Every day, whether you’re standing or sitting, the force of gravity is pulling down on your spine, compressing the discs in your back, taxing your ligaments, and putting pressure on your nerves.
Over time, spinal compression can lead to upper and lower back pain, neck pain, stiff shoulders and neck and spine-related conditions like spondylosis and pinched nerves.
Spinal compression is a leading cause of back pain. Fortunately, the solution is remarkably simple.
You can reverse spinal compression with spinal decompression therapy right in the comfort of your own home.
In this article, I’ll show you five simple at-home spinal decompression exercises that will get you feeling better in no time.
First, I want to tell you a little bit about spinal decompression and why it works so well for back pain relief.
- Benefits of spinal decompression
- Research supporting spinal decompression
- Spinal decompression exercises
- How to do spinal decompression with Back Ease
What is spinal decompression therapy?
The goal of spinal decompression therapy is to counteract the natural forces of gravity.
When you decompress your spine you increase the space between your vertebrae, relaxing the pressure on your discs, ligaments and nerve roots.
Increasing intra-vertebral space means reducing pressure on the nerve roots, which means less back pain and less likelihood of nerve root damage.
Other benefits include:
- Relaxing muscles and increasing blood flow
- Helping to realign your spine when used in the long term
- Improved blood circulation, flexibility and mobility
- Better posture – which is key to healing and preventing more back problems in the future
- Eases low back pain and upper back pain from a variety of causes, including sciatica, bulging discs, degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis and more
One of the most popular methods for spinal decompression is inversion therapy with the use of an inversion table, which essentially allows you to hang upside-down (or nearly upside down) and uses your own body weight to stretch your spine.
And for some people, this method is great.
Just look at the research:
A study in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation found that inverted positioning for short periods significantly increased spinal length and reduced EMG activity (indicating the amount of muscle pain in participants) by 35% – in as little as just 10 seconds after becoming inverted.[i]
A study of 175 people who were experiencing back pain bad enough that they were unable to work found that after just 8 inversion treatments, nearly 89% were able to return to their jobs full-time. Improvements in a variety of conditions, including spondylolisthesis, herniated or bulging discs, lumbar osteoarthritis with sciatica and others, were reported.[ii]
A 1985 study on the effects of gravity-facilitated traction (inversion) found the therapy produces significant intravertebral separation in lumbar spine. Researchers concluded: “If increases in intervertebral dimensions play a role in the relief of low back syndrome, then gravity-facilitated traction may be an effective modality in the treatment of this condition.”[iii]
Preliminary research from New Castle University found that patients who were told they needed sciatic operations who performed inversion therapy were 70.5% less likely to require back surgery.[iv]
If you are fit and limber, you can try inversion therapy at home simply by hanging upside down from a pull-up bar.
That’s not what I recommend, though.
Most of us that are over a “certain age” prefer a more “comfortable” method of inversion therapy.
Inversion chairs and inversion tables are a safer, gentler option.
You do NOT need to be in a completely inverted position to benefit from inversion therapy, and we recommend a table or chair that allows you to control your degree of inversion.
We’ve tested a lot of inversion devices here at HBI, and we strongly recommend the Seated InLine Inversion System. (Just click here to learn more about it, as well as my suggestions for getting started.
Inversion therapy really works.
But it’s not for everyone.
Some people are not comfortable when in an extreme inverted position. In rare cases, it can in some cases lead to, or exacerbate, joint pain.
Below, I’ll teach you how to decompress your spine at home with safe alternatives that also work well for back pain.
Spinal decompression exercises to try at home
1. Standing spinal decompression
This technique originated in ancient China. It stretches the spine, releases tension and frees the nerves of encumbrances.
It straightens spinal subluxation, relieves compression of the nerves and loosens the paraspinal muscles.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with a 1-inch bend in your knees
- Put your arms overhead, so that they are aligned with your ears
- Tilt your pelvis forward, slightly, and keep your spine straight
- With one long exhale, lower your arms so that each vertebra rolls one at a time.
- At the bottom, enjoy the spinal stretch and take a breath.
- On the way up, keep your arms by your ears and maintain the same form as when you lowered.
- Relax at the top with your hands above your head and breath for a few.
Repeat this process nine times
2. Knees to chest on back
This spinal decompression exercise will lengthen your spine on the floor. It also allows you to massage your back using the floor by rocking back and forth while in the position.
Here’s how to do it:
- Lie on your back on the floor. I recommend a carpeted area or the use of a yoga mat so you don’t irritate your spine.
- Bring your knees to your chest and wrap your arms around your knees.
Tuck your chin as close as you can to your knees.
- Hold for 10-15 seconds. If you can, gently rock back and forth.
3. Cat Pose/Cow Pose
The cat and cow poses are simple yoga poses that stretch your spine. You’ll alternate between the two.
Here’s how to do them:
- Get on you hands and knees.For the cat pose, arch your spine up towards the ceiling and squeeze in your abdomen, drawing your hips and shoulders towards the floor.
- Tilt your chin down towards your chest.
- The cow pose is just the opposite: Arch your spine down while lifting your hips and shoulders up. Lift your chin towards the ceiling.
- Do a series of 15-20, holding each for about 10 seconds.
4. Child’s pose
Child’s pose is what’s known in yoga as a neutral or resting pose. It’s particularly good for lower back decompression.
