the traction need to assess the literature on traction. There is quite a bit of evidence to support the use of traction for same conditions and decompresion is, in my opinion, and reincarnation of this treatment modality.

    I do agree that misleading advertising claims are properly the real problem here and not the responsible use of decompression therapy.

    Although, if the docotor gets sold a 10,000$ piece of equipment for 100,000$ he may feel a certian sense of urgency to sell care plans…

    Dr. Sadovnik
    NYC Chiropractor

  15. December 19, 2009 at 1:02 am

    Ya you are absolutely right. Spinal injury is the biggest headache for today’s society. Our spine Care Centre, offers expert treatment for spine health. They offer latest and most traditional Chiropractic techniques including Full Spine Diversified,and Active Release Techniques.

  16. Yvonne Alton said,

    January 19, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    I am looking for some guidance and direction as to how to approach my situation regarding my experience with a VAXD treatment program.

    Shortly before giving birth in 2006 I started to experience some back pain. After giving birth, the pain severely intensified and included serious and constant spasms. Before going to a local Chiropractor, I tried therapy, accupuncture, Bowen therapy, 3 epidural spinal injections, a surgery consultation and a 1/2 truck load of various medications. Nothing really seemed to help on a long term basis, with the exception that the
    accupuncture seemed to have removed the spasms. I was still left with incredible daily pain and the inability to sleep through the night – which intensified my anxiety and ability to cope on a day to day basis.

    By the time I went to see this local chiropractor, I was seriously desperate and willing to do whatever I had to in order to find relief. Before I handed over the near $7000 and the promise to complete the daily program for 20 to 30 visits, I pleaded with the Doctor to not take my money unless he was highly confident he could provide relief and improve my pain issue. I am a single mother working part time as an accountant, this money makes a huge difference in our lives. I was prepared to part with this as an investment in my future and my abiltiy to successfully go back to work full time. He gave me the assurances I felt I needed and we started the program.

    After 30 visits I was still not feeling much of an improvement and was told I would need to sign up for an additional package for about another $2500 for some maintenance. I could understand regular maintenance if I was feeling back to normal, but I was still feeling much the same. I recognized that there would be some form of wellness for anyone with an early morning daily chiropractic adjustment. When I approached him about this, I was told that it was my fault for not coming in enough over the Chrismas (2008) holiday – which actually was after my 30 treatments was complete. I felt by following the program initially, I should not have been so unstable where a missed visit would make that much of an impact on my end result. I was also told that the recent death (2009) of my father was a contributing factor to the tension in my back.

    There are many other details regarding his treatment that may be relevant, but for now I keep this as brief as possible. I did send the Doctor a letter requesting a total refund – or credit toward services of the difference between the VAXD treatment and a regular chiropractic visit as I did not feel that the treatment was effective in the least and he should stand by his program and results. He did not respond.

    I really do feel that I was taken advantage of and would like to formally complain or take some legal action – perhaps with small claims court and wanted to find out if there were some similar (ideally Canadian) claims or actions against a Chiropractor regarding this subject. Information or questions I could review in preparing supporting documentation would be helpful.

  17. January 20, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    I am not aware of any similar lawsuits but I am aware of many, many patients like yourself who were taken in by high pressure sales pitches and overpromises. Decompression is an excellent treatment but there is no need for it to cost $7000 in advance nor should it require 30 visits to see if it is working. I hope someone who sees your comment here contacts you with the information you desire.

  18. drmadc said,

    February 7, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    To Yvonne,
    I don’t have a yacht or a mercedes. I am a chiropractor wanting to help people. I am sorry for your experience. If it makes you feel any better, I have noticed over the course of a few years that the marketers of decompression, one by one, dwindle into the unknown. My philosophy and what I tell my patients is that I want them to give me four visits on my schedule. If after four visits there is no change, then I will be happy to refer them. This goes for any form of treatment.

  19. Yvonne Alton said,

    February 8, 2010 at 2:40 am

    I always give my tax and accounting customers complete satisfaction (and do everything to avoid an audit) or I don’t take their money. At least I can sleep nights (finally).

