What is the ‘DRX9000 decompression system’? It is a table attached to Space Age-looking controls that allegedly stretches the disks of the vertebrae, allowing protrusions to be pulled back into place and thus taking pressure off nerve roots. The website of Excite Medical informs us that the DRX9000® has been cleared by the FDA to treat patients suffering with incapacitating lower back pain and sciatica caused by herniated discs, degenerative discs, and posterior facet syndrome.

This sounds almost as though it is evidence based, doesn’t it?

But is it?

My Medline search resulted in three papers about the device (if anyone knows of more, please let me know):

  1. Background: This study‘s goal was a retrospective chart audit of 100 outpatients with discogenic low back pain (LBP) lasting more than 12 weeks treated with a 2-month course of motorized spinal decompression via the DRX9000 (Axiom Worldwide, Tampa, FL, U.S.A.).Methods: Patients at a convenience sample of four clinics received 30-minute DRX9000 sessions daily for the first 2 weeks tapering to 1 session/week. Treatment protocol included lumbar stretching, myofascial release, or heat prior to treatment, with ice and/or muscle stimulation afterwards. Primary outcome was verbal numerical pain intensity rating (NRS) 0 to 10 before and after the 8-week treatment.Results: Of the 100 initial subjects, three withdrew their protected health information, and three were excluded because their LBP duration was less than 12 weeks. The remaining 94 subjects (63% female, 95% white, age = 55 (SD 16) year, 52% employed, 41% retired, LBP median duration of 260 weeks) had diagnoses of herniated disc (73% of patients), degenerative disc disease (68%), or both (27%). Mean NRS equaled 6.05 (SD 2.3) at presentation and decreased significantly to 0.89 (SD 1.15) at end of 8-week treatment (P < 0.0001). Analgesic use also appeared to decrease (charts with data = 20) and Activities of Daily Living improved (charts with data = 38). Follow-up (mean 31 weeks) on 29/94 patients reported mean 83% LBP improvement, NRS of 1.7 (SD 1.15), and satisfaction of 8.55/10 (median 9).Conclusions: This retrospective chart audit provides preliminary data that chronic LBP may improve with DRX9000 spinal decompression. Randomized double-blind trials are needed to measure the efficacy of such systems.
  2. Background: Because previous studies have suggested that motorized non-surgical spinal decompression can reduce chronic low back pain (LBP) due to disc degeneration (discogenic low back pain) and disc herniation, it has accordingly been hypothesized that the reduction of pressure on affected discs will facilitate their regeneration. The goal of this study was to determine if changes in LBP, as measured on a verbal rating scale, before and after a 6-week treatment period with non-surgical spinal decompression, correlate with changes in lumbar disc height, as measured on computed tomography (CT) scans.Methods: A retrospective cohort study of adults with chronic LBP attributed to disc herniation and/or discogenic LBP who underwent a 6-week treatment protocol of motorized non-surgical spinal decompression via the DRX9000 with CT scans before and after treatment. The main outcomes were changes in pain as measured on a verbal rating scale from 0 to 10 during a flexion-extension range of motion evaluation and changes in disc height as measured on CT scans. Paired t-test or linear regression was used as appropriate with p < 0.05 considered to be statistically significant.Results: We identified 30 patients with lumbar disc herniation with an average age of 65 years, body mass index of 29 kg/m2, 21 females and 9 males, and an average duration of LBP of 12.5 weeks. During treatment, low back pain decreased from 6.2 (SD 2.2) to 1.6 (2.3, p < 0.001) and disc height increased from 7.5 (1.7) mm to 8.8 (1.7) mm (p < 0.001). Increase in disc height and reduction in pain were significantly correlated (r = 0.36, p = 0.044).Conclusions: Non-surgical spinal decompression was associated with a reduction in pain and an increase in disc height. The correlation of these variables suggests that pain reduction may be mediated, at least in part, through a restoration of disc height. A randomized controlled trial is needed to confirm these promising results.
  3. Objectives: This study aims to compare the efficiency of conventional motorized traction (CMT) with non-surgical spinal decompression (NSD) using the DRX9000™ device in patients with low back pain associated with lumbar disc herniation (LDH).Patients and methods: Between March 2009 and September 2009, a total of 48 patients (29 females, 19 males; mean age 43.1±9.8 years; range, 18 to 65 years) were randomized into two groups. The first group (n=24) underwent CMT and the second group (n=24) underwent NSD for a total of 20 sessions over six weeks. The patients were evaluated before and after the treatment. Pain was assessed using the Visual Analog Scale (VAS), functional status using the Oswestry Disability Index (ODI), quality of life using the Short Form-36 (SF-36), state of depression mood using the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and the global assessment of the illness using the Patient’s Global Assessment of Response to Therapy (PGART) and Investigator’s Global Assessment of Response to Therapy (IGART) scales. Results: There was no significant difference in the evaluation outcomes before the treatment between the groups. However, a statistically significant decline was found in the VAS, ODI, and BDI scores after the treatment in both groups (all p<0.001). Except for two subgroups, no significant changes were observed in the SF-36 form. Assessment of “marked improvement” was globally most frequently reported one in both groups. No significant difference was observed in the evaluation outcomes after treatment between the groups. Conclusion: Our study results show that both CMT and NSD are effective methods in pain management and functional status and depressive mood improvement in patients with LDH, and NSD is not superior to CMT in terms of pain, functionality, depression and quality of life.

Studies one and two are retrospective and thus useless for establishing cause and effect. Study 3 is an RCT, but as an equivalence study it is desperately underpowered. Most likely, it merely demonstrates that both of the tested treatments are ineffective.

