When I first heard about inversion therapy for treating back pain, I must admit, I was a little skeptical. Paul, one of my friends, had bought an inversion table a few years ago and was always telling me how it had helped him with his back pain.
I just smiled, shrugged, and chose to ignore his suggestions that it would help me too. I was far from convinced!
Then, one day, I was at Paul’s house and complaining about the sciatic nerve pain in my lower back. He finally convinced me to try his inversion table, promising that, if it didn’t ease my back pain in just a few minutes, he’d never mention it again.
With some trepidation and a lot of skepticism, I climbed onto the inversion table and, under Paul’s supervision, I inverted myself to around 30 degrees. At first, nothing much happened. But then, as I relaxed, I felt the tension flow out of my muscles, and my spine felt like it was getting longer!
Five minutes later, I was upright and wondering where my back pain had gone!
After a pain-free evening, the first in a long time, I headed home, fired up my computer, and did some research about inversion therapy. This is what I learned.
Reduced need for surgery
In one study, conducted by doctors at the Newcastle General Hospital, in the UK, patients suffering chronic sciatica were placed randomly into one of two groups. One group received inversion therapy plus physiotherapy, while the other group received physiotherapy alone. Only 23% of the inversion/physiotherapy group ended up needing surgery, compared to 78% of the non-inversion group.
Inversion Therapy in Patients with Pure Single Level Discogenic Disease: a pilot randomized trial by Manjunath Prasad KS, Gregson BA, Hargreaves G, Byrnes T, Mendelow AD. Regional Neurosciences Centre, Newcastle General Hospital, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. Source here
Back to work faster
Another study involved 175 patients who were unable to work due to back pain caused by things like sciatica, degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, and lumbar osteoarthritis. After eight weeks of inversion therapy, 155 of the participants were able to return to work.
Sheffield, F.: Adaptation of Tilt Table for Lumbar Traction. Arch Phys Med Rehabilitation; 45: 469-472, 1964. Source here.
Less back pain in 10 seconds!
In this study, patients were monitored using electromyography (EMG), a method reported to be an indicator of the presence of pain. Pain reduction of 35% was reported within the first ten seconds of inversion and was thought to be the result of spinal decompression and lengthening which took pressure off the sciatic nerve.
Nosse, L.: Inverted Spinal Traction. Arch Phys Med Rehabilitation; 59: 367-370, Aug 78. Source here.
Decreased spinal compression and pressure on intervertebral discs
This study revealed that inversion therapy was a very effective method for unloading the spine, reducing disc compression and pressure, and increasing the space between vertebrae to reduce back pain. It noted that home inversion tables were an effective way to produce a traction effect.
Gianakopoulos, G, et al: Inversion Devices: Their Role in Producing Lumbar Distraction. Arch Phys Med Rehabilitation; 66: 100-102, Feb 85. Source here.
Reduced internal disc pressure
This final study measured the pressure inside the L3 (third lumbar) disc during various positions including sitting, standing, lying, and when inverted. The result, unsurprisingly, was that pressure was least during inversion, and an incline of 60 degrees was sufficient to produce favorable results.
Nachemson, Alf, et al: Intravital Dynamic Pressure Measurements in Lumbar Discs. 1970
It’s not for everyone, and if you have high blood pressure, certain eye problems, heart problems, high blood pressure, or are pregnant, you should not use an inversion table. I also suggest you speak to your doctor before trying inversion therapy.
However, I can happily report that inversion therapy has helped ease my back pain and I now use an inversion table at least three times a week to keep my back pain-free. It worked for me, and I expect it will work for you too.
More About Inversion Therapy
Check my complete article with exercises and routines for back, neck and shoulder pain. The full guide is here.