You spend most, if not all, of your waking hours with your spine in a vertical position.
This means gravity is continually weighing on your spinal cord with the effects being that your spine is being compressed 24/7.
This compression of the spinal bones (called vertebrae) and the discs in between them strains your ligaments and pressures your nerve roots, ultimately leading to back pain.
Fortunately, there’s a simple and natural solution called spinal decompression, which helps stretch out your spine and get back its natural length.
In this post, we’ll talk about the benefits of spinal decompression and cover some of the best spinal decompression exercises you can do from your own home.
What is Spinal Decompression Therapy?
Spinal decompression therapy involves techniques that position your spine so it can decompress and gently stretch so that the space between vertebrae increases.
There’s equipment designed to help you achieve this, but there are also simple, equipment-free positions you can try right now.
How Does Spinal Decompression Therapy Work?
When you decompress your spine, you generate space between your spine’s vertebrae.
Without the force of gravity compressing the spine, the pressure is relieved on your discs, ligaments and nerve roots.
You have nerve roots extending outwards between every vertebra in your spine, and as part of your central nervous system, they’re filled with sensitive receptors that signal pain in your back when pinched.
Spinal decompression gives the nerve roots more room within their cavities, giving you immediate pain relief.
Spinal discs are gel-like cushions between each vertebra in your spine.
The discs can bulge or herniate under too much pressure, and they can pressure nerves and other structures in your spine.
By allowing the discs to retract and realign a little more every time, spinal decompression increases the flow of blood through the spine.
In turn, this helps to heal any spinal disc problems, because oxygen and nutrients are able to penetrate the cells and restore their normal functions.
Therefore, spinal decompression helps with resolving long-term pain relief, too.
The Benefits of Spinal Decompression
Spinal decompression has been shown in studies to have a host of benefits, especially for people with back problems.
Here are the major advantages it offers:
1. Helps Lower and Prevent Back Pain
Back pain has a number of potential causes, including nerve root pressure, muscle strain, hardened and impaired fascia, joint inflammation and more .
These problems tend to arise from an accumulation of postural stress and other sources of strain.
If you’re overweight or have an excessively curved back because of hyperlordosis or thoracic kyphosis, there’s even more undue pressure your spine is dealing with, making you more susceptible to back pain .
Spinal decompression helps reduce or reverse virtually all root causes of back pain, by removing the pressure and compression of weight on your spine.
It also helps prevent and reduce sciatica by taking pressure off your nerve roots.
2. Helps Alleviate the Daily Toll on Your Spine
If you do manual labour, heavy weight lifting, or if your daily tasks require a lot of back movement, it takes an accumulative toll on your spine.
It also puts you at risk of injury and back pain caused by strain.
However, people with desk jobs also do a number on their spines by having poor posture, slumping in chairs and hunching over computer keyboards.
Spinal decompression allows your spine to recoup its natural position after a day of unnatural postures or heavy weight-bearing.
3. Prevents and Improves Spinal Disc Problems
In studies, spinal decompression therapy has been shown to heal degenerative spinal discs more effective than traction treatment, which is the more conventional intervention .
Bulging or herniated disks, as well as discs affected by degenerative disk disease, can benefit from spinal decompression because it boosts blood circulation in the spine and helps misaligned discs retract when the pressure is removed from them.
4. Improves Your Posture
By letting your spine get back into a neutral position, regular decompression therapy helps you achieve better posture.
Posture problems like thoracic kyphosis, forward head posture and hyperlordosis result from accumulated time spent sitting or standing with incorrect posture.
When you hold a slouchy position for more than 20 minutes, the muscles around your spine start to lock into the position.
Some muscles become overly tight, while their opposing muscles get overstretched.
Spinal decompression helps undo the muscle imbalance and tightness that results by providing a gentle stretch and giving the muscles a break from supporting your spine.
5. Prevents and Relieves Neck Pain
Your spine extends to the base of your skull, and the muscles in your neck are supposed to keep your cervical spine in alignment.
