If you aren’t a candidate for spinal decompression surgery — or are otherwise averse to going under the knife — stretching, exercising, and other nonsurgical interventions may help

Spinal pressure can cause pain, tingling, numbness, and other discomforts. Here are 10 ways that may help to decompress your spine in the comfort of your home.

There are a few things you should consider before attempting the stretches and exercises in this article.

1. Consult with a healthcare professional

First things first: You should never (never!) try these exercises without talking with a healthcare professional.

“While there are various spinal decompression exercises that can be done from home, we strongly advise against this without talking to a healthcare provider first,” says Martin Andersen, DC, with Morley Chiropractic Clinic in Leeds, United Kingdom.

“Without being certain of the root cause of your back pain, you could be risking making your condition worse,” Andersen says.

2. Get your goods

After making a diagnosis, your clinician can recommend the best at-home spinal decompression stretches and exercises for your individual needs.

Some of these at-home interventions require equipment, such as:

You may need to stop at a sports goods store or find a local gym with the necessary equipment.

3. Pay attention to your body

This is important: “Don’t continue through any pain,” says Jason Whealing, DC, with Complete Chiropractic in Sydney, Australia.

At-home, nonsurgical spinal decompression therapy is not synonymous with universally safe spinal decompression therapy.

According to Andersen, nonsurgical techniques can be dangerous for people who:

The only people who should try at-home spinal decompression therapy are those who have the green light from a healthcare professional, Andersen says.

No equipment? No problem. There are plenty of gentle stretches that may help relieve pressure.

Overhead stretch

Decompressing your spine may be as simple as bringing your arms up overhead. Seriously — in mild cases of compression, overhead stretches can help provide relief.

You can follow these steps:

  1. Sit or stand with your feet stacked under your hips.
  2. Interlock your fingers, then bring your arms overhead with your palms facing up.
  3. Think about pulling your glutes down your body while actively pushing your palms towards the ceiling.
  4. Hold this stretch while breathing for 20 to 30 seconds.
  5. Rest. Repeat 4–5 times.

Child’s pose

All this stretch requires is a plot of ground (ideally, carpet) for you to rest on.

You can follow these steps:

  1. Start on your hands and knees, wrists stacked under shoulders and knees stacked under hips.
  2. Spread your hips as wide as the mat, then hinge at your hips to bring your torso to rest on the ground beneath.
  3. Rest your arms on either side of your hips or bring them up overhead for an extra bit of decompression.
  4. Release your shoulders and breathe to intensify the stretch.
  5. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, or as long as it’s comfortable.
  6. Repeat 3 or more times.

T-spine extensions

OK, this doesn’t require zero equipment. But it only requires a bench! Or couch!

With the help of your at-home seat, you’ll be able to stretch your thoracic spine, shoulders, and lower back.

You can follow these steps:

  1. Start on your knees, facing a surface (like a couch or chair) about 2 feet high.
  2. Place your elbows on the surface.
  3. Shift your weight onto your elbows and let your head fall through your arms.
  4. Hold for 10 seconds.
  5. Rest as needed, then repeat for 5 sets.

“As you let your weight fall forward, you’ll feel a slight pulling sensation in both your lower and upper back as the weight of your hips and legs makes a decompression force,” Whealing explains.

Cat stretch

This stretch may make you look like an angry cat on Halloween, but it can help an already-angry upper back.

You can follow these steps:

  1. Begin on all fours in a tabletop position, wrists under shoulders and knees under hips.
  2. Arch your back toward the sky while letting your head and pelvis fall toward the ground.
  3. Hold this position for 20 seconds before releasing into a flat, neutral spine, or moving into another pose.

Cow stretch

Given that cat stretch is on the list, it should be no surprise that cow stretch is too. The cow stretch is used to decompress along the lower back.

You can follow these steps:

  1. Start in a tabletop position.
  2. Next, press your belly button toward the ground, so that you’re rounding away from the sky. You’re simultaneously looking toward the ceiling.
  3. Hold this position for 20 seconds before releasing into a flat, neutral spine, or flowing into a cat pose.

