The spine or the vertebral column is an essential part of the human body. It helps in maintaining the appropriate posture, protects the spinal cord, helps in respiration, production of red blood cells, and bears the upper body weight. It is a vital part of our health that we need to maintain to remain healthy and active. Unfortunately, many suffer from pain associated with the spine such as back and cervical pain. Back pain being the most widely experienced ailment!
Back pain sends more patients to physicians than any ailment except the common cold and it accounts for over one fourth of all workman’s comp claims. It is the leading cause of job disability in adults younger than 45 years and according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), back pain is the fifth most common reason for hospitalization and the third most common reason for surgery.
The healthcare system spends over $100 billion annually on back pain treatments—much of that for CT SCANS, MRI’S, injections, and surgeries, which studies show are frequently premature or unnecessary.
There are in fact numerous studies over the past two decades that come to the conclusion that patients should be treated conservatively (chiropractic, therapy, exercises, etc) before any invasive treatment is performed (i.e corticosteroid injections, spinal surgeries etc).
That is where spinal decompression therapy and spinal decompression home devices can come in to help!
In this article I will review what spinal decompression therapy is, it’s benefits and risks and an overview of various spinal decompression home devices!
WHAT IS SPINAL DECOMPRESSION THERAPY?
Spinal Decompression Therapy involves stretching the spine, using a traction table or similar device, with the goal of relieving back pain, cervical pain and/or leg pain. Spinal decompression is an alternative therapy designed with the goal of alleviating pain and promoting healing of the inter-vertebral disc. This therapy is called nonsurgical decompression therapy (as opposed to surgical spinal decompression, such as laminectomy and microdiscectomy).
Spinal decompression home devices for therapy use the same basic principle of spinal traction that has been offered by chiropractors, osteopaths, and other appropriately trained health professionals for many years.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF SPINAL DECOMPRESSION THERAPY?
Spinal decompression therapy provides the following benefits:
⦁ Creates a negative intra-discal pressure to promote retraction or re-positioning of the herniated or bulging disc material.
⦁ Creates a lower pressure in the disc that will cause an influx of healing nutrients and other substances into the disc.
⦁ Promotes muscle relaxation by gently stretching the muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding and attached to the spine.
⦁ Reduces the need for fusion surgery and injections! By using alternative solutions such as spinal decompression therapy, you can reduce the need to pursue more invasive and risky procedures.
⦁ Improves blood flow to the spinal cord which promotes healing.
Spinal Decompression therapy is used for the following:
⦁ Nerve compression
⦁ Alignment issues
⦁ Spinal Stenosis
⦁ Facet Joint Syndrome
⦁ Herniated or bulging discs
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF SPINAL DECOMPRESSION THERAPY?
DO NOT perform spinal decompression on your own if you have any of the following:
⦁ Spinal Fracture
⦁ Spinal fusion surgery
⦁ Artificial disc placement in the low back (surgical procedure)
⦁ Increase in pain with any of these techniques
Spinal decompression places stress on the bones of the spine and if you have any of the above conditions, it can cause serious complications.
In addition, when it comes to inversion tables, do not use them if you have any of the following:
⦁ Blood pressure control issues (uncontrolled high blood pressure, orthostatic hypertension)
⦁ Osteoporosis, bone fractures
⦁ Arterial insufficiency in legs
⦁ Cardiovascular problems
⦁ Extreme Obesity
⦁ Middle Ear Infection
⦁ Retinal detachment or conjunctivitis
⦁ Use of anticoagulants including aspirin in high doses
⦁ Cerebral sclerosis
⦁ Acutely swollen joints
Consult a medical professional before you begin any spinal decompression therapy to ensure it is right for you.
WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY?
You may find on a lot of sites that discuss spinal decompression therapy state that there is inconclusive evidence of it’s benefits – that is flat out WRONG.
Research proving it’s benefits dates back to less than two years after WWII from the April 1947 issue of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery —- a prestigious peer-reviewed scientific journal that is still in print today.
Today there are 50+ clinical research studies proving the benefits of spinal decompression therapy. You can find the sources for these studies at the end of the article as well as a site listing honest reviews from those who have tried spinal decompression therapy.
