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Spinal Decompression Exercises

(02) 9922 6116

Each and every one of us, for the rest of our lives, will be engaged in the battle against gravity.  It is a constant force applied to us every single day.  Coupled with the hours we sit, the sports we play, and the unexpected trips and falls we might endure, this translates to massive compressive forces placed upon the spine. The following spinal decompression exercises help to greatly alleviate these effects.

To deal with this, the spine has ‘discs’
between each vertebra.  They are fluid-filled shock absorbers and
prevent bone-on-bone friction.  Since they do not have a blood supply,
nourishing the discs occurs via osmosis.  Movement throughout the spine
is thus vital to preserve and feed these structures, so that the discs
can prevent excessive wear and tear to the vertebral column.

Incidental spinal movements throughout the
day create a physical pumping effort which shunts nutrient-bearing
fluids in, and stale fluids out.  Well-hydrated discs become plump which
gives better bony separation and ultimately renders the spine more able
to accommodate compression, impact and jarring.

The force of gravity means the discs
naturally lose fluid throughout the day – people can lose up to 2cm in
height by the end of the day.  Sleeping horizontal at night allows the
natural fluid exchange within the discs to be carried out – fresh
nutrients are drawn in, whilst stale fluid is expelled.

Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for
maintain healthy discs.  In the first two hours of sitting, one can lose
up to 10% of intradiscal fluid. Slumped sitting is particularly bad for
the discs, as is any low activity posture.

The majority of back pain that exists
today, is often due to compressive forces applied to the spine. In the
age of chronic sitting, performing spinal decompression exercises daily
may serve the overwhelming majority of back pain sufferers.

Using a back block is an easy and effective
way to perform spinal decompression.  Lying backwards passively over a
block exerts lumbar traction and both stretches the compressed disc wall
and passively elongates tight local muscles and ligaments that have
tethered and contracted the spine down.  This method works by
stimulating pressure changes within the intervertebral discs by
alternately loading and unloading the discs within their physiological
range.  The physical separation of the spinal segments also counters the
fluid loss and the slow deflation of the discs.

Using the back block

spinal decompression exercises

  1. Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent so that your feet are touching the floor.
  2. Lift your backside off the floor and slide the block, on its flattest edge, to rest lengthways under your sacrum (the hard flat bone at the base of your spine).
  3. Straighten your arms above your shoulders to rest on the floor, then straighten out one leg at a time until both legs are relaxed.
  4. Remain in this position for 60 seconds only.  Expect some initial discomfort as your body adapts to the position.
  5. For a greater effect, you may progress to using the block on its second highest edge on subsequent sets.  Always start using the lowest edge first.
  6. After 60 seconds of lying over the back block, bring your arms back down to your sides.  Then return your legs, one at a time, to the starting position (take care as this can be uncomfortable).
  7. See the following pictures to reference the correct positioning of the block.

The challenge when in the final back block position, is to let go of
all muscular tension.  If you are suffering back pain, your body may
resist completely relaxing your back over the block.  Take your
time.  With each exhale, attempt to let the muscles around your pelvic
floor, hip flexors and lower back give way, so that you can begin to
feel the traction sensation building up through your spine.

Pelvic rock

pelvic rock

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and
    feet on the floor. In this position note that your lower back is
    somewhat raised (or arched) off the floor.
  2. Flatten your back against the floor (push
    fairly hard) and then relax.  Do this fairly quickly for about 30
    seconds, aim for 30 repetitions.

Having just followed the back block
routine, your back may now be feeling slightly sensitive.  Traction
through the spine is a force we are not usually accustomed to. It can be
a mildly painful experience following this decompression exercise.  The
pelvic rock is a gentle way of alleviating any immediate discomfort
experienced through the lower back after using the back block.

Knees rocking

knee srocking

  1. Raise your knees, one at a time, towards
    your chest so that your thighs are parallel to the floor.  Cross both
    ankles and relax your knees outwards.
  2. Place your hands around the outside of
    each thigh to hold your knees so that all the weight of your lower body
    is held in your hands.
  3. Gently oscillate your knees towards your chest for 30 seconds, do this rhythmically as if rocking a baby to sleep.

The knees rocking movement is an excellent
way to restore lumbar flexion range of motion.  This helps to loosen the
large lumbar erector spinae muscles of the lower back and facilitate
further, the imbibition of fluid into the intervertebral discs.

Reverse curls

reverse curl

Since compression builds up in our spines throughout the day, the best time to perform this routine is at the end of the day.  You can however follow this routine as many times as you like.  Remember, in the mornings after sleep, you would have already been somewhat decompressed throughout the night.  It would thus be less effective doing these exercises upon waking.  Ideally, you would attempt to do this routine between 12 and 3pm, and just before going to bed.

Check out the video below for a comprehensive explanation on spinal decompression exercises.

Back blocks are available for purchase at The Physicaltherapy Centre.

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