Hanging upside down may not sound like therapy for most, but it’s actually a very effective form of treatment to relieve back pain.
I will go into more detail in the article, but it involves decompressing the spine with the gentle force of gravity.
If you’re curious about whether it could be an effective treatment for you, I’ll go through everything you need to know.
I’ll look at the benefits, the medical literature, types of inversion therapy, and also recommend some exercise & devices.
What Is It?
Inversion therapy is a spinal decompression technique in which the patient is suspended upside down, or at an angle for a few minutes.
This technique works to improve back pain, allowing for short-term pain relief, and helping patients improve their quality of life.
How does it work?
Inversion therapy makes use of gravity to apply a gentle pull that releases pressure off the vertebrae.
It is effective and has been tested in many clinical trials.
The traction achieved by inversion therapy is very gentle and only lasts for a few minutes, making this alternative widely available for most patients, including older adults.
Although, ailments and possible contraindications should always be considered.
Managing back pain is one of the most well-known benefits of using inversion therapy, but it’s not the only benefit. There are many others, let’s briefly evaluate each one of them.
Relieve Back Pain
Back pain is one of the most common causes of complaint, affecting up to 80% of people at some point in their lives.
What inversion therapy does is stretch your spine naturally and increase the available space between your vertebrae.
This gentle stretch powered by gravity relieves tension in your back muscles and every session can be completed in your own home.
According to a recent study, 3-minute sessions of inversion therapy performed at different angles significantly improved pain in most patients who had chronic lower back pain.
After eight weeks, the change was noticeable and their quality of life also improved.
Improve Spine Health
Inversion therapy relieves pressure between your spinal discs.
We are always putting weight on our spinal bones, and even though they are designed for that, things can change if we have a collapsed vertebra, a spinal misalignment, or any other structural problem.
Inversion therapy is not only a home treatment or alternative remedy. It is actually used by doctors and physiotherapists.
What’s more, many published studies report how inversion therapy reduced the need for surgery in a very large number of patients.
It prevents disability and may improve symptoms to the point of not requiring surgical adjustments anymore.
Stretching & Flexibility
Inversion therapy is a type of stretch and it may also contribute to flexibility.
After practicing this type of therapy, you might find it easier to reach higher or to bend.
Your posture is likely to improve, too.
Since your back pain will be significantly reduced, you will also become able to do certain types of movements that you weren’t able to do before.
Your core includes not only the abdominal muscles but also the obliques, the lower back, and others.
These muscles are vital for keeping your spine perfectly aligned, achieving a good posture, promoting circulation, and much more.
Inversion therapy does not directly activate those core muscles, but it does strengthen them as they try to maintain balance in your body during sessions.
Inversion therapy reduces tension in your back muscles and your shoulders.
After a long day sitting or adopting a poor posture, we have undetectable sources of stress contributing to muscle tension.
According to a recent study, inversion therapy can reduce up to 35% of muscular tension in only 10 seconds.
That’s why inversion sessions are so relaxing, especially if you combine them with a few breathing exercises.
Dangers & Precautions
As with almost everything, you need a special word of advice if you’re using inversion therapy for the first time.
There’s a group of patients who should not try this method, including:
- Patients with cardiovascular diseases, including high blood pressure and heart disease.
- Osteoporosis, spinal injuries, and herniated discs require previous medical assistance and recommendations before considering this type of therapy.
- People with eye infections, ear infections, glaucoma, retinal detachment, or cerebral sclerosis should not try this treatment without talking to their doctor.
- It may also cause complications to pregnant women and people with morbid obesity.
Types Of Inversion Therapy
Initially, applying inversion therapy had to be done in the doctor’s office or under supervision.
As the technique became more popular, various options became available, and most of them can be applied in your own home without medical supervision.
However, keep in mind the dangers and precautions listed above and consult your doctor before trying inversion therapy through one of the following techniques.
Instead of hanging upside down, inversion tables allow users to rest comfortably on a cushioned table as they achieve different angles of inclination.
Inversion tables make inversion therapy safe and easy to do at home, giving you the ability to adjust the angle of inclination before or during the session.
How to use inversion tables
You will have different angles of inclination on your inversion table.
In the first week, the ideal angle of inclination is 20 or 30º below horizontal. Exceeding 45º below the horizontal position is not recommended.
How often and long to use them
Inversion therapy sessions should last up to 10 minutes, but during your first sessions, it is recommended to complete 1 minute at a time and increase the time gradually.
The recommended frequency is twice a day for at least two weeks.
One concern people usually have about inversion tables is not being able to control the situation, this model solves that problem by giving your arms full control.
If you gently raise your arms, the inclination degrees will increase accordingly.
Going back to the initial position will be as easy as bringing your arms back to your sides.
This is definitely a great pick if you want to try inversion therapy, but want to feel comfortable and stay in control at all times.
These devices are very useful if you are initially scared or hesitant to try inversion therapy.
It is also very good for older people who want to feel in control.
This time you will be sitting instead of lying on a cushioned table but the same principles apply.
