Eventually it got to the point where Sally couldn’t cope with the pain any longer. Hoping to avoid surgery, she had heard that recent progress in nonsurgical spinal decompression methods, originally developed by Dr. Allan Dyer in 1985, had advanced far beyond traditional spinal traction devices for the treatment of slipped or herniated discs, sciatica, pinched nerves, bone spurs, degenerative disc disease and more, giving her a viable alternative option to alleviate her back pain.
Bulging, slipped and ruptured discs (herniation), collapsed discs, vertebral bone spurs, loose spinal ligaments and bony growths can all narrow the spinal canal and nerve openings, causing irritation, inflammation and considerable chronic pain. Spinal traction, which stretches the spine to take pressure off compressed discs, has been used with varying degrees of success since the time of Hippocrates (460-385 BCE). The “Father of Medicine” himself treated scoliosis with manipulative techniques using gravity and a traction table with straps, wheels and axles to treat protruding discs.
In the 1950s, James Cyriax, an early leader in British osteopathy, popularized a form of mechanized lumbar traction he had developed, recommending it as a treatment for disc protrusions in the low back. Over the years, the results of clinical studies assessing the effectiveness of basic traction to mitigate back pain and treat spinal conditions, especially low back pain, have varied widely, with “continued lack of methodologic rigor and the limited application of clinical parameters as used in clinical practice, ” according to one team from the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland.
Another consistent complaint leveled against the use of traction, aside from inconsistent results, was the apparent fact that traction often only provides temporary relief. Once traction is released, back pain tends to return rather quickly. Surgical spine decompression has been used for decades in an attempt to relieve many of the same back pain symptoms targeted by traction—those caused by pressure (compression) on the spinal cord and the nerve roots (the beginning part of a nerve as it exits the spine between two vertebrae).
“I don’t like knocking medicine, but 25 percent of back pain cases are worse off after surgery,” says Sally. “Why would you want to risk that?” Dr Tim Kanady, chiropractic practitioner and founder of Kanady Chiropractic of Anchorage, Alaska, is even more blunt about the poor prognosis following back surgery. “Statistically, back surgery is the least successful surgical area,” he says. “Most people are back under the knife again within a year.”
At the point where she was wondering if she could even continue working, Sally heard about the work of Dr Allan Dyer and the new line of nonsurgical spinal decompression devices being introduced into the market driving the field of intervertebral differential dynamics (IDD) therapy. In Dr Dyer’s method, a carefully calibrated tension is applied to pull the spine. Then there is a “hold,” followed by a partial release of tension. This variable “hold/release” dynamic is repeated many times over a 30-minute session. The tension gives the damaged discs more room in the spinal column, encouraging blood, nutrient and oxygen flow to the damaged area. Instead of the unnatural sustained tension of traditional traction, the give-and-take dynamic simulates real-life operation, and the disc begins to heal naturally and regain its original shape.
Sally located the only such device in the UK, which was being used by a colleague at the Buckingham Clinic in Glasgow. “Basically, I went up to this osteopath, I had one treatment and it made such a difference,” she says. “I hadn’t actually realized how bent forward I’d gotten, but after the first treatment I could stand up straight. I thought, ‘There is something really important going on here!'”
Eighty percent of adults experience low back pain at least once in their lifetime, and an estimated 80 percent of the time, lumbar pain is related to issues with the intervertebral discs.
IDD therapy is a computerized, nonsurgical spinal decompression treatment for low back and neck pain and commonly associated conditions such as sciatica. One of the most important and unique aspects of IDD therapy is that, unlike general traction devices, the computer-controlled pulling forces delivered by the device can be targeted to gently draw apart specific segments of the spine, relieving pressure on specific discs and nerves while simultaneously gently stretching tight muscles and stiff ligaments. IDD therapy has been proven to be safe and painless. The average treatment course includes approximately 20 treatment sessions that are completed over about 5 weeks. Each treatment is performed with a physiotherapeutic device under the supervision of a professional practitioner, and sessions last about 30 minutes if not accompanied by other noninvasive treatments such as cold laser, heat treatments or manual manipulation.
During the treatment, the tension (weight) starts at zero and gradually works up to about half the body weight of the patient. Then the tension reduces a bit and holds, then reduces again and holds in ever-decreasing weight increments. With each treatment, if everything is going well, the practitioner increases the tension/weight and builds on it until things get moving in the affected spinal region.
