Ever feel oddly tight and stiff anywhere in your back or neck? You might be interested in how to decompress your spine.
Your spine is extensive in function and by applying a tender touch and specific exercises you can relieve accumulated pressure. The awesome thing about it is that you can do some methods at home and it’s non-invasive. Let’s check out some of the benefits and basic methods of how to decompress your spine.
Decompressing your spine can be a useful practice for achieving spinal health and relieving discomfort if you have:
- Back pain
- Spinal stenosis
- Sciatica (Check out our page on How to Massage Sciatica Trigger Points)
- Herniated discs
- Pinched nerves
How to Decompress Your Spine at Home
Our spines are constantly working. Just by doing our everyday activities and various postures, the spine continuously works against gravity - leading to pressure being put on the spinal cord, muscles, and nerves. Sounds uncomfortable doesn’t it?
Knowing how to decompress your spine at home will give you different results but if your doctor approves, you can try the following methods…
- Sit or stand with a straight back
- Raising arms overhead, extend them up high as far as possible
- You can clasp your hands together (or use a towel or resistance band)
- Gently pull upward and reach for the ceiling
- Hold for 15-30 seconds while doing deep breaths
- Relax and repeat if you’d like! Even throughout the day would be helpful.
- Start on your knees and hands *think tabletop position* - align your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Sit back on your heels and lower your glutes to your feet
- Extend your arms forward with palms flat (palms may be up if this is more comfortable for you)
- Rest your forehead on the floor (or on a pillow)
- Hold for 10-30 seconds
- Rest and repeat
Edge of Bed Stretch
- You can use a pillow for comfort laying it flat on the bed or couch
- Make sure knees are slightly up
- Rest weight on toes, relaxing back and core muscles
- Straighten your arms at your elbows
- Reach forward with hands holding onto your bed (or armrest of the couch) to pull yourself toward the edge
- Hold this position for about 30 seconds if possible
- Rest and repeat, trying to reach further every time.
If you feel these stretches are not helpful enough to provide relief, you may need more intense methods such as a spinal traction table. You may find that the stretches noted above are felt in the upper back quite well.
Exercise Ball Stretch
- Use a ball that matches your body height and weight
- Lying face down on the ball, drape your body over and around it letting your arms hang
- Your head and neck should also be hanging, tension-free down towards the floor.
- Also try this with your back on the ball, draping your body over it in the opposite direction as the position above. Remember to let your head and neck hang loose downward.
- When coming out of your exercise ball positions, do so slowly until your feet are stable on the ground
How to Decompress Your Spine While Sleeping
Since we spend an average of a third of our lives sleeping, why not make sure you’re doing it correctly to benefit spine health? There are a couple of ways to help ensure your spine is happy when sleeping.
Choose a sleeping position that supports a comfortable spinal alignment. The go-to position for most people would be on the back with a pillow under the knees to help reduce pressure. You can also try sleeping on your side but with a pillow between your legs for the same concept of support.
Pillow and Mattress Choice
Everybody needs an individualized level of support for the body when sleeping. Quality helps here, as memory foam or latex mattresses may assist with support and contours to your body’s shape.
I used to sleep on a spring mattress for most of my life. I had a brief stint of sleeping on a gel foam mattress which was a step up from a spring mattress and helped my comfort immensely.
When I hit my 30s, I switched to a Tempur-Pedic mattress. I’m still using this mattress today (6 years later) and I still consider it one of the best investments I ever made.
A proper pillow will also help spinal alignment - make sure you find one that supports the natural curvature of your neck. Height and firmness of the pillow are also things to consider.
Stretching Before Bed
A gentle nighttime stretch routine can help relieve any built-up tension from the day and help you sleep better as well. You can try the stretches noted above to help target these areas. Additionally, other benefits also include:
- Better flexibility
- Improved circulation
- Better posture
- Stress reduction
How to Decompress Your Spine While Hanging
There are several ways to decompress your spine while hanging. Minimal equipment is needed, although results may vary.