SPINAL DECOMPRESSION STRETCHES
Stretching is not only a fantastic activity to promote strength, stability and healing in muscles, tendons and ligaments but spinal discs and vertebrae as well! Certain stretches can promote spinal decompression naturally. Perform the following stretches to experience the benefits of simple spinal decompression. Remember, discontinue any of these stretches if you experience any discomfort!
1. Overhead stretch
• Begin by standing upright with your feet shoulder width apart
• Interlace your fingers, flip your hands and stretch your arms overhead, making your elbows completely straight.
• Hold the stretch 20-30 seconds
• Repeat 4-5x, multiple times a day as needed
2. Bar Hang
• You can use a pull-up bar, sturdy playground equipment, or whatever sturdy high bar you have on hand.
• Reach up and hold on to the bar and slowly begin to hang – letting more and more of your body weight hang. (the more your feet come off the ground, the deeper the stretch!)
• Relax, breathe slowly and deeply and hold for 20-30 seconds or whatever is comfortable.
• Repeat 2-3 times, several times a day as needed
3. Standing forward stretch )
• Begin by finding a sturdy surface you can hold onto like a kitchen sink or the back of a heavy chair.
• While holding onto the surface, slowly lean back and completely straighten your elbows.
• Stay in this position for 20-30 seconds, take deep breaths, and try to relax into the position.
• Repeat 2-3x, as much as needed throughout the day.
4. Child’s Pose
• Begin on your hands and knees and sit back so your bottom is touching your heels.
• Then reach out with both arms in front of you on the floor, gently sucking your tummy in and relax into this position.
• Hold here for 10 seconds.
• Repeat the same steps, however now reach your arms slightly to the left, then slightly to the right (holding for 10 seconds in each position).
• Repeat each direction (forward, left side, right side) 3 times.
5. Cat Cow
• Begin by getting on your hands and knees
• Make sure your knees are directly underneath your hips and your hands are directly underneath your shoulders
• Slowly round your back as far as you can while gently looking down towards the floor
• Return to the start position, then arch your back towards the floor while looking up toward the ceiling
• Repeat 20-30x, multiple times a day as needed
SPINAL DECOMPRESSION HOME DEVICES
Now onto the more heavy duty spinal decompression therapies – the home devices!
There are many different types of spinal decompression home devices from inversion tables, harnesses/belts, blocks, pumps, and swings/trapeze. All are generally good for back pain and some also help with cervical pain as well – however, some have more targeted relief methods than others. Choosing one is generally user preference. Personally, I use an inversion table and a cervical pump!
Below you will find a list of different spinal decompression home devices separated into two categories – Neck and Back. Let me know in the comments if you have tried any of these! Or if there’s another device not mentioned you have tried and recommend.
NECK TRACTION DEVICES
1. Over-the-Door Cervical (Neck) Decompression
With over-the-door cervical traction devices, you are required to stand and will have your chin snugly strapped in to the device. This device attaches to the door that has a bag to fill with water to desired weight to help with applying traction to the cervical spine.
*Easy to use
*Great for cervical and upper back traction
*Less portable than other options (takes more time to set up and you may not have a suitable door everywhere you go)
*Some users complain of a learning curve with the release mechanism
*Needs a sturdy door. Not for use on hollow doors.
2. Cervical decompression posture pump
With a cervical posture pump, you lie onto the ground and snugly strap your chin and forehead into the device. This device has a balloon underneath the cervical spine under a comfortable cushion. You will use a pump to inflate this balloon that will then apply upward pressure onto the cervical spine. This pressure helps form your spine into the correct posture while gently stretching and relaxing the surrounding ligaments and muscles. It will help gently separate the discs some and allow for spinal fluid exchange. This pressure causes light traction of the cervical spine and promotes healthy posture.
*Portable and easy to use
*Good for cervical traction
*Promotes healthy posture and spinal fluid exchange
*Sometimes with too much pressure the pump might come off and cause fast deflation. I counter this by just making sure I hold it in place while pumping.
3. Cervical traction air pump collar
With cervical traction collars you are free to sit, stand or lie down as desired. This device is a collar that you place around your neck and snugly under your chin. You use a pump to inflate this collar that will gently separate your cervical spine as it inflates. The more you inflate the collar, the more traction you will apply to the cervical spine.
