What is spinal decompression?

If you suffer from back pain, I hope you have read my guide to Back Pain Relief. In it, I cover everything from the causes of back pain, to natural back pain remedies. It’s a big, valuable resource for anyone who, like me, who suffers from mild to moderate back pain.

In another article, called Sciatica Pain Relief, I discuss the causes and treatment of another common back condition – sciatica, or sciatic nerve impingement, also known as a trapped nerve.

No matter what type of back pain you have, one of the most effective treatments is inversion therapy.

Inversion therapy, which uses a tilting table to safely turn you upside down, has several effects including:

  • It reverses the effect of gravity to stretch and relax tense muscles
  • It increases general circulation and lymphatic drainage
  • It helps reduce stress, promoting restful sleep and relaxation
  • It decompresses your spine, reducing back pain

But what does decompressing your spine mean, and how does it help relieve back pain? I’m glad you asked!

Your spine is a tower of 33 bones called vertebrae. Between many of them, you will find cartilaginous pads called intervertebral discs. These discs are tough but pliable. They keep your boney vertebrae apart and act like shock absorbers so that, when you walk or jump, those bones don’t clash together.

As good as the discs are at doing their job, sometimes things go wrong. For example, if you spend a lot of time hunched over your computer, the disc may bulge backward and press against your sciatic nerve.

This can cause irritation and inflammation of the nerve, leading to back pain, and also pain anywhere along the length of the nerve, which runs from your sacrum to your foot. You can read more about the sciatic nerve in my article What is the sciatic nerve?

Your discs can also become compressed because they are, except when you lie down, under constant pressure from gravity and supporting the weight of your upper body. If you run or lift weights, they can become even more compressed. Compressed discs also tend to become dehydrated as the constant pressure pushes the fluid out of them. Dry discs are more prone to injury, wear, and tear.

Compressed discs are also less able to absorb shock, and more likely to bulge outward to cause that dreaded sciatic nerve pain.

When you go to bed, your discs naturally decompress, which is why you are slightly taller when you get up in the morning compared to when you go to bed. However, your spine is never fully unloaded.

With inversion therapy, your spine is gently decompressed. In fact, inversion therapy goes a step further by actually applying a gentle traction effect along the length of your spine to not just reduce the load on it but actually draws the vertebrae gently apart. Benefits of inversion include:

  • Unloading the intervertebral discs
  • Realigns your spine
  • Reduces muscle tension and relaxes the tight muscles that are often responsible for lower back pain

Unloading your spine in this manner is very hard to do without an inversion table. You could hang from an overhead bar, but you won’t be able to stay there long as your hands will soon give up. You could also use inversion boots and hang by your ankles from a bar or beam. The main disadvantages of this method are it’s hard to raise your feet up to the bar, and if you fall, you’ll land painfully and dangerously on your head.

In contrast, an inversion table allows you to gently incline your body to gradually take pressure off your spine. Even 30 degrees of inversion can help decompress your spine; there is no need to go fully inverted unless you really want to.

Since trying inversion therapy, I have become a huge fan and now have my own inversion table. You can read more about this fascinating subject in my inversion table guide.

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Hi, my name is Sarah and I’m so happy that you’re here! I've shared my story here

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