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Decompressing Your Spine, Self-care Techniques

May 5, 2020


Mark Shelley

Decompressing spine at home

Spinal decompression is often applauded by those who have received the non-invasive treatment. The reason is related to the structural relationship of the intervertebral disc to the bones of your spine and the precious nervous system it protects. At its core, spinal decompression efforts are focused on removing stress and pressure from the discs of your spine that may be irritating or compressing nerve roots. This article will focus on a variety of ways to stimulate spinal decompression at home, as well as explore situations where targeted therapies such as those provided at Olympic Spine and Sports Therapy would be beneficial to help you find relief.

Intervertebral discs act like cushions in between the bones of your spine. Secondary to the natural curves in the spine, they also provide some shock absorption and help facilitate mobility. Each vertebra-disc-vertebra complex creates an individual joint. These joints act in concert to allow for global movement of your trunk and spine in all directions, which is why it’s so important to keep them healthy!

Discs are mostly composed of water mixed with a collection of proteins. As we age, these proteins break down, and we retain less water, causing the disc to shrink over time. This process can be accelerated by poor posture, incidental trauma such as sports injuries or car accidents, and strain from repetitive activities.

It is also important to note that unlike muscle tissue, your discs are not very well-vascularized, meaning they don’t have a direct blood supply. Instead, they act more like a sponge. To get nutrients in and waste products out, the sponge has to be “squeezed”. Discs are dependent on MOVEMENT to achieve this! When movement is limited, their ability to heal is limited as well.

Now that we have established the basics of disc anatomy and function let’s turn our attention to decompression and how it can benefit disc conditions.

Often the terms decompression, traction, and stretching are used interchangeably. While they all involve applying force to a structure, the results they produce can be quite different. Testing involving a procedure called discography has shown that a minimum of 50 pounds of force must be applied (parallel to the long axis of the spine) to create negative pressure in the disc. If the objective is reducing a disc bulge/herniation to reduce compression to a nerve, most often, this will require using a sophisticated medical device, a non-surgical spinal decompression machine. For less serious conditions, simple at-home procedures can simulate decompression and often can significantly reduce symptoms.

Slowly and cautiously test these self-care decompression stretches. Of course, if you experience increased symptoms, discontinue the stretch. That brings up another point. If your pain persists even after consistent use of these self-help procedures, you should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Response to the decompression stretches is very individual. What is easy for one person may be impossible for another. We suggest you start with what is easiest for you and work your way up. Consistent use of these stretches along with regular exercise, including strength, stability, and balance components, can help you create happy, hydrated discs!


  1. For the first decompression technique, simply grab the top of a doorframe and slowly begin to let yourself hang. Focus on breathing slowly and relaxing the muscles of your back. If you want to take this to the next level, try straightening your legs out and placing them in front of you while you are hanging. Control the force to find the sweet spot that feels the best.
    Spinal decompression                                        Spinal decompression
  2. If hanging from a door frame isn’t an option for you, that’s okay because there is another version using two chairs. Instead of hanging, lock your arms out and support yourself with the chairs.

    chair spinal decompression 1                                         chair spinal decompression 1
  3. Last, but not least, is a prone decompression stretch technique. This one creates an extension of your low back. Sometimes this will increase symptoms, if it does, don’t continue it, try one of the other stretches! To start, lie face down on a bed or couch with your feet hooked on the edge. Take a big breath in, then as you exhale, try to pull your upper body away from your feet by driving your elbows down toward your lower body. Do not let your lower body slide up the couch or bed as you do this. Relax the muscles of your back so that you feel tension or a pull in your low back.

prone spinal decompression

Hopefully, these simple decompression stretches will help relieve the discomfort you’re experiencing. As we mentioned before, if the symptoms persist or worsen, you should seek evaluation by a healthcare professional. At Olympic Spine & Sports Therapy, we specialize in providing a comprehensive treatment approach to address chronic spinal pain. We have state of the art equipment, including; non-surgical decompression, infrared therapy, and high-dose laser. Additionally, we have a highly skilled staff that can provide functional rehabilitation, skilled manual therapy (Trigenics), chiropractic adjustments, balance therapy, and functional neurologic treatment. The video: solutions for chronic spine pain explains how we use these comprehensive therapies to accomplish pain relief with lasting results.

If there is anything we can do to be of help, don’t hesitate to contact us. We offer in-person and teleconferences for consultations free of charge. You can reach us at 425-967-6426.