By Art Holliday
St. Louis (KSDK) -- Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jacob Buchowski says being overweight, sitting too much, and having weak core muscles contribute to an epidemic of back pain, especially herniated disks.
"What can happen with a herniated disk is that the disk material can herniate and protrude through onto those exiting nerves," said Dr. Buchowski. "As a result you have a lot of pain."
Back pain is the second most common neurological ailment in the US. only headaches are more common. Americans spend $86 billion a year treating an epidemic of back pain. That includes the 800,000 people annually who have back surgery, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
For many patients, surgery doesn't get rid of the pain, and some are turning to a non-surgical option called spinal decompression.
Seventy-one-year-old Buck Krieger tried to lift a tractor to change a tire. His back paid a severe price.
"I just couldn't move. I literally could not move and I had an MRI after that and found out I had three disks that were bulging," said Krieger.
Wanting to avoid surgery, Krieger opted for non-surgical spinal decompression.
"It probably took me 10 or 12 visits to get down to no pain. I had pain coming around the front of my leg and my knee, I mean it was everywhere. it was really bad," said Krieger.
Spinal decompression therapy is a non-surgical treatment for various types of back pain including herniated disks, sciatica, and degenerative disc disease. A computerized traction device slowly and gently stretches the spine, taking pressure off compressed discs and vertebrae. Chiropracter Dr. Shane Niefert performed the spinal decompression procedure for Buck Krieger.
"It's not a static pull, but it actually goes through a rise of pulling and then a decrease in pulling. That wave allows the muscles to completely relax," said Dr. Neifert. "As it does that it creates a vacuum. That vacuum creates a negative pressure. There is actually relief for many of the patients as they lay on the machine in a relaxed state and as they relax, the bulge begins to pull back up and pull apart, very gently, and most patients should have no pain, most have no pain as they're on the machine indicating that we're helping relieve the nerve irritation."
Critics say there is limited scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of non-surgical spinal decompression therapy. Yet the procedure is gaining acceptance as patients seek pain relief, according to Dr. Buchowski. "I have had patients who told me they've gotten relief through those kinds of treatments, so I think it's a reasonable thing to try under the right circumstances."
Screening patients carefully is crucial according to Dr. Neifert, as is the expertise of the doctor.
"We'd like to help everybody, but the point is not everybody's the same, and if they've had meshing, or screws put into their back already, or if they have cancer of their bone in their back, they're just not a good candidate," said Neifert.
Each spinal decompression session lasts about 30 minutes. It can take 20 to thirty 30 to eliminate back pain. The Food and Drug Administration has approved spinal decompression machines, but some insurance plans consider the treatment experimental and won't cover the treatment.