Lower-back decompression can be helpful for people with various spinal issues. Such conditions include disk herniations, degenerative disk disease or sciatica. Decompression exercises focus on gently stretching the back in order to relieve excess pressure on the spine.
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What Is Spinal Decompression?
According to UCLA Health and Johns Hopkins Medicine, spinal cord compression occurs when something puts pressure on this part of the central nervous system. This can occur for various reasons, including disk herniation, sciatica, arthritis or an injury. Spinal cord compression can occur anywhere along your spine.
Although spinal cord compression can range in severity, typical symptoms include numbness, pain and weakness. You may also experience tingling, stiffness and cramps.
Resolving spinal cord compression is generally done through a combination of physical therapy and medications. This includes spinal decompression, which essentially involves gently stretching the spine.
Decompression exercises and therapies have been found to be effective in reducing the pain and improving the mobility of people, as reported in a February 2015 study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science. It's also recommended that you perform regular back strengthening and stretching exercises to help prevent spinal cord compression from occurring again.
If spinal decompression hurts, you should stop immediately and talk to your doctor. In certain cases, an alternative strategy like surgery may be necessary to alleviate this issue.
Read more: How to Resume Exercise After Sciatica
Lower-Back Decompression Exercises
Getting back into exercise can be challenging if you've been dealing with spinal cord compression. Fortunately, these lower-back decompression exercises recommended by the University of California, Berkeley, can help improve your range of motion.
The most effective lower-back exercises target your deep lumbar stabilizing muscles. According to a February 2013 study published in the journal Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine, exercises that target these muscles can help with pain management and strengthen your back.
Before attempting lower-back decompression, talk to your physical therapist about the different decompression exercises and therapies available to find out which approach will work best for you.
Move 1: Cat-Camel Stretch
- Get on your hands and knees
- Lift your back up, arching it so that your back forms a hump.
- Hold this position for three seconds; then slowly lower your back.
- Let your back sag down, pushing your chest toward the floor. Simultaneously, lift up your head.
- Alternate back and forth 10 times.
Move 2: Knee to Chest
- Lie on your back with your knees bent.
- Pull your knees toward your chest. Hold your legs behind your knees, pulling them toward you.
- Hold for 15 seconds, relax and repeat five times.
This stretch can be done one leg at a time or with both legs simultaneously. If you choose to do this as a single leg stretch, make sure to alternate between both legs.
Move 3: Hamstring Stretch
- Lie on your back with your knees bent. Keep both feet flat on the floor.
- Raise your right leg so that it's straight in the air. Don't let your hips leave the floor. You should feel a stretch in the back of your thigh.
- Support your leg by holding it below the knee. Draw it closer to your chest, but make sure you keep it straight. Hold for 60 seconds.
- Return to the original position; then repeat with the other leg.
- Repeat three times for each leg.
Move 4: Lumbar Rotation
- Lie on your back with your knees bent.
- Slowly rock your knees to the right; then bring back and rock to the left. Allow your back to rotate as needed when performing this motion.
- Repeat 15 times.
Move 5: Hip Flexor Stretch
- Lie on your back on your bed or a bench.
- Pull one knee toward your chest, while keeping your back flat. Your other leg should hang over the side of the bed.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds; then switch to the other leg.
- Repeat two times for each leg.
- Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine: "Effect of Lumbar Stabilization and Dynamic Lumbar Strengthening Exercises in Patients With Chronic Low Back Pain"
- University of California, Berkeley: "Low Back Pain"
- Journal of Physical Therapy Science: "Influences of Spinal Decompression Therapy and General Traction Therapy on the Pain, Disability, and Straight Leg Raising of Patients With Intervertebral Disc Herniation"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Spinal Cord Compression"
- UCLA Health: "About Disc Herniation"