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.


Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression – Fact or Crap?

Yesterday, a patient came to my office and told me her medical doctor sent her to me to see if I did spinal decompression.  For those of you who don’t know, non-surgical spinal decompression uses a specialized type of chiropractic table that provides computer assisted traction in order to separate the spinal bones and promote disc and ligament healing.  Devices are known as the DRX-9000, VAXD, Lordex, DRS and others.  The problem is, there are too many problems.

  • Spinal decompression is a good procedure but has not been shown to be any better than techniques like Flexion-Distraction.
  • Providers of spinal decompression almost always claim superiority of their technique over others.
  • Spinal decompression devices are much, much, much more expensive than traditional flexion-distraction devices.
  • In order to pay for their expensive, computerized tables, many spinal decompression doctors resort to false or misleading advertising, pre-paid treatment plans and other unethical practices.
  • Decompression chiropractors frequently prescribe a 20 visit minimum treatment protocol (usually at about $200 per visit!!) for which there is no clinical rationale.  Many of these patients would get better faster with other treatment methods.

I don’t have a problem with the DRX-9000 or other SD tables in and of themselves.  The theory is pretty good and mirrors the excellent results we obtain with flexion-distraction for disc herniations and bulges.  I have a major issue with the false and misleading practices, the high-pressure sales tactics, the false claims of superiority and the pre-paid treatment plans.  I also don’t feel like paying an extra $60k to hook my table up to a computer. 

I sent the MD who inquired about the technique a nice letter along with a copy of some of the articles naming lawsuits concerning the spinal decompression practices and some of the major insurance company positions on decompression (is it considered experimental and no better than currently available procedures).  It would be nice to see this become a legitimate piece of equipment as a tool for chiropractors to use but as of now, there is too much controversy and too many unethical practices associated with it.

Dr. Brett Kinsler is a chiropractor in Rochester, NY.  He gets excellent results with patients who have disc injuries in his Rochester chiropractic office and does not need to resort to hype and lies. His website is

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