*Lightweight, portable and easy to use
*Great for cervical traction
*Sometimes the pump can get stuck and may deflate on it’s own
*May not fit larger necks
BACK TRACTION DEVICES
1. Inversion Table
Inversion tables require adjustment for height. Follow the instructions for proper assembly and set up prior to use. This device will have you strap your ankles in and slowly lean back – causing your body to invert and allow the weight of your body to cause traction in your spine. This is felt the best in the lumbar and pelvic/hip areas but can also be felt in the upper back, cervical spine and in the ankles and knees as well.
*Adjustable for different heights
*Great for lower back traction
*Helpful with upper back and cervical traction as well (but not as good as those specific for cervical traction)
*Can be heavy depending on model and take up a lot of space
*The most expensive of the home decompression devices
Products: (Note: Due to the expensive nature of this particular product – I have provided a more affordable option that doesn’t sacrifice quality)
THE BEST OF THE BEST (for those who can afford it!): Teeter EP-960
THE BEST BANG FOR YOUR BUCK (and what i personally use!): Ironman Gravity 4000
*Extremely rugged and sturdy holding up to 300 lbs
2. Yoga Trapeze
Yoga Trapeze can be a fun addition to both your work out and stretching routine! It can also be used for spinal decompression by utilizing specific positions on the trapeze that allow for traction in the spine. Yoga trapeze is made of parachute material fabric typically that you can install onto an outside tree, an exposed beam or using a provided door beam. You can use a trapeze to swing on and maneuver into various positions that can promote strength, flexibility and in this case, spinal decompression.
*Fun to use!
*Portable (can be used outside in a tree, on an exposed beam or using a provided door beam)
*Good for overall back traction
*Multi-use product (can be used for exercise and stretching as well!)
*Can be dangerous for those not strong, flexible or agile.
3. Block – decompression via pressure changes
A block is just that, soft but rigid blocks that you lie on! You place it in various spots on your back or pelvis to allow for targeted decompression via pressure changes.
Product: Sarah Key Back Block
*Lightweight and portable
*Good for lower back traction
*Doesn’t provide as sufficient of traction as other devices
4. Hanging door harness for back decompression
Hanging door harnesses attach to your door frame via a bar. You will place the main component around your midsection and snugly strap yourself in. Then you will slowly lower – taking pressure off your feet (but not lifting them off the ground! as this causes muscles to engage in the back and decreases proper traction) and allowing your body weight to cause traction in your spine. This is mainly felt in the mid to lower back.
*Portable and easy to use
*Great for lower back traction
*Requires a sturdy door/frame – may cause damage to your door/frame
5. Partial inversion device
A partial inversion device is a compact machine that you typically bend over while holding onto the provided handle-bars. You then proceed to lean forward, this forward bend causing your lower spine to open up and separate – causing traction.
*Compact design and easy to use
*Great for low back traction
*A little heavier than most of the other devices if needing to move it
*Only provides partial traction
6. Floor back traction/stretching device
This floor traction device’s concept causes light traction in your spine via a light stretch by allowing you to lay over it’s curved design. The curve in the device gently applied pressure to your spine, promotes a light stretch and healthy posture.
*Portable and extremely easy to use
*Good for lower and upper back traction
*Doesn’t provide as sufficient traction as other devices
THE TAKE AWAY
You do not have to live with pain! There are many ways to help alleviate your symptoms – ones that don’t require invasive procedures and risky side effects. I personally use my inversion table twice daily (AM and PM) and my cervical posture pump once daily (PM). I find it gives me lasting relief from pressure and associated pain in my spine. I find it has helped to maintain the progress I reached through my Chiropractor. With healthier lifestyle habits such as diet and exercise, stretching and my spinal decompression – I have reduced the need for regular adjustments. I live an active, healthier life thanks to the alternative and holistic methods I incorporate into my every day life.
If you want more alternative tips for pain relief, check out my article here. And please feel free to leave a comment on your back/neck pain experience and spinal decompression experiences if any! If you have any questions, leave it below and I will respond as quickly as possible!