The power of the anecdote vis-à-vis VAX-D
March 13, 2012
Unfortunately there seems to be nothing more powerful than the personal anecdote. “Let me tell you, I had back pain for years and it worked for me.” Substituting any condition for “back pain” and any intervention for “it” will create a compelling endorsement for “it” that is often more powerful than reason or compelling scientific evidence to the contrary.
I happened to choose VAX-D for my “it” because commercials for the dubious therapy have been annoyingly prevalent recently, complete with personal testimonials of success. The only problem is that personal testimonials are worthless when evaluating a treatment. I don’t really care if someone thinks it worked for them I want to know that it really works. In the case of VAX-D and other similar traction tables (Decompression Reduction Stabilization (DRS) System, Accu-Spina System, DRX-3000, DRX9000, SpineMED Decompression Table, Antalgic-Trak, Lordex Traction Unit) there is no evidence to suggest they are effective. This is in spite of the fact that VAX-D websites prominently list scientific studies claim to “prove” (I hate that term) efficacy. The only problem is that many of the studies are so flawed as to be utterly worthless.
Are they worthless or is that my personal bias after being pounded by those unrelenting commercials? An independent review of Lower Back Pain (LBP) by The Cochrane Collaboration concluded “The review includes 25 studies, and 2206 patients with LBP. In studies involving patients with a mix of symptoms (i.e., where some but not all had sciatica), results consistently showed that traction (continuous or intermittent) as a single treatment for LBP was not more effective than placebo, sham treatment or other treatments.” It is not challenging to find numerous indictments of VAX-D. Perhaps one of the best overviews of the pitfalls of VAX-D is By Stephen Barrett, “Be Wary of Spinal Decompression Therapy with VAX-D or Similar Devices.” After reading his article I’m not sure how anyone would possibly consider VAX-D or any of its cousins.
Even the FDA has routinely cited various VAX-D operators for making fraudulent claims for curing such conditions as herniated discs and yet those commercials persist. Why? Because “I suffered for years and it worked for me” is far more persuasive for many than objective facts. Maybe it’s that they feel empowered by making a choice even if it is a woefully uniformed choice.
I’m posting this with the remote hope that it may turn up in the search results of someone who is considering VAX-D and maybe it will help them make an informed decision. I suppose if I really wanted to help I’d just drop to the VAX-D level and claim “I was hurting for years and it cost me $15,000 to find out that VAX-d didn’t do a damn thing for me” Now there’s an anecdote I can live with even if it is a pure fabrication – but as we’ve seen it really doesn’t matter if anecdotes are fabrications because in the final analysis they are effective at separating people from their hard earned money.
 Clarke JA, van Tulder MW, Blomberg SEI, de Vet HCW, van der Heijden GJ, Brønfort G, Bouter LM. Traction for low-back pain with or without sciatica. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD003010. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003010.pub4