what is the best exercise/stretching/posture that will separate the vertebrae of the spine? I want to do this because I read that separating the vertebrae will allow the compressed intervertebral discs to decompress/swell again, good if you are sitting too much.
There are several ways to decompress your discs and spine. The first is prevention by minimizing prolonged positioning, especially poor sitting posture. This q/a gives you several ideas, as well as stretching and strengthening exercises to improve your sitting posture.
To decompress your spine and reduce the effects of gravity and prolonged sitting you can do traction, stretches, massage or learn to open and close your joints with Tai Chi or Yoga.
- Traction: Inversion traction is a great way to decompress at the end of the day. Grabbing a chin up bar and dangling can also stretch out your back and lats.
- Stretching: An exercise ball is a good way to achieve some traction and stretch your abs and back muscles. Some basic back stretches are knees to chest, spinal twist, hip flexor/quad stretch, hamstring stretch with or without a strap, and yoga stretches like the cobra and child's pose.
- Massage: A foam roller can help you release tight muscles and fascia that pull on and compress your spine. Leg muscles like your quads and hip flexors, hamstrings , hip adductors and ITB (iliotibial band) have attachments to the pelvis. Any restrictions in these muscles and their fascia can pull on the spine, so releasing these can help to decompress. These videos, Part 1 and Part 2 give good instruction for using the foam roller.
- Tai Chi or Yoga: Both are good exercises with techniques to elongate your muscles and fascia reducing joint compression, but generally you need instruction to maximize the benefits. Here are some yoga type stretching exercises that can be done at your desk.
You are wise to address your spine as part of your overall fitness. Set up a daily routine to take good care of your spine on a regular basis.