Here’s how to do it:
- Get on your knees.
- Press your lower back towards your feet.
- Bend forward and stretch your arms in front of you to the furthest comfortable place you can reach on the floor.
- Hold for 15-20 seconds.
- Repeat at least five times (and throughout the day, if possible).
These exercises are a great way to practice spinal decompression at home.
Editor’s note: This article has been reviewed yy Dr. Brian Paris, D.C on Jan. 20, 2019. Dr. Paris is a member of our medical advisory board. The content provided is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult with your physician if you have any questions about your health.
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[i] Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1978 Aug;59(8):367-70.
[ii] Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1964 Sep;45:469-72.
[iii] J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1985;6(5):281-8.
[iv] Newcastle General Hospital, Inversion Therapy in Patients with Pure Single Level Discogenic Disease: a pilot randomized trial
Written By: Updated: September 9,2019
23 thoughts on “Get the Benefits of Inversion Therapy without the Equipment With These Exercises”
Can certain back stretching exercises including yoga,, be just as helpful?
Is this ok to use with a knee replacement (partial)?
First off, stretching and decompression of the spine are two different things, and I do not believe that stretching alone is just is as good as stretching and decompression, that said, we encourage stretching both before and after the use of the Back Ease…
Are these exercises safe for people with multiple surgeries, fusions, metal, titanium bolts and coral in their spines as a result of injuries?
When the Back Ease is adjusted properly there is not pressure on the knees, but like with starting any new program, it is suggested that you speak with your physician or surgeon before use as only they know your complete medical history…
I have been a teacher and student of Pilates method of exercise for a decade. The Reformer is a piece of equiptment that allows for spinal decompression when properly used. The mat method ( floor exercises without equiptment ) also teaches exercises that can be practiced regularly to achieve and maintain spinal decompression. Those exercises are practical because you can take them anywhere, no equiptment required!!!
P.S. These are not merely stretching exercises, rather they are exercises designed to strengthen all the muscles that support the spine and also create space between the vertebrae.
Does this also relieve spinal stenosis? (sp?)
It depends spinal stenosis can be caused by several different issues, the vertebrae can move and narrow the space, the disc can move and narrow the space, and then you can have excess calcium build up that can narrow the space, but in cases, if you can create more space then decompression can work for spinal stenosis…
Now here is the issue, I personally have stenosis in you neck but have no pain and have have has pain, so please understand that the diagnosis alone may not be the sole reason for you pain, further stenosis may not be the only issue you have, so please continue to educate you self on all of your options, including the use of spinal decompression, which is one of the single best treatments you can use for virtually all back pain related conditions…
got my Nubax long ago and it works just great
I am asking on behalf of a friend.
She has spondylolisthesis i.e the slippage of the lumbar 4 over lumbar 5 and the slippage is inward (slipped inside). Does the decompression helps?
Hope to hear from you soon.
Sue, Like many things, it depends, on the severity and that is measured in grades, as some spondylolisthesis, can be unstable, and decompression may not be suggested, but the only one who will know that answer to that question is your friends physician…
So simple have them ask, Based on my spondylolisthesis, can I a spinal decompression device? and see what they say, and if they say, yes, then we will be glad to support your friend, with the use of the Back Ease…
I like the decompression idea , I have had great relief from back pain- may be arthritic , or some other inflammation with the use of raw juices in particular the comfry leaf – best regards paul maloney
Other than standing with this device and kneeling with the nubax what is thedifference .
Harry, after testing the BackEase, we know right away the BackEase was a better product, in both form and function as well as quality, so much so that we decided to no longer support the Nubax and only support the BackEase at this point in time…
Here is the link with more information on the BackEase, and please understand that while the Nubax was a great idea at the time, the BackEase, is simply a better product.
What will help a slipped disc and arthritis in the s1, L5, L4.
We believe education is key to dealing with back pain and we would suggest you get yourself a copy of our book the “7 Day Back Pain Cure”. The book discusses back pain issues, muscle imbalances, sciatica and related pains, various treatment options you can consider, pain relief suggestions, action plans and other helpful information for when dealing with pain.
Please read more details and information about the 7 Day Back Pain Cure book via the link below
Our Best Wishes
Admin (The Healthy Back Institute)
Hello guys! Thanks for this informative and very helpful tips. Yes, why not try this DIY instructional exercise. Looking forward to putting this practice into my routine. Thumbs up!
I’ve had total hip replacement surgery on 12/29/2017. Is it safe for me to do the stretch where you pull your knees into your chest and slightly rock yourself? My surgery was the anterior approach. I’m worried this may cause my new hip joint to come out.
Karen, That is a good question and only your surgeon can answer that for you, as only they know your complete medical history and only they know your limitation based on the medical device they used in your hip…
Please consult your physicians before attempting these or any exercise program or use of an exercise device.
Interesting excercises and Yoga poses to try at home. I am excited.
I want to try anything to make my back stop hurting ? all the time likv 24/7 and people think I am just being lazy when I am in so much pain I can hardly stand stand it at times.
Thank you for posting. A good starting point for you would be our 7 Day Back Pain Cure Book.
The book discusses back pain issues,muscle imbalances and related pains, various treatment options you can consider, pain relief suggestions, action plans and other helpful information.
Please see the link below for more information about it:-
Thank you, Our Very Best Wishes
Admin(The Healthy Back Institute)