Inversion Tables – Are They Safe for Your Back

Inversion Table

I probably get asked this question at least once per week…

“What do you think about an inversion table for my back – should I get one?”

Inversion tables have become a popular home remedy over the years for people looking to relieve back pain.

But are they safe and do they even work?

Personally – I’ve never been a huge fan of them – and I’ll tell you why…

But First. What Exactly is an Inversion Table?

It’s a device that allows you to assume an inverted position at various angles so that you can provide what is known as “inversion therapy” – or spinal traction – to yourself.

When you traction your spine, you’re essentially stretching it. The space between your vertebrae is increased, allowing for pressure to be taken off both your nerve roots and discs, and in theory increase circulation to the area. While there are many ways to provide traction to your spine (you could hang from something, or have someone pull on your legs) – an inversion table secures your ankles in place – and as you increase your angle of inversion – your body weight and gravity provide the traction force.

But What About Spinal Traction – Is That a Safe and Effective Treatment for Low Back Pain?

Traction has been around for a very long time and used to treat both acute and chronic back pain. I’ve been a physical therapist for just over 20 years, and traction was a modality I used frequently and regularly when I first got out of school. But as with most medical interventions, we don’t get a true grasp on their efficacy until more research is done.

At this point, traction has been well-studied, and when it comes to short term pain relief, many report traction and inversion therapy to be successful.

But what if long-term relief is what you’re looking for?

If so – then you’re going to need a lot more than traction to help you with your back problem…

Studies have shown that traction does NOT provide any long-term results when it comes to relieving back pain and improving function.

And the research is inconclusive on whether or not traction can actually reduce the size of a herniated disc, which is what traction is most commonly used for.

As far as safety is concerned, there are generally minimal side effects. However, it is possible to experience tissue damage and occasionally – your herniated disc could actually become worse if traction is applied incorrectly.

For all of these reasons, I rarely use traction in my practice any more unless I’m looking to temporarily reduce pain as a bridge – so that I can provide a treatment that is far more effective – such as corrective movement.

OK – so we’ve determined that inversion therapy/spinal traction is not effective for providing lasting relief from back pain – but it can work to provide temporary relief…

So why not get an inversion table?

Well, there are some other important factors to consider…

With inversion therapy, you’re hanging upside down in the head-down position. When you remain inverted for more than a couple minutes, your heartbeat slows, your blood pressure increases, and the pressure within your eyeballs jumps dramatically. Therefore, inversion therapy is not safe for anyone with high blood pressure, heart disease, or glaucoma.

Let’s say you don’t have any of these problems… another factor to consider is the time spent (or some might say lost) doing something that we know will only provide you with temporary relief.

Why not spend your time and money on something that has been proven to have lasting back pain relief instead of temporary??

Research tells us over and over that when you focus on getting to the root cause of your back problem – and when you can find corrective movement strategies (that you can do on your own) to fix it – then you can achieve lasting back pain relief and prevent future back pain problems from happening.

So for all you inversion table lovers out other – my apologies – I’m just not a fan.

And to answer the question of whether or not they are safe – well it depends. For the most part it seems the answer is yes – but at what cost? If you’re just putting a bandaid on your back pain – how safe is that really in the long run?

If you a long-term solution for your back pain is what you’re after – save your money and don’t buy that inversion table…

Talk to a back pain specialist at my clinic for FREE instead – and find out if you’re a good fit for what we do. We specialize in helping you find corrective movements that will not only help you get rid of your back pain in the short-term – but that will stand the test of time for long-term results as well.

CLICK HERE to meet with a specialist at my clinic for free.

Trupti Mehta, PT, MS, OCS

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