In other words, there seems to be no good evidence that the DRX9000 works for low back pain (LBP). This can hardly come as a surprise to anyone who has kept up with the evidence. What is more, traction can also cause significant harm. The current Cochrane review concludes that traction, either alone or in combination with other treatments, has little or no impact on pain intensity, functional status, global improvement and return to work among people with LBP.

Yet, the claims for the device are grandiose. According to a recent article in NBCnews (from which I take the liberty of citing passages below), the company behind the DRX9000, Excite Medical, claims that nearly 9 out of 10 patients who qualify for treatment on the DRX9000 will get relief. Excite Medical also says that 2,400 of its systems are in use in 45 nations and shows it off at trade shows everywhere from Las Vegas to Dusseldorf, Germany, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Chiropractors across the United States buy the machines from Excite Medical, often using the same claims as the manufacturers — sometimes even going beyond them.

But a FairWarning investigation — based on review of lawsuits, scientific studies, government documents, chiropractic websites and interviews with experts — found that the claims of success for spinal decompression stretch the truth, enticing patients to pay thousands of dollars for a treatment that has never been proven in scientifically rigorous studies to live up to its stupendous billing.

Despite a spate of state regulatory actions in the 2000s against Axiom Worldwide, the original manufacturer of the DRX9000, and chiropractors for making unproven claims, they still permeate the internet. And federal and state regulators who can sanction false claims now show little evidence that they are interested in reining them in…

“This non-surgical spinal decompression system … is scientifically Proven By Mayo Clinic, Duke University, Stanford, and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine!” according to the website for GO Chiropractic in Illinois, which offers treatment with the DRX9000. Jamie Stephens, one of the chiropractors who runs Go Chiropractic, said in an email, “We have seen nothing but outstanding results from this technology,” and referred further questions to Excite Medical, which he said provided his advertising materials…

Excite Medical says [the treatment] typically runs about $3,500 for a full course of sessions on the DRX9000…

Chiropractors who paid as much as $125,000 for the device also got a package of suggested promotional materials, including the claim the DRX9000 was used in a scientific study that showed an 86 percent success rate. Many of the chiropractors took out newspaper ads that included the claims.

In later lawsuits, chiropractors complained that they were duped by Axiom. One, James Spiering in Texas, described being flown, plane fare and hotel paid, to Axiom headquarters in Florida, where he was told he would recover his investment in four months and clear $1.7 million in five years. Spiering said he was shown videos full of “fraudulent” claims. The parties settled out of court in 2010 for an undisclosed amount.

Regulators across the U.S. also had started to take notice of the DRX9000’s claims of extraordinary success. Over the course of three years or so, the Oregon attorney general, the Florida attorney general and a group of 11 California district attorneys all filed suits against Axiom or a former chiropractor who created some of its marketing. The suits ended in penalties — $1.125 million in the California case — and Axiom agreed to only make claims based on reliable scientific evidence, according to news stories and settlement documents.


What does that tell us?

I think it suggests that:

  • LBP patients will try any rubbish that promises help.
  • Chiropractors and other back pain quacks often could not care less about the evidence.
  • Money is the driving force behind most back pain quackery.

8 Responses to ‘DRX9000’ for back pain: a nice little earner for chiropractors and other back pain quacks

  • So what is the regulatory status of the device? What does the FDA say?

  • Very true… When i asked the company for their research brief (i had someone who wanted to donate such a unit to my hospital practice) i got no reply other than promo adds… I suggested he should keep his money for better things.

  • I was involved with this and 2 other decompressIon units through my wife’s practice. It is a more elaborate competitor to the original supine-positioned DRS…decompression, reduction, stabilization unit (the first published study 1997 was by Norman Sheely MD showing the 86% success rate. His partners were a group of unctuous DCs of course….though unctuous and DC is a redundancy). The DRS was a competitor to the VAX-D (a prone-only $125,000 device introduced in 1993). The DRX-9000 came in 2001 by a group of rat bags calling themselves Integrity medical. It was $125,000. ALL are FDA certified “traction devices” based on several primordial devices granted approval 30 years ago. Absolutely NO innovations to the therapy were created by these units thus the FDA saw them as “substantially equivalent”. Chiroquackers do not have the inherent capacity to get involved or develop on their own truly effective or innovative treatments. Everything is repackaged garbage or vaguely effective treatments stolen from other professions. They should be proud to call themselves DCs, their legacy is impressive indeed.

  • is anyone really surprised?
    that chiros would jump aboard an evidence free gravy train with an all bells and whistles promotional chance such as this to convince punters that they alone have the ability to cure low back pain?

    with fancy knobs and flashing lights and all manner of gadgets it is perfect for fooling the gullible into forking out thousands of dollars for worthless treatments. what an opportunity!

    roll up! roll up! another sucker is born every minute! the art of flim-flam is alive and well!

  • Hard to tell from the picture, but does this bit of kit allow for the ‘drop technique’ as applied to Mr Lawler in the UK – soon after which he died?

    It seems to have mirrors, but does it produce smoke?
    And how much does the ‘Turbo Pro Eco’ version cost?
    (The one with ‘Go Faster’ stripes on the side.)

    • no, I don’t think this feature is incorporate.

    • No “drops”, just a supine traction table with a $900 traction motor (interestingly traction really doesn’t work however a few fairly well done clinical trials suggest IF you are going to do traction for a herniated disc it would be most sensible to do it in the prone position). The DRX9000 is supine only. It has a $7000 cervical traction add on. The “original” DRX9000 company and its owners were raided and put out of business by the FBI 7 years ago.

  • What does that gizmo cost….I see a lot of parellels to the Low level laser units…. so expensive, so little evidentiary support, so many extra ordinary claims of efficacy….

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