Unlike old-fashioned traction devices (which are no longer legal in the UK), clinical results using IDD spinal therapy for appropriate conditions such as sciatica, herniated and compressed discs, degenerative disc disease and posterior facet syndrome (where the weight-bearing joints at the back of one or more vertebrae become worn, damaged and inflamed) are not hit-or-miss.
In one study, 86 percent of patients with a ruptured intervertebral disc (RID) and 75 percent of patients with facet arthrosis experienced “good” (50-89 percent improvement) or “excellent” results (90-100 percent improvement) after decompression therapy. By contrast, only 55 percent of the RID patients and 50 percent of facet arthrosis patients achieved “good” to “excellent” results with traction. The effects of IDD are also much longer lasting than those of traction. Within the industry, it is accepted that about 70 percent of patients who experience positive results with IDD remain pain-free after two years.
Sally was so impressed with the results she achieved with IDD therapy for her back problems that she immediately decided to include the therapy in her own osteopathic practice. She completed the training to become certified to operate the equipment from an American chiropractor and trainer, which only took a couple of days. Her office first rented and later bought an IDD machine, becoming only the second osteopathic practice in the UK to have one.
An increasing number of practitioners, from chiropractors and osteopaths to spinal surgeons, use IDD and attest to its effectiveness.Otto Von Arx, an orthopedic spine surgeon based in Bath, UK, is one of them. “The treatment is comfortable and, having experienced it myself, I can identify when it will help patients,” he says. “I only operate on a small percentage of patients who come to see me, and the general goal amongst surgeons is to exhaust noninvasive options. IDD therapy, as a nonsurgical spinal decompression program, allows clinicians to treat targeted disc issues and, in many cases, avoid the need to go down an invasive treatment route.”
Kanady, who was the first chiropractor in Alaska to buy an IDD machine back in 2001, says he sees remarkable results in patients with problems in the cervical and lumber regions of the spine. (Treatment of the thoracic spine area is not possible with IDD.) “People come in who can’t work, their daily activities are very restricted, they’re on pain pills and they’ve tried other conservative treatments,” he says. “In the patients we treat with IDD, we see an 80 to 90 percent improvement rate.”
Of course, Sally herself is another success story. After undergoing a standard 20-session IDD treatment course, she says she’s now perfectly fine. “I don’t have pain. I can stand up straight and work all day,” she says. “I don’t limp or have pins and needles anymore. I play tennis twice a week, I do yoga, I’m skiing again. Basically, I’ve got my life back.” Like some patients who successfully undergo IDD spinal therapy, she had another MRI after her treatment and was surprised to discover there was basically no change in the bulges in the cervical and lumbar areas of her spine. “A lot of our patients are scanned before and after, and some do get physical changes, but not all,” she says. “I’ve learned that it’s not really necessarily about what it looks like. It’s about the movement that you gain and the healing that goes with that.”
On the other hand, there are patients who, on top of symptom and pain relief, experience startling physical changes. Kanady recalls one of his first IDD patients, who came in with a painful eight-millimeter herniation of his lumbar L5 disc. “Eight weeks later, the MRI showed it was physically gone. Whether it was reabsorbed or pulled back in or both, we don’t know. But he’s been symptom-free now for 18 years.” So far, Sally, who is now the clinical director of the Spinex Disc Clinic in London, says she has used IDD spinal therapy to treat patients of all ages—from the elderly in their 70s and 80s to youngsters who have overdone it in the gym and received really severe injuries to their spine.
She has treated cervical and lumbar problems, sciatica and even foot drop, in which a spinal nerve has been blocked so severely that even the motor neurons have been affected and a small area of paralysis occurs. Some patients with neck problems experience brachial neuralgia radiating down the arm, which Sally describes as “just the worst.” She found IDD effective for all those conditions. “People are often really desperate by the time they get to me,” she says. “Sometimes they don’t want surgery, they are not suitable for surgery or they’re on a waiting list to have surgery, and they’re in so much pain they’ll do anything to get out of it. Or they’ve tried everything—physiotherapy, osteopathic treatments, chiropractic, multiple injections, surgery. Some have had microdiscectomies, and they’re still suffering.
“With IDD you can save a lot of people from having surgery. I didn’t want that myself. I am just so grateful that I can tell my patients that there is an alternative.”