If you’ve got a little extra coin, consider investing in therapeutic at-home spinal decompression tools. Here are five pieces of equipment that can help provide relief for the connective tissues around the spine — all at different prices.

Table-assisted decompression

Also known as mechanical decompression, table-assisted decompression involves using a specific chiropractic table known as a flexion-distraction table.

“As their name suggests, these tables bend in the middle with hinges,” Whealing says.

You can follow these steps:

  1. Lie face down.
  2. Have someone slowly push the bottom half of the table downward.
  3. Hold the position for anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  4. Return to the start position and rest for 20–30 seconds.
  5. Repeat for 10-15 minutes.

“When the table is being pushed down, it creates decompression on the lumbar discs,” says Whealing, noting that it can be beneficial for lower back pain.

Lower back extension

“When you’re at the gym, you can use the lower back extension exercise machine for some decompression,” Whealing says. Ditto if you happen to have the funds to add one of these to your at-home gym setup.

You can follow these steps:

  1. Secure your feet into the bottom foot hooks.
  2. Brace your abdominals, then hinge at the waist until your upper body and lower body make a 90-degree angle.
  3. Squeeze your abs and lower back to pull yourself back to the starting position, and squeeze your glutes at the top of the rep.
  4. Repeat for 10 reps, then rest.
  5. Repeat for 3–4 more sets.

The act of extending and contracting your spine provides a similar, though more mild, sensation to the flexion distraction table, Whealing says.

“Because your muscles are active when you’re moving through this range of motion, it’s a less aggressive stretch and could work well for individuals for mild lower back pain,” he says.

“The thing to be aware of with these is that the weight of your torso can apply too much decompression all at once, so be careful,” Whealing adds.

Inversion table decompression

Like table-assisted decompression, inversion table decompression is on the pricey side.

”But it may be worth it, depending on the pervasiveness and intensity of your pain,” says Brian Meenan, DC, with Premier Chiropractic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“These can be more expensive than some other exercises, but they can make a big difference,” he says.

You can follow these steps:

  1. Press your back against the board and lock your feet in.
  2. Next, lean back slowly, sending your feet into the air and head toward the floor.
  3. Hold the position for anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  4. Return to the start position and rest for 20–30 seconds.
  5. Repeat for 10-15 minutes.

Dead hangs

Time to head to the pull-up bar! Oh, and grab a box, bench, or stepping stool along the way.

Together, these two tools can help you decompress your spine at a speed (read: slow) that your spine likes, Meenan says.

Dead hands are also a great exercise for overall arm and shoulder health,” he adds.

You can follow these steps:

  1. Position a stepping stool under the pull-up bar. The goal is for you to be able to get a firm overhand grip on the bar without having to jump from the stool.
  2. Grab onto the bar with your hands just outside shoulder height. Then, keeping your feet on the platform, bend your knees just a smidge.
  3. Slowly bend your knees more and more to let more and more of your weight pull you down.
  4. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, breathing deeply.
  5. Rest as needed and repeat 3–4 times.

Foam rolling

Fact: Foam rollers can be a saving grace when your spine is in shambles.

“Foam rollers can be used to help you do a variety of stretches that can help relax the back muscles and open up spinal discs, thus taking pressure off the nerve,” Meenan says.

“The exact exercises, however, will differ from person to person, depending on their specific spinal ailment,” he says.

In short, keep moving!

At-home spinal decompression exercises warm up your connective tissues. Stopping all motion as soon as you’re done working your way through these exercises makes your connective tissues susceptible to being locked in suboptimal positions, Whealing says.

“Keep moving every 20-30 minutes,” he suggests. “Our ligaments get used to holding a certain position, like being slumped in a chair, leading to negative posture changes in your spine.”

He recommends setting a timer on your phone to remind you to move and groove.

If you regularly experience spinal pressure, Andersen notes that there are a number of lifestyle changes you can implement to help alleviate your symptoms and improve your overall spinal health.

These include:

At-home spinal decompression exercises — including those that do and don’t require special equipment — can provide serious relief.

So, if a healthcare professional has approved any of the stretches outlined here, give them a whirl.

Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications, such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.