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IDD Therapy is a non-invasive therapy to help promote improvement in disc health, rehabilitate soft tissues and realign spinal structures. It is a proven treatment for the relief of lower back pain. With a significant success rate, thousands of patients have experienced dramatic pain relief and healing. It is primarily associated with treatment of spinal disc issues such as a bulging or herniated disc and related symptoms including sciatica.

IDD Therapy was developed in North America and it’s basically a modern version of the traditional traction treatments (of which I’ve had many) but the traditional treatment used to cause pain and muscle spasm due to the abrupt pulling force of the machines and weights used.

The NHS explain that by gently decompressing the targeted segment and mobilising the joint, IDD Therapy takes pressure off the disc and improves function and mobility in the affected area. As part of a programme of care, IDD Therapy aims to relieve pain without drugs or invasive treatments with a goal to improve the quality of life for the patient.

In the NHS, IDD Therapy will be a cost-effective way to treat the causes of certain pain conditions. For GPs and Consultants, IDD Therapy gives a meaningful option to treat the causes of pain beyond pain management whilst freeing up time by taking chronic back pain management out of the GP surgery.  For physiotherapists, IDD Therapy provides a tool to enable them to do more for their patients, beyond the limitations of manual therapy and exercise alone.

IDD Therapy is not available on the NHS the UK, IDD Therapy is expanding rapidly in the private sector. As awareness and understanding of the benefits of treatment grows, along with new research to support the efficacy, IDD Therapy will offer the NHS an exciting option to do more for patients with unresolved back or neck pain.

The strength and comfortable delivery of the force applied by IDD Therapy helps to release tightness and increase flexibility in the soft tissues enabling the targeted vertebra to be drawn apart safely.

On the IDD Therapy website they go into detail about how negative pressure promotes the diffusion of water, oxygen, and nutrients into the vertebral disc area, thereby re-hydrating the degenerated disc. Repeated pressure differential promotes retraction of a herniated nucleus pulposus (the elastic core of the intervertebral disc).

The force is controlled by a computer and consists of a high force that is held for one minute followed by a low force held for 30 seconds. The change allows the soft tissue to relax and prevent guarding so that the treatment may continue.

An MRI is required before treatment to help identify the level in the spine that is most likely to be the origin of the pain.

After the problems I had with the traditional traction which left me with complete numbness to my left calf, it’s nice to read things have changed for the better, and hopefully it will soon be available on the NHS.

Source: NHS, IDD Therapy

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John Wood MCSP and Lewis Payne MCSP Sheffield Physiotherapy, explains…

Sheffield Physiotherapy has been using IDD Therapy spinal decompression for almost ten years now, to help patients with unresolved back and neck pain, especially those with disc-related problems. When we started, there were only a handful of clinics in the UK using IDD Therapy. However, the network has grown over the years as more clinics have come to understand how this treatment can help their patients’ suffering with more challenging spinal conditions.

When I came across IDD Therapy initially, I thought it was like traction. As we know, traction had faded out of clinical practice because at that time there were few trials that showed it to be effective. Though ask any older practitioner who used traction and they will tell you that for some patients it really helped them. IDD Therapy got our attention initially because unlike traction of old, it was specific and able to target particular levels of the spine.

Why IDD Therapy?

Developed in the late 1990s in North America, IDD Therapy was designed to address the failings of traction and the limitations of what we can achieve with standard hands-on treatments. The team that developed IDD Therapy initially spent a lot of time making sure that there was a tangible effect on the disc at the level of the spine being targeted.  

Whilst most back pain either resolves itself or very quickly resolves after a short course of physiotherapy, when it doesn’t it becomes a significant problem for both the patient and health service. Patients presenting again and again with unresolved back pain place an extra burden on GPs, pain clinics and primary care in general.   

We use IDD Therapy to help patients with disc problems especially bulging or herniated discs with referred pain.  It can also help patients with disc degeneration and spinal stenosis. 

How does it work?

IDD Therapy uses pulling forces or computer-controlled distraction. A patient lies on a table and is connected to the machine using ergonomic pelvic and chest harnesses. Measuring specific angles from 10 to 30 degrees, we are able to direct the distraction forces to the targeted spinal segment of the patients, most commonly the lower back segments L4/L5 or L5/S1.

The manner with which the forces are applied, means that we can use higher pulling forces of up to and over half a patient’s body weight comfortably, and this enables us to decompress the affected spinal segment. Of course, it is physically impossible to apply such forces to a patient with manual techniques, and to do so with control and consistency.

At the same time as we decompress the disc, taking principles of manual therapy, IDD Therapy uses an oscillation force to gently mobilise the spinal segment.  

Many spinal segments become stiff and immobile for a variety of reasons.  IDD Therapy decompresses the disc, but also mobilises the tissues surrounding the joint.  By improving mobility, the aim is to allow the body’s natural healing mechanisms to operate efficiently.

Becoming more widely accepted

For some practitioners looking at IDD Therapy the number of sessions has been controversial.  The standard protocol of treatment is based on twenty sessions over a six to eight week period, with patients lying on the IDD Therapy machine for 25 minutes, whereas the typical model of manual therapy is four to six sessions.  

However, what we, and all the IDD clinics, see is that for a certain category of patient, the short programme simply does not work. The forces used to decompress the spine are built up over the sessions, rather like a strengthening programme gradually conditions the body. Some patients can experience symptomatic relief very quickly whilst for others it takes longer.  

This shift in thinking is now much more widely accepted because of the growing experience of the outcomes. In fact, some insurance companies, such as AVIVA, are now paying for programmes of IDD Therapy because it can be more cost-effective and better for the patient when they avoid surgery.  

At a time when there is pressure to reduce the burden on primary care in the NHS, IDD Therapy is enabling patients to have a credible opportunity to resolve their problem, without resorting to surgery.

It is important to stress that IDD Therapy is not a stand-alone treatment. It is like the first stage of a journey and practitioners combine it with exercise and education which together give us the opportunity for long-term success.

Further improvements

There are over 1,000 clinics using IDD Therapy globally.  Here in the UK there are physiotherapists, osteopaths and chiropractors.  We get together for a conference and at the time of writing have agreed an expanded set of measures which clinics will use to track outcomes.  

In healthcare, change happens slowly, especially within physical therapy. Having used IDD Therapy for many years, both on its own and in combination with other modalities, we believe it provides the greatest opportunity for scalable improvement for patients with unresolved back and neck pain.


John Wood MCSP is from Sheffield Physiotherapy, a long-established physiotherapy clinic specialising in unresolved back and neck pain. http://iddtherapy.co.uk/


IDD Therapy is the fastest growing non-surgical spinal treatment for intervertebral discs with over 1,000 clinics worldwide and a network of clinics across the UK.

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