- Find a horizontal bar (pull-up bar or monkey bar) strong enough to support your body weight
- Standing underneath, grip the bar with hands shoulder-width apart
- Hang gently by lifting your feet off the ground and letting your body hang freely. Your arms should be fully extended and your body relaxed.
- Maintain proper alignment while relaxing and breathing
- Hang as long as you comfortably can for 1-2 minutes.
- Aerial yoga doesn’t have spinal decompression as its main focus but can still offer benefits
- Practice under a qualified instructor
- Some poses can elongate the spine and strengthen your core while increasing flexibility
Inversion Table for Home
- There has been some debate about the efficacy of home inversion tables, but again, results may vary!
- Cost can range from $99 to $500+
- The concept is the same with relieving compression within the spine by reversing the effects of gravity via position and angle changes.
- Do your research about which one may be best, considering things like space, assembly, weight limit, comfort, durability, price, and more. If you plan to use this extensively, make sure you consult with your doctor. Conditions such as glaucoma or high blood pressure may not agree with using an inversion table.
Spinal Traction Therapy
Using a spinal traction table (traction therapy) may be more useful for low back pain and has been done so for decades. After trying the above methods at home, this particular intervention is meant to be done at an integrative practice or chiropractor’s office. It is also non-invasive, which is great.
The main idea behind this spinal traction therapy is that it applies a pulling force to the spine, decompressing pressure around the spinal discs and therefore on the nerves and other structures in this area. Two types have been developed to help decompress your spine:
Manual Traction: This is typically done by a trained provider (chiropractor or physical therapist) using their hands to apply the controlled pulling force for the decompression and realignment.
Mechanical Traction: This would require a special mechanized table that has specific settings. Some factors include:
- force applied (can be continuous or intermittent)
- treatment duration
- specific area of the spine
What Studies Show
Approximately 80% of adults will have lumbar pain at one point in their life. Additionally, 80% of the causes of lumbar pain are intervertebral discs. Multiple factors cause disc herniation itself but is usually related to:
- Degenerative body processes
- Poor body mechanics
- External spinal injuries (such as stretching, bending, rotating, or sudden posture changes)
As a recap, conservative interventions for disc herniation include medication, exercise, physical therapy, compression, and traction therapy.
I’ve decided to skip over non-invasive spinal decompression therapy as an option as several studies have shown its minimal success compared to the right combination of the conservative methods.
One study revealed there isn’t much difference between decompression therapy and traction therapy, “This is likely due to the fact that spinal decompression therapy and traction therapy have similar basic principles: both therapies relax the overall lumbar region by loosening pressed nerves and tense muscles reducing the pressure on the intervertebral disc.”  (For info on how to strengthen the lower back, check out our page on lumbar extension.)
How to Decompress Your Spine: Conclusion
As you can see from this post, there are many avenues on how to decompress your spine at home with the help of little to no equipment. If you can achieve pain relief from these activities, that’s awesome! If not, remember there are still other factors that may be contributing to your back pain. Keep in mind things such as body mechanics (posture), trigger points, or any referred pain.
In hopes that you won’t have to ever face surgery for severe or stubborn back pain, don’t hesitate to see your doctor if your discomfort doesn’t improve. Other methods not fully reviewed on this page are acupuncture, CBD massage with CBD Cream 1000mg, or deep tissue massage.
Know that you've read about how to decompress your spine, check out our pages on how to do a Dead Hang, Gifts for Back Pain, and What's the Most Important Benefit of Maintaining a Neutral Posture?
 Hoover, D. Can you do your own spinal decompression at home? www.sohma.org, 2022.
 Choi, J., Lee, S., Hwangbo, G. Influences of spinal decompression therapy and general traction therapy on the pain, disability, and straight leg raising of patients with intervertebral disc herniation. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 2015.
 Spinal decompression therapy. my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/10874-spinal-decompression-therapy, 2022.
 Spinal decompression stretches with an exercise ball. www.premierhealthchiropractic.com/spinal-decompression-str1etches-with-an-exercise-ball, 2023.