  20. Dr. Beckner said,

    February 25, 2010 at 1:59 am

    I travel the country advising chiropractors and medical doctors who utilize non surgical spinal decompression. It’s posts like these that motivates me to continue to connect with practitioners and teach them how to implement systems that stem from a place of integrity and authenticity. NSSD is a fantastic technology to facilitate the healing process of someone suffering with disc related low back and sciatic leg pain. It’s not a panacea for every back pain patient but for the ideal candidate it can prove to be extrordinary. To anyone reading this post…when consulting with a doctor about decompression keep this in mind 1) A proper consultation that includes a case history of your condition must be addressed 2) A thorough physical examination consisting of a series of orthopedic tests, neurological testing, and functional capacity testing should be performed. 3) Spinal instability must be ruled out utilizing diagnostic motion imaging studies 4) Confirmation of all the above findings must be weighed against a spinal MRI or CT Scan. 5) There should never ever be any pressure placed on you to pay up front or sign your life away by committing to a recommended care plan 6) If a practitioner will not accept you for treatment unless you pay up front – WALK AWAY 7) A thorough evaluation should be performed every 10 visits and compared to the baseline functional capacity tests and not simply be based on your subjective pain scale 8) Decompression alone is not enough to give you the opportunity to have the longest term results possible it must be combined with the proper pre and post therapies along with proper active rehabilitation.

  21. DEckelbarger said,

    April 2, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    I have a slight C curve to my R and I strain my back 1 or 2 times a year. Following a month of spasms and utter pain. Injury’s include, wip lash, ski accident with cervical strain, also bone spur on C-6, C-7. Very active all my life horse back, swimming, skiing, jogging, tennis, mountain climbing, skating, roller blading. I am lucky to be as good as shape for 57. My thoracic is the area of my spine that has more wear other than that no other degeneration. I have never broken a bone. Just mostly muscle issues and subluxations. However, my chiropractor is advising this compression system pre paid etc. I am skeptical. With a curve in my spine how will my muscles react to this and will they just go back to the original position. I was told I have scar tissue that is pulling me and this machine will stretch it out. TKS

  22. April 2, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    If your problem is truly scar tissue, there are probably better techniques for you than decompression. Graston instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization (see for more info) comes to mind. What concerns me, however, is not so much that your chiropractor is recommending decompression but that he is requiring you to enter into a pre-paid type of scheme. Get another opinion from someone more responsible. Fast.

  23. Dr. Beckner said,

    April 3, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    DEeckalbarger…it’s nearly impossible to confirm anything that this doctor is telling you based simply on your post. I would suggest reading my post just above yours and make sure that this doctor provided you with a thorough investigation into your condition and has provided you with an accurate assessment. I agree with rochesterchiro..if you do have significant scar tissue then graston technique is a fine approach.
    If you are in fact a good candidate for decompression this doctor should have provided you with several options for making an investment for resolving your condition. If he has only given you a prepayment option I’d be concerned. To your health!

  24. DEckelbarger said,

    April 3, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Thank-you both. I will look into this technique.

  25. Roger said,

    April 29, 2010 at 3:00 am

    We have a chiorpractor in town that has the drx 9000 decompression machine. He only charges $40 a visit… plus you get muscle stim, a chiropractic adjustment and a massage. Everyone else is charge $200 plus for the same treatment. Its good to shop around… most chiros are taking advantage of disc injury people suffering…. Dont be taken!!!!

  26. April 30, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Don’t be fooled by price. Cheaper doesn’t always equate to better. Not saying that the guy charging 200 a visit is better. What concerns me more is that he is also delivering adjustments to these disc patients. “General chiropractic adjustments” are contraindicated for chronic disc pain patients. Restoring proper motion is important at the right place and time, so the type of adjustment being delivered is critical. High velocity, side posture or other high force type of adjustments to the injured disc would have me very concerned. I am only referring to the use of this type of adjustment as it relates to the severe disc patient.
    Like I tell anyone that asks me about a specific doctor and non surgical spinal decompression…the magic isn’t all in the machine…but rather the proper application of the technlogy by the clinician. Sometimes you get what you pay for.

  27. April 30, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    I agree that cheaper does not always equal better. I am just pleased to hear about a doctor who is using decompression and isn’t interested in gouging his patients in the process.

    Thanks for chiming in here.

  28. DrLoGiudice said,

    May 29, 2010 at 12:54 am

    I use the Triton DTS, it is an affordable table ($10K) and it has been wonderful in my practice. I do not use any hard sell tactics, I actually let them try it once at no extra cost, and it usually sells itself. At $50 a visit, I am one of the most affordable decompression doctors in the Portland area. I see the guy down the street getting fined for his advertising of NSSD, I don’t want to ever be in that boat. It is unfortunate we get grouped together with the “unscrupulous doctors” then you have doctors saying NSSD is a scam, or it patients saying it doesn’t work because they got ripped off. I guess the saying is true, “common sense is not that common”. If after a few sessions, you are not getting any relief, consider getting a second opinion. I did have a fireman, that didn’t start getting relief until the 7th visit, we got him back to 95% in about 16-18 visits over 3-4 months. I couldn’t of done that with a Cox table or traditional chiropractic.

  29. Brett L. Kinsler, DC said,

    May 29, 2010 at 7:18 am

    Looks like the fine folks in Linn City must be in good hands 🙂

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