What it is
Inversion chairs are somewhat similar to a roman chair, but the backrest can rotate to different angles to achieve various levels of inversion therapy.
They are very secure, and each one has its own straps or safety instructions.
The majority of these devices cannot achieve a full vertical inversion, but the maximum angle is usually enough to achieve the benefits associated with this type of therapy.
Among many models of inversion therapy chairs, this one has one of the best user ratings.
It has a very long and comfortable back support. It’s maximum recommended weight is 300 lbs, and it has a seat belt and angle belt for additional safety.
The angle of inversion is fully adjustable, and it has a pair of handlebars to give you more stability and ease of use. The maximum angle for this inversion chair is 70º.
If you’ve already experienced different types of inversion therapy and want to take a step forward, inversion boots could be exactly what you’re looking for.
These boots allow you to stay hanging upside down without any form of back support, which increases the intensity of inversion therapy.
We recommend trying inversion boots only if you’ve got at least a medium or high fitness level.
What it is
Inversion boots look anything but complicated. They are just a pair of boots you can adjust on your feet. They can be secured around your knees and your ankles.
You will also have a bar, and what you’ll need to do is hook the inversion boots in the metal bar.
Once your boots are hooked in, you will receive a new experience of spinal decompression and feel some adrenaline in the process. It is definitely not for the faint hearted
One of the most important features of inversion boots is durability and safety because you will be literally hanging upside down, so any kind of manufacturing problem can be very dangerous.
That’s why we recommend sticking with reliable brands, such as Teeter, the only brand that is actually FDA registered.
These inversion boots have a maximum recommended weight of 250 lbs and will do the job without leaving comfort aside.
When I first heard about inversion therapy, I had more questions than answers. Naturally, if this is completely new to you, it’s very likely you’ve asked yourself these questions too.
Does inversion therapy really work for lower back pain?
Back pain has many causes, and despite it not being a cure-it-all remedy, inversion therapy has proven to improve the symptoms of many patients with chronic back pain.
Several studies have evaluated the actual effects of inversion therapy through clinical trials, showing that consistent use is the key to long-lasting results.
Can an inversion table make back pain worse?
Yes, you actually can get hurt and make your back pain worse by overdoing with inversion therapy.
This is why we encourage you to follow the instructions and gradually increase levels of inversion and time instead of trying an intense session right away.
Is inversion therapy good for sciatica?
Yes, inversion therapy is usually very effective for sciatica pain.
It decompresses your spine and releases the sciatic nerve when it is compressed by the vertebrae and other structures in your lower back.
There’s an interesting study from 2012 showing that combining inversion therapy with physical therapy reduces the need for surgery in patients with a protruding disc and sciatica pain.
Do inversion tables help herniated disks?
The FDA has recently published a list of conditions where inversion therapy devices are likely useful.
The list includes chronic back pain, degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, and other conditions associated with the back muscles and the spine.
Inversion Therapy Exercises
You can actually obtain similar benefits of inversion therapy without a table, chair, or boots by performing inversion therapy exercises at home on your own.
These exercises are recommended if you’ve never tried inversion therapy or have limited mobility.
An exercise ball can be a suitable option to achieve partial inversions easily without actually buying expensive or bulky equipment.
On your exercise ball, lie on your back and extend your spine. Do it as much as you can but stay safe in the process, don’t overexert yourself.
If your main concern is available space, a yoga trapeze is definitely a good option.
They allow for different inversion angles, depending on what you need or what was prescribed.
It might seem challenging at first, but you’ll get a grasp after a while with a few instructional videos.
This is another option if you want to save space at home.
These smaller items are easily foldable and have cushioned support to reduce pressure on the head and neck area.
Other Decompression Alternatives
Additionally, there are other options that work very similarly to inversion therapy, each one with its own variation.
Remember that back pain is not the same for everybody, and you need to find the variation of the exercise that works best for your particular case.
This is a list of helpful ideas:
In some cases, you may not need inversion therapy to improve your back pain.
Maybe you’re just adopting a bad posture and need a quick fix to allow you to return to your work.
Back stretchers are made to reset your posture and decompress your spine slightly, relaxing your back muscles at the same time.
Neck Traction Devices
Most people have a bad habit of bringing their head forward every time they are staring at the computer of the mobile phone.
Neck and upper back pain are common if you hold this position for very long, and neck traction devices are an easy fix that will decompress the area of your neck and upper back.
Portable Hanging Devices
There are many devices you can place on the doorframe and hang from them without much problem.
Some of them allow you to hang upside down while others allow for different levels of inclination.
Stretching is something you can always do on your own without any additional cost.
Performing a few back stretches by lying on your back against the wall or on the floor can be impressively helpful to relieve back pain.
Should You Try It?
In a nutshell, inversion therapy uses gravity to gently pull and decompress your spine, increasing flexibility and relieving back pain.
The most important benefits of inversion therapy are seen in the short-term, still, consistent use is the key to success.
There are many benefits besides back pain relief, and different gadgets you can try depending on your particular condition, your budget, and your preferences.