When back pain occurs, your impulse may be to remain inactive to avoid furthering pain. But staying active with spinal decompression exercises may actually help reduce your pain and keep you flexible.
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To reduce lower back pain and decompress your spine, focus on a variety of exercises to improve your range of motion, strengthen your muscles, protect your joints and stretch out tension.
1. Improve Your Range of Motion
Spinal compression and back pain can be caused by a variety of issues. It might stem from a back injury, overuse, arthritis, a herniated disc or spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spine. Symptoms can include pain, stiffness, numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Range of motion is the measurement of the movement of a joint to its full rotation. Spinal compression, a herniated disc, or arthritis of the spine can all cause muscles surrounding the joints to tense up, often making the pain even worse. That's why it's important to routinely stretch out your lumbar and abdominal muscles to treat back pain.
Your hips, hamstrings, and pelvic muscles may all have an impact on your lower back. Kneel into a hip flexor stretch, melt into child's pose or lean into hamstring stretches to ease tense muscles around the back. Yoga may be helpful in teaching you stretches and exercises to help decompress the lower back.
2. Use Some Traction
Physical therapists often turn to traction to relieve pressure on the spine, pulling on your body to stretch it apart. Traction stretches out the spine, creating more space between discs that might be herniated or pinching nerves.
A February 2015 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that spinal decompression exercises using traction resulted in improved symptoms in people with back pain.
3. Stabilizing Your Spine
A February 2013 study published in the Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine found that lumbar stabilization exercises helped patients with chronic lower back pain see an improvement in pain. The goal of stabilization is to keep your spine in a neutral position during exercises to maintain its balance, strength and neuromuscular control, according to the February 2013 study.
Start out with easier positions, such as the hamstring stretch. Lay on your back and lift one leg up to stretch your hamstring while maintaining your neutral spine.
Once you've learned how to position your spine in neutral, you can move onto more difficult positions to stabilize it further. For example, try an exercise ball bridge, where you lay on the floor, place your feet on an exercise ball and lift your hips off the floor while maintaining a neutral spine.
Read more: Warm-Up Exercises to Protect the Back
4. Strengthen Your Muscles
When you're having spine issues, either in your back or neck, working on strengthening the muscles surrounding the joints can help prevent future problems. Muscles that are stronger tend to take pressure off your joints and bones, protecting them from future pain or injury, according to the North American Spine Society.
Homing in on lumbar and core strengthening exercise can target lower back pain, according to Princeton University Health Services. These might include supine hip twists, lying down and bringing your knees to your chest or more difficult exercises like holding a medicine ball while twisting on an exercise ball.
Not only will you increase your flexibility with these spinal decompression techniques at home, but you'll also build muscle in the areas that need more protection.
5. Low-Impact Aerobic Exercises
Spinal pain may initially leave you feeling discouraged and worried you can't continue your regular workout routine. It's possible, and even helpful, to maintain physical activity as you work through pain. A more general dynamic exercise routine should be combined with these exercises to decompress your lower back.
Choose low-impact aerobic exercises, like swimming, biking or walking, as opposed to running or contact sports. The regular physical activity will encourage improved flexibility and strengthening in your joints alongside the spinal decompression exercises.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Spinal Cord Compression"
- 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"
- Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine: "Effect of Lumbar Stabilization and Dynamic Lumbar Strengthening Exercises in Patients With Chronic Low Back Pain"
- North American Spine Society: "Cervical Exercises: The Backbone of Spine Treatment"
- Princeton University Health Services: "Lumbar/Core Strength and Stability Exercises"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.