What is Joint Distraction?

Chronic pain can be frustrating, particularly when it doesn’t respond to the usual treatments. That’s what makes chiropractors such powerful healers—they have a variety of chiropractic techniques at their disposal to help patients avoid medication or surgery.

Flexion distraction is one of those techniques. A gentle form of manual therapy, this low-force alternative can help relieve back and neck pain caused by a variety of conditions, from ruptured discs to whiplash to spinal stenosis. In one study, flexion distraction proved more effective than physical therapy at keeping pain away up to a year after the initial treatment.

Patients seeking chiropractic care are often unfamiliar with this technique, which is less common than the high-velocity adjustments most chiropractors deliver. In the past, only 53-58 percent of chiropractors used flexion distraction therapy, primarily as an ancillary form of treatment.

Now the subject of a growing body of research, flexion distraction is becoming more widespread. More than 63 percent of chiropractors now use the technique, and today’s practitioners have taken it to a new level with a more focused approach.

How it works

Flexion distraction is administered on a chiropractic table specially designed to bend the patient at the waist, which helps separate the vertebrae while the practitioner applies gentle pressure to different parts of the spine. The pressure slowly puts troubled joints through their full range of motion, restoring them to health.

The technique results in several benefits that help with pain relief. Not only does it increase the space between intervertebral discs, relieving pressure from herniated discs, but it also helps decompress the spine while giving nerves more breathing room.

Most commonly used as a treatment for herniated, ruptured and bulging discs, flexion distraction has been shown to help treat pain caused by a wide variety of problems, including:

  • Failed back surgery syndrome
  • Sciatica and other leg pain
  • Arm and neck pain
  • Stenosis
  • Whiplash
  • Chemical radiculitis
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Transitional segments
  • Headaches

How it evolved

Osteopath John V. McManis patented the first flexion distraction table in 1909. His manipulative procedures later became the basis for the initial flexion distraction technique developed in 1973 by chiropractor James M. Cox, who combined osteopathic procedures with chiropractic principles.

Over the past several decades, as this non-invasive technique became the locus of a burgeoning body of research, innovative practitioners have refined both the table and the methods used with it. Traditionally used intermittently as a supportive therapy alongside more prominent forms of pain treatment, flexion distraction now has a growing reputation as a revolutionary therapy for herniated discs and other lower back injuries.

As the research continues to expand and chiropractors continue to hone their techniques, we can expect flexion distraction to continue evolving. To learn more about whether this treatment might work for you, contact a chiropractic care provider today.

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