Combining spinal decompression with lasers in a new, non-invasive way to treat pain, finds Hilary Freeman.

One night, receptionist Nicola Boggio awoke in agony in the small hours, her neck, arm and shoulder so stiff that she could barely move the,. Thinking it was just a postural problem made worse by a work massage – she’d had bouts of back and neck pain the the past – she went to see a local osteopath. “He said I needed bone manipulation and acupuncture.” She recalls. “But when he did the manipulation, it was so painful that I couldn’t breathe. I almost fainted.”

With no improvement or respite from the pain, Nicola, a 46-year-old receptionist in a private members’ club, was forced to take a month off work. According to the Office for National Statistics, almost 31million works days were lost in the UK in 2016 due to musculoskeletal problems – a toll that costs the economy £12.3 billion each year.

Unable to sleep, Nicola went online to research alternative treatments. At 4am, she came across a revolutionary new treatment called The Mayfair Method, which utilises the latest technology to combine spinal decompression with laser therapy, and was devised by lead consultant osteopath Michael Fatica.

Within days, she’d had a consolation and learned, via Xrays, that her recurrent neck problems were due to a misalignment of her spine, causing damage to the discs, which may have been the result of a childhood accident. After her previous treatment experience, she was anxious. “Unlike manipulation, the new treatment was very gentle and not painful at all,” she says. “After two sessions, I started to feel much better and now, after 12, I am almost back to normal. I’ve returned to work and I can sleep again.”

Fatica created The Mayfair Method in 2015 as an alternative to traditional osteopathic and chiropractic interventions, which he felt were often too brutal or invasive, and inappropriate for some patients. “This method removes the human error aspect and guesswork associated with traditional treatments,” he explains. “Its non-invasive, safely targets the affected segments of the spine, is pain-free and risk free and provides long-term pain relief.”

Before beginning treatment, Fatica conducts a thorough examination of the patient and takes X-rays to identify the offending injury. He then tailors the treatment plan to the individual’s needs and programmes it into a computer. The patient lies down on a treatment table and puts on a belt, which is then gently pulled, moving the table until the desired force is reached. Fatica says patients often feel a relaxing stretching sensation and an immediate reduction in pain.

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“A lot of back and neck pain is caused by compression of the spine. Many patients are in chronic pain for months or even years, because there is also stiffness in the joints, which stops the healing process. Rather than putting a patient through twisting, horrible movements, my method frees up the joints with vibration to loosen the muscles, and a decompression machine to gently stretch and decompress the spine. I then use a laser to speed up the healing process. Afterwards, patients are given physiotherapy exercises to do at home.”

The Mayfair Method is suitable for people with conditions such as whiplash, slipped or herniated discs, and sciatica, but not for those with joint instability in the upper neck, such as in rheumatoid arthritis. Patients generally require between two and 12 sessions. About 40 per cent report mild backache following decompression, but Fatica claims to have treated more than 1,000 patients, with an 85 per cent success rate.

Several independent published studies have shown the benefits of both spinal decompression and laser treatment. In 2016, for example, a paper in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science showed that spinal decompression is more effective than conventional traction and helps reduce the severity of a herniated disc. And a study published in Arthritis Research and Therapy in 2015 showed that laser therapy helps to reduce chronic lower back pain.

What makes The Mayfair Method novel is the synergistic combination of these two distinct treatments. “This is a completely new approach, which significantly improves our ability to provide safe and effective long-term relief from back and neck pain.” Says Fatica.

“For many patients, the only choice before now has been a lifetime on painkiller or undergoing potentially risky spinal surgery. I hope that in the future I can teach other osteopaths to practice these techniques and that one day the treatment might be available on the NHS. Unfortunately, the equipment is expensive costing around £50,000.”

Some may be sceptical about the effectiveness or need for treatments like The Mayfair Method, but it has piqued the curiosity of other pain managements professionals. Stephen Makinde, a consultant osteopath at Perfect Balance Clinic in Harley Street, London, says patients are often let down by current medical models of management and so novel approaches are needed: “The use of laser has been widely accepted in many medical communities and has led to some good results. Spinal decompression, too, is becoming more widely accepted, as the technology has progressed. The ability to provide both a mechanical and a physiological approach at the same time as addressing physical issues and tissue changes should aid recovery.”

Dr Attam Singh, a consultant in pain medicine at the London Pain Clinic and West Hertfordshire NHS Trust, says: “With increasing research into pain management techniques, laser and decompression therapy are low risk.”

“Given its longevity and the conclusion of specific randomised controlled trails, decompression therapy has been shown to be of benefit the reduction in pain intensity, but in particular improvement in mobility, places it comfortably within the kit bag of an osteopath’s and chiropractor’s treatment arsenal. And the precision of technology now allows the concerned professional to accurately control the pressure applied to reduce the documented possible complication risk.”

Another patient who has benefited from The Mayfair Method is financier Deryk Bull, 66 from Croydon. He began suffering with sciatica and chronic back pain 25 years ago, after putting his back out by carrying a heavy till, while running a menswear business. “The pain was so bad there were times I couldn’t move or think straight. Over the years, the pain has come and gone, but its always been as bad, leading to repeated periods off work. I’ve tried every treatment – acupuncture, physiotherapy, hot stones. They offered some relief, but only in the short term.”

He learnt about The Mayfair Method via an advert and thought it was worth a try. “I didn’t lie the sound of decompression – I thought it would squash me – but it’s actually a pleasant sensation and on one occasion, I actually fell asleep. The laser sounded like a torture out of a James Bond film but, again, it was surprisingly soothing.

“After five sessions, my pain had reduced dramatically and, after 10, I was virtually pain-free. I’ve been able to start swimming and cycling again and to socialise more. I’m going and to socialise more. I’m going for regular maintenance sessions now, to make sure my back doesn’t go again, but I haven’t had one for three weeks, and I’m fine. For the first time in 25 years, I have no pain at all.”

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