The lower back is a load bearing structure. In most cases, when you injure your spine it’s because your back has been unable to effectively deal with that load. This could be due to a one-off accident or months and years of poor habits that have gradually caused a dysfunction. This is often why it can take time to heal. Spinal decompression helps to undo some of that excess pressure.
One of the barriers to recovery can be exercises that strengthen the body but put more pressure onto the spine. There needs to be progression in exercise in order to see gradual improvements – you need to challenge the body to see change. Relief based exercises are a necessary part of recovery but they’re not doing anything to build up and protect your spine in the long-term. Spinal decompression helps to target a specific area of the lower back or neck and apply a gentle stretch. If you imagine the disc as a water balloon, the material inside the disc in a normal spine will effectively cushion the vertebra because it has maintained height. If there’s compression going through certain areas of the spine, that disc (or water balloon) will be under more pressure.
When you press down on a water balloon it becomes less tall and will bulge out to the sides instead. Spinal decompression undos this load on the spine, unless the case is that the disc material has come out or herniated. We have an IDD machine at the clinic, you can decompress your spine also through an inversion table or through the towel exercise. This creates a greater capacity for movement by relieving the compression. This is a relief based exercise to be done alongside your strengthening to build up support for your spine. You must be combining this with rehab, otherwise it’ll not improve the spine in the long-term.
Spinal decompression is a very relaxing process for someone with compression. Many patients fall asleep while on the decompression table as it’s often one of the only times they feel an improvement in symptoms. An inversion table will gently lower you back and can be performed using different angles to control the amount of stretch going through the area. You need to make sure after using one of these or using the towel that you’re not just bending over afterwards without care and attention. A lot of people flop themselves over at the waist, which puts a great deal of compression through the back. The towel exercise is completely free and can be used a few times a day for 3-5 minutes at a time to help your back pain. It adds a little backward bend over a pivot point to gently decompress the back. Backward bending exercises that don’t provide a pivot point can cause irritation of the facet joints. So exercises like the cobra would not produce the same results. When performing knee hugs, you can decompress the little holes that the nerves travel through at the back of the vertebra but at the same time compressing the front of the disc. This isn’t helpful at all for recovery and is counter productive.