However, our neck muscles tend to get strained by looking down at mobile devices (causing “text neck“) and the resulting tightness leads to neck pain.
While we tend to gravitate towards neck massage in this case, what’s required is proper cervical spine alignment.
Spinal decompression lengthens the cervical spine so it can recoup and the muscles can gently stretch.
It also restores blood flow to strained neck muscles so they can repair.
6. Alleviates Headaches
Chiropractors often recommend spinal decompression as a natural fix for frequent headaches or migraines.
Spinal compression and postural stress can restrict blood flow to your head, causing throbbing head pain.
A buildup of tension in the back, neck and even scalp muscles resulting from postural stress can lead to full, persistent tension headaches.
Regular spinal decompression could potentially reduce the occurrence or severity of headaches for chronic headache sufferers.
At-Home No-Equipment Spinal Decompression Techniques & Exercises
You can decompress your spine equipment-free using things you already have at home.
The best part about these is that you can quickly get into these positions when needed, and repeat them frequently throughout the day.
1. Overhead Stretches
By bringing your arms straight overhead, you’re able to take the weight off your shoulders and shoulder blades off your spine for a gentle decompression.
- Stand up straight with your spine in a neutral position and your feet apart shoulder-width.
- Raise your arms overhead, straighten your elbows and interlock your fingers.
- Stretch your hands direct upward toward the ceiling and hold the stretch for 30 seconds at a time, and repeat 3 or more times.
2. Child’s Pose
Child’s pose is a stretch you’ll come across in any yoga class.
It’s especially helpful for decompressing your lumbar spine, which often curves inward under the weight of your torso.
Child’s pose creates an outward curvature of your lumbar spine so that circulation can return between the vertebrae and shortened muscles can stretch out.
- Start on your hands and knees, then sit back on your heels, with the tops of your feet on the floor. Your knees should be spread just slightly wider than your torso.
- Lay your torso down as low as possible in between your knees so that you achieve a deep bend in your lower back.
- Reach both arms overhead with your arms straight and palms on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Walk your hands to the left and hold for 30 seconds. Then walk your hands to the right and hold for 30 seconds again.
- Repeat in the centre position for another 30 seconds, and then slowly come up to a seated position.
3. Cat-Cow Pose
Cat-cow pose is a yoga exercise that creates space between the vertebrae and decompresses the spine by changing its curvature in a fluid motion.
Rather than a stretch, it’s a movement that helps increase circulation in the spine and even strengthens the muscles surrounding it.
- Get in a table-top position on your hands and knees, with your knees directly under your hips and your hands beneath your shoulders. Start with a neutral, flat spine, lengthening from your tailbone to the crown of your head.
- Slowly arch your back (“cat pose”), letting your head drop down between your arms. Aim for a “C” curve in your spine without losing the alignment of your hips and shoulders over your knees and shoulders.
- Slowly reverse the pose into an opposite “C” curve, letting your back sink toward the floor as your head and pelvis tilt upward.
- Repeat the movement at least 10 times.
4. Knees to Chest Stretch
This stretch is like child’s pose, except you lay on your back and bring your knees into your chest.
If you have knee problems, you’ll find it more comfortable than child’s pose, which puts pressure on your knees.
Laying on your back allows the floor to act as a force of counterpressure to help massage and stretch your spine.
- Lay on your back on a mat and bring your knees into your chest. Use your hands or arms to keep your legs folded in. If you have knee problems, be sure to pull from your thighs and not your shins.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
- Rock slightly side to side if it feels good.
- Release slowly to avoid any jerking movements in your spine.
5. Kitchen Sink Stretch
You don’t need to do this stretch at the kitchen sink, but find a sturdy surface like a countertop to hold onto.
Kitchen countertops are generally a great height for this stretch.
- Place both palms on the surface with your arms straight and your hands about shoulder-width apart.
- Bend at the hips to create a flat, tabletop position with your back.
- Adjust your feet as needed so that your hips are slightly further back than your feet. Your hips should be pulling the weight of your back behind you as your arms stretch your spine in the opposite direction.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds as you allow your muscles to relax and your spine to lengthen.
