Category: Featured Articles

non-surgical spinal decompression

Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression: Is it Right For You?

Pain, pain go away!

Sometimes, I come across patients who have suffered a pain condition for a long time that no therapies have resolved, despite our best efforts. It can be frustrating, debilitating and depressing to get no relief. Fortunately for some conditions, I’m able to recommend a treatment alternative that has been very successful for many of my patients: non-surgical spinal decompression.

Spinal decompression is a therapy designed with the goal of alleviating pain and promoting healing of the intervertebral disc. It’s recommended for sufferers of many types of back pain, neck pain and arm/leg pain, tingling and numbness associated with spinal nerve irritation.

It’s not appropriate for every pain condition, but it is a tool in our toolbox of pain treatment. So let’s take a look at non-surgical spinal decompression for pain relief and you can decide if it’s something to discuss with your physician.


How spinal decompression works

In a nutshell, spinal decompression stretches the spine by having the patient lie on a traction table (or similar motorized device). The device stretches and relaxes the spine intermittently in a controlled fashion. The thinking behind this approach is that if we create negative pressure within the disc itself, a couple of things can happen.

First, the process can retract or reposition the herniated or bulging disc material back into the disc. But also, it can promote the influx of healing nutrients into the disc, which will foster a better environment for healing to occur.

We conduct this treatment right in our office. During this therapy, patients lie on the traction table (either face up or face down, depending on the area of treatment and patient comfort).

non-surgical spinal decompressionFor the low back, a harness is placed around the hips and is attached to the foot side of the equipment. The lower half of the table slides back and forth with a back and forth with a setting of a calculated number pounds of force while the upper portion remains fixed, creating an alternating axial decompression and rest. For the neck, the patient rests their head in a comfortable neck cradle while a specific number of pounds of pressure pulls the head and neck gently alternating between axial decompression and rest.

Many of my patients wonder if this process is painful. The answer is no. If you are having spinal decompression therapy, you should feel no pain during or after the treatment and only a stretching sensation in the spine.


“I really enjoy having decompression as an option for patients with arm or leg pain, tingling or numbness that is not responding to chiropractic and physical therapy. We really don’t like have to send a patient for a surgical consultation. For those few patients who aren’t getting well with chiropractic and physical therapy, the decompression typically works well and we can avoid sending them to a surgeon,” said Dr. Sharman


Treatment length and associated costs

Most spinal decompression therapy involves anywhere from 10 to 20 treatments, lasting about 15 minutes each. Best results are achieved by having treatment 3 to 4 times a week at least for the first 10 sessions. In our office, the cost is $40 per session. Patients can receive 15% off if they purchase a package of 10 for $340, making the session $34 a visit. We do not bill insurance for spinal decompression.

Like most pain relief therapies we recommend, I also encourage other therapies to go along with spinal decompression to help it be more effective. This may include electric stimulation, ultrasound, cold/heat therapy applied during or after spinal decompression treatment. I also find myself recommending that patients drink up to a half-gallon of water each day, rest (always), participate in a nutritional supplement protocol and perform exercises on their own to increase their strength and mobility.

Getting rid of pain doesn’t happen overnight – so patients that are a good fit for spinal decompression need to be prepared for a many weeks process and a commitment to follow the treatment approach I recommend.


Pros/Cons – and success rate for spinal decompression

You may know someone who has had spinal compression therapy. The concept has been around for a number of years, but there has not been enough clinical evidence to support the claims of its effectiveness. However, many believe that the positive results of the patients speak for themselves. And countless chiropractors have been using spinal decompression – with positive results – for over ten years.


  • Overall reduction in pain and ability to return to daily activities
  • May start getting relief after five or six treatments
  • May have reduction in the size of the disc herniation
  • Avoid surgery and drugs
  • Safe, with no pain and little if any side effects


  • Lasting relief may not happen until protocol is finished, which may be four to six weeks
  • Protocol may require as many as four visits per week
  • Can get expensive, due to the number of treatments


Final verdict

Like many treatment options, non-surgical spinal decompression won’t work for everyone. And for certain groups of people, such as pregnant women, people with metal hardware in the area of treatment and others, it’s not an option. However, for those who DO qualify and have the right pain condition to respond to spinal decompression, it can be the pain relief answer they’ve been looking for.

My hope is that we will continue to invest in clinical research into this therapy so as to present more evidence to show what we, as chiropractors, have experienced with our patients. If you think spinal decompression is an approach you’d like to consider for relieving your pain condition, please let me know. Schedule a free consultation to see if you are a candidate for decompression. If I think it’s a good fit and will benefit you, we’ll work together to assemble a treatment plan.


Dr. Sharman

what to look for in a good sunscreen

What to look for in a good sunscreen

Sunburns hurt – and hurt you long-term. So sunscreens are an imperative…and knowing what to look for in a good sunscreen is important.

