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Understanding the Benefits of Spinal Decompression
In our youth, the discs between our vertebrae are full of water, which means we are practically floating along through the day on a pillow of fluid. As we get older, our discs become less hydrated, often leading to a loss of height and shakier movements. We also tend to more jarringly Our movements also become less more jarring, and alas!
The height loss is brought about by decreasing amounts of proteoglycans – proteins that attract water via osmosis – in the discs.
Continual spinal loading considerably reduces proteoglycan synthesis rates, and we typically load our spines by sitting for hours and hours. Sitting not just pushes fluid out of the discs, but also makes it difficult to pull fresh fluid in. Because of this, the lumbar area is where our discs get the thinnest as we age. Lowered proteoglycan concentration is one of the initial signs of disc degeneration. It can lead to disc thinning at a single spinal level over time.
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Through daily decompression, the negative effects of spinal loading are interrupted. However, the ability of the therapy to bring back height loss from disc degeneration is still to be proven.
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Day after day, about 20% of our discal fluid is lost due to two main factors – gravity and its weighing down effect, and spine compression as a result of muscular activity. Small studies done on football players, whose heights were measured before and after a game, indicated that height loss due to spinal decompression can be recouped.
When we sit for a long time, more fluid is lost from our lumbar spines because this portion of the body has higher intra-discal pressure. Within the first two hours of sitting, which compresses our discs, about 10% of discal fluid will be squeezed out; with lumbar decompression, the fluid can be helped back in.
Research says fluid that is lost from too much spinal loading – when you carry a ten-kilo barbell, for instance – can be counteracted by lying on the back, legs folded at the knees. In addition, it was found that we lose more discal fluid when our backs are bent (kyphotic) position than when they’re arched (lordotic).
Spinal decompression (traction) is useful for both acute and chronic conditions, but its benefits work in different ways. Acute pain is relieved by the traction as the muscles are gently pulled out of over-protective mode, which then helps the fluid (which has pooled around joints) to leak out. In chronic conditions, traction stretches the disc walls’ incredibly strong fibrous mesh, enabling the discs to accept a lot more fluid, and precludes disc degeneration.
Finally, take note that discs are sacks filled with water. When you pull them apart, nutrient-rich fluid flows in, leading not only to prevention of disc generation but also enhancement of repair processes.