- Repeat 3 times.
6. Leaning on 2 Chairs
If you don’t have a bar you can hang from at home, you can achieve a similar hanging effect using 2 sturdy chairs.
This position lets your torso hang as you brace yourself on the chairs, so that your body weight can lengthen and stretch your spine.
- Place 2 chairs facing back to back with enough space for you to stand in between.
- Put one hand on top of each chair so that you’re gripping the chair’s back.
- Shift your weight onto your hands and off of your feet so that your legs act as a weight that lengthens your torso.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
7. Foam Roller Back Bend
This position forces your upper back to bend by leveraging the weight of your body over a foam roller.
- Lay on your back with a foam roller under your shoulder blades.
- Interlace your fingers behind your head, letting your head and arms act as an opposing weight.
- Keep your hips on the floor and lumbar spine in a neutral position as best as you can.
- Let your upper back bend over the foam roller and create length in your spine.
- Avoid flaring your rib cage out to cause the arch. Try to isolate the arch in your spine.
Spinal Decompression Equipment for Home Use
Equipment designed especially for decompressing the spine can be highly effective by placing your spine in a zero-gravity position to remove pressure, or by letting you use your full body weight to stretch your spine.
By placing your body in positions that counteract the force of gravity, you can achieve a gravity-zero state.
Inversion tables are the most well-studied spinal decompression equipment.
Clinical research has proven that regular use does increase the space between your vertebrae and improve spinal flexibility .
You lay on the inversion table and secure yourself to it with the straps.
Then, you adjust the table to rotate yourself at the desired angle.
Most inversion tables allow you to hang fully perpendicular to the ground.
By hanging upside down, you completely reverse the position your spine spends most of its time in.
Related: Best inversion tables
Cervical Traction Device
A cervical traction device allows you to decompress your cervical spine by stretching your neck length-wise.
This type of tool is helpful if you have neck pain or forward head posture.
There are different types of cervical traction device, such as inflatable devices that go around your neck, and harnesses that gently pull on your head to lengthen your spine.
Related: Best cervical traction devices
A decompression belt is a device you can wear throughout the day while standing or sitting, and it helps keep your spine lengthened.
It wraps around the circumference of your torso.
Once you put it on, you can connect a pump and inflate the device so that it lengthens your spine, pulling it in either direction.
Related: Best decompression belts
Decompression boots are a tool you can use at home if you have a pull-up bar.
While you can hang from your arms to lengthen and decompress your spine, hanging upside down reverses the direction of your body weight and increases circulation.
Decompression boots are able to hook you onto a pull-up bar so that you can hang safely upside down.
A zero-gravity chair is something you can use while relaxing to help decompress your spine.
There are chairs designed just for achieving a zero-gravity position, in which there’s no pressure on your spine and your weight is evenly distributed.
Some reclining chairs and reclining massage chairs have a zero-gravity feature.
Related: Best massage chairs
A back stretcher is a tool you use on the floor or on a bed.
It has an arch shape that helps you achieve a backbend when you lay with it under your back.
It decompresses your spine by letting your upper body and lower body act as weights to lengthen your spine in either direction.
Related: Best lower back stretchers
Tips, Warnings and Conclusion
All too often, serious medication is prescribed before more natural and often even more effective methods for back pain relief are explored.
Spinal decompression is a great way to care for your back on a regular basis whether you suffer from back pain or not.
It gently stretches your spine, creating space between the vertebrae and reversing the effects of gravity.
This decompression can be done with simple exercises or using at-home equipment.
Spinal decompression is not for everyone.
If you’re pregnant, you should not use any type of spinal decompression equipment, and you should ask your doctor before performing any of the spinal decompression stretches and positions.
Spinal decompression can be risky for anyone with osteoporosis, spinal fracture, artificial disc placement and people who have undergone spinal fusion surgery.
If you experience pain using any spinal decompression techniques, be sure to stop right away and check in your physician or a specialist before trying again.