The good news:  The FDA is finally proposing big changes that address many of our concerns, and should make all sunscreens safer and more effective.

The bad news:  The changes won’t impact sunscreens you’ll be buying THIS year.

Each sunburn causes irreversible damage to your skin that accumulates over time. It adds wrinkles and brown spots, making your skin age before its time. And each burn increases the risk of skin cancers and melanoma. I recommend following the sunscreen guidelines published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an American activist group specializing in research and advocacy in the areas of agricultural subsidies, toxic chemicals, and drinking water pollutants.

So while many of the FDA changes aren’t being applied to products on the shelf right now, you can still use the EWG (and my) guidelines when purchasing your sunscreen products this summer. Here’s what you need to know.


Qualities of a good sunscreen

Choose the right active Ingredients

For a long time, the FDA offered no assurances that the ingredients meant to provide protection from the sun were tested for safety and efficacy. However, it has for the first time conducted and published the results of testing for the active ingredients in sunscreen to determine two things: 1) rate of absorption through the skin and 2) health impacts that may result from exposure to those ingredients.

Based on this testing, only two active ingredients have been deemed safe – titanium dioxideand zinc oxide. The FDA recommends that the other 12 commonly used active ingredients require further testing.


Select an appropriate SPF rating

You’ll notice sunscreen on the market with a listed sun protection factor (SPF) of over 100 these days. However, bigger is not better. The FDA found that higher SPFs do not show additional benefit – and may provide a false sense of security. To counter this, the agency proposes limiting products’ SPF claims to 60+. Previously, the FDA had suggested a cap of 50+. This is what the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends. I do as well, and also recommend going no lower than SPF 30.


Include broad-spectrum protection

You should look for sunscreens that offer what’s termed “broad-spectrum” SPF protection. This means that the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. It’s a way of indicating the magnitude of overall protection offered by a sunscreen. All sunscreens provide UVB ray protection but not all are “broad-spectrum” or provide UVA protection. You need both.

The FDA is proposing new test that changes the method used to evaluate sunscreens’ broad-spectrum UVA protection. The EWG has found that 25% of SPF products would not pass with the new testing without changes to formulation.


Understand water resistant/water proof/sweat resistant

Labels can get confusing! But just know that no sunscreen is actually water proof or sweat resistant. Sunscreen labeling is not allowed to use either term. However, water resistant is allowable provided that the manufacturer specifies how long it lasts while swimming or sweating. So choose water resistant but make sure you reapply every two hours at a minimum (more often if you are toweling off, which removes sunscreen).


Pick the right application

Spray applications are on the rise – but in general, I do not recommend them. First, there is the concern that users miss many parts of their bodies with sprays, resulting in inadequate coverage. Second, there is concern that inhaling sprays could cause health issues, particularly if some chemicals make it deep into the lungs.

As well, the FDA is making several proposals around sprays to better protect consumers, including banning sunscreen/bug repellent combination products. My advice is to stick with lotions to ensure better coverage and zero inhalation risk.


Chemicals to avoid in a sunscreen

Sadly, sunscreens have always had carcinogens that people were unaware of. Many have been removed over the years, but a couple are still out there in products on the shelves this year. You should avoid products containing either oxybenzone or retinyl palmitate.

Oxybenzone is a potentially hormone-disrupting chemical that is readily absorbed through the skin in large amounts. It has been detected in bodily fluids including breast milk, amniotic fluid, urine and blood. Some people have had an allergic reaction to this chemical. It is found in two-thirds of sunscreens on the market today. Children are at an event greater risk to harm from oxybenzone because of higher absorption and accumulation of it within the body.

Retinyl palmitate is form of vitamin A that may harm sun-exposed skin. It has the potential to speed up the development of skin cancer. Enough said!


Protection and prevention

Besides selecting the right sunscreen, you can do a great deal to protect your skin simply by covering your skin and getting in the shade. If you must be outside, wear clothing and a wide-brimmed hat to cover as much of your skin as you can. Don’t forget about your eyes too! You’ll want sunglasses that block at least 99 percent of UV light.

The shade is your friend – particularly between 10 am and 4 pm when UV rays are the strongest. Taking a break if you are outside for extended time and giving your skin a “rest” from sun exposure is always a good idea. This will also help you avoid heat stroke, which is common this time of year.

Finally, steer clear of tanning beds and sun lamps. They are just so bad for us. Both can cause serious long-term damage to your skin and contribute to skin cancer.


Long-term how you know your skin is ok?

In adulthood, we should all make sure to schedule an appointment annually with our Dermatologist to do mole and skin checks. By checking your skin each year, a physician can determine if there are any major changes in your skin that could be precancerous. And your physician can counsel you on sun exposure and whether or not you are getting too much.

Please be safe this summer…and take care of your skin!

Dr. Sharman