These days, it’s hard to miss the ads promising relief for back pain. They’re marketing something called “non-surgical decompression therapy,” with headlines that claim the treatment comes “with a guaranteed success rate between 80 and 90 per cent!”

This back-pain treatment is a high-tech form of traction. Patients get strapped onto a table that pulls apart the vertebrae, supposedly allowing damaged discs to be rehydrated, and move back into position. The treatment is not cheap — up to $5,000 for 20 sessions.

In Oregon, the Attorney General’s office looked at the science behind the claims and cracked down on the manufacturer of one of the more popular decompression tables, the DRX-9000.

So, what can you believe when it comes to healing back pain? We spoke to a dozen experts — from chiropractors to spinal surgeons — and they all suggested exploring cheaper alternatives like massage, chiropractic, physiotherapy and Pilates.

We also talked to one of Canada’s best-known back doctors, spinal surgeon Hamilton Hall, and he’s got some tips if you’re suffering from back pain.

No. 1? Stay out of bed. Inactivity only makes things worse. Hall suggests you try moving or stretching in directions that reduce the pain. Surprisingly, in most cases, the more you move, the less it hurts.

Good posture helps a lot. Keep the natural curve in your low back when you sit; use a lumbar roll.

Always remember that the spine is very strong and very well protected. If it hurts, don’t panic.

And the best news of all, 80 per cent of all back injuries heal themselves, within a few months.

Watch tonight at 8:30 when Marketplace goes undercover to visit a back clinic selling decompression therapy on CBC Television.

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