Herniated or slipped discs, bone spurs, and spinal fractures are among the possible reasons nerve roots may be irritated or compressed. Some patients experience nerve compression from parts of the spinal canal that are narrower than normal (spinal stenosis) or an abnormally curved spine (scoliosis), while others have nerve-related pain due to an injury. Unless symptoms are debilitating or linked to a tumor, surgery isn’t the only potential source of relief. There are several ways to decompress your spine that may help you delay or avoid surgery.
Find Exercises You Can Safely Do
Patients with nerve-related spine pain sometimes get into the habit of avoiding exercise altogether. However, doing so can weaken spine-supporting muscles, which may make pain worse. The right approach to exercise strengthens muscles around the spine enough to ease nerve pressure. Focus on the core muscle groups, including abdominal and leg muscles. If going to a gym isn’t right for you, work the same muscle groups with exercises that include:
- Performing low-impact aerobic activities like walking
- Using exercise equipment, such as stationary bikes or elliptical machines, that allows for greater control over movements and positions
- Doing water-based exercises (especially those done in a heated pool) that minimize stress on bones and muscles
Do Simple Stretches
Stretching eases the muscle tension that sometimes makes spine-related pain worse. When a herniated disc is causing nerve compression, the affected disc sometimes slips into a crevice and pinches a nerve or shifts into a position where the protruding material places more pressure on nerve roots. If this is the case, stretching may shift the disc to a more desirable position. Incorporate stretching into your pain relief routine by:
- Doing a 10 to 15-minute stretching routine twice a day that targets your core muscle groups
- Getting up periodically to walk around and stretch your muscles if you spend most of your day sitting at work
- Doing “mini-stretches” when you start to feel pain, such as gentle side-to-side movements, neck rolls, or shoulder rotations
Yoga is more of a discipline than an exercise. It can be beneficial if you have spine-related pain from nerve compression since it combines stretching and movements that work core muscle groups. Numerous studies suggest yoga helps with pain management by promoting overall relaxation and increasing balance and coordination. If you’re new to yoga, consider taking a class so you can learn the proper technique and form. Yoga positions that may help with back pain include:
- Downward dog
- Child’s pose
- Seated forward fold
- Locust pose
Note: Check with your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon before starting yoga to see if there are certain poses you should avoid.
Make Positive Lifestyle Changes
Whether it’s consistently placing your neck in a downward position to check text messages or not getting enough sleep, there are many things you do every day that could be contributing to pain from compressed nerves. Start with being mindful of your posture as you sit and stand. If your upper spine is where the compression is, avoid excessive strain by keeping your devices or computer directly in front of you. If your lower spine is affected, try using a lumbar support pillow or switching to an ergonomically designed chair. Using a sit-to-stand workstation or even sitting on an exercise ball used as a chair may also be helpful. Getting regular sleep is important because tissue healing occurs during the deeper stages of sleep. If tissues around the spine don’t heal properly, nerve irritation makes the pain worse. Other positive lifestyle changes to consider include:
- Avoiding sugary snacks and beverages
- Choosing foods like green, leafy veggies that naturally reduce inflammation
- Losing weight since excess weight can place more pressure on the spine and nearby nerves
Another type of non-surgical decompression is spinal decompression therapy, a technique that involves the use of a special traction table. The idea is to use negative pressure through movements of the lower part of the table while the patient is held in place with a harness. The movements may pull herniated disc material back into the affected disc or allow for beneficial nutrients to reach injured tissues more effectively. Chiropractic manipulations may also decompress nerves enough to provide sustained relief.
Though the above methods can be helpful in decompressing your spine, they are not foolproof, which means there is still a possibility you might need decompression surgery. Santa Monica residents can trust Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of expert surgeons at The Spine Institute to diagnose the source of their pain and help them find relief. Call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an appointment.