The Benefits of Inversion Therapy

I know you have seen the commercials…a middle aged man hanging by his ankles on a contraption that he claims has made his back pain disappear.  Perhaps you were thinking,  “That looks like a modern form of torture.”  The contraption that was being used was for a type of therapy called INVERSION THERAPY.  This monograph will be a review of the benefits of inversion therapy.

Inversion Therapy

Inversion therapy is really a form of traction therapy. There are many devices that work on the same principle.  There are inversion tables, inversion chairs, “anti-gravity” boots, and all the gradations in between.  Many devices can be obtained for less than 100$ and there are those that cost upwards of 500$.

The devices vary in the construction material durability, the comfort of the ankle attachment mechanism, the resting position, and the adjustability of the positions for inversion.  The most intense inversion therapy is via the “anti-gravity” boot device where a person is suspended vertically without any adjustment. The least intense would be the inverting chair.  The inversion table is somewhere in the middle as far as intensity of traction.

How Does Inversion Therapy Work?

Inversion utilizes the upper part of your body as a weight for traction of the spine.  The device applies the most traction to your lower back.  There is some traction afforded by the weight of your head to your neck too.  In this way gravity acts to “pull apart” the tissues of the spine.

In some cases the neck and back pain can be attributed to muscle spasm primarily.  In those cases the inversion therapy stretches the muscles which causes reflex relaxation of the painful muscles.  The effect is felt much sooner than you may expect with other disorders of the spine.

Inversion therapy

In the cases where the primary mechanism for the pain is disc degeneration with pressing upon nerves in the back or neck, the relief may come much more slowly.  Multiple treatments over time may be required for relief of the pain as stretching ligaments, tendons, and the disc is a slow process.

The more reversible the anatomical abnormality of the spine is the sooner the relief with inversion therapy.  Most of the literature on this topic recommends that you start with an inversion angle of no more than 15 degrees.  As your stamina builds you can go to a greater degree of angle downward (to full vertical eventually).

As for how many times a week and how long your sessions should be, there are no universal recommendations.  The old saying, “Start low and go slow” is probably wise.  Therapy is also gauged by response so increase intensity and frequency until you see relief.  After sustained relief for 2 weeks on a given regimen you could gradually decrease the intensity and frequency to that which still maintains relief.

You also must remember that any activity that worsens your underlying cause for back pain essentially “undoes” your therapy.  This may be unavoidable if you have a very physical occupation.  For this reason the timing of your therapy should be a consideration.  You may want to use your inversion table when you get home from work or after a long airplane flight

Think of your inversion therapy as if it was a medicine.  Adjust your use of it according to how you feel and your activity level.  Your inversion device is your personal therapist.

Who Could Benefit From This Type Of Therapy?

The following conditions have been found to be helped with inversion therapy:

  • Chronic low back pain
  • Chronic neck pain
  • Neck sprain and strain
  • Back sprain and strain
  • Herniated Disc of the Back
  • Sciatica
  • Degenerative Joint Disease of the Spine
  • Degenerative Disc Disease of the Spine

There may be other conditions that inversion therapy treats but the above list is the majority of the usual conditions.  The various benefits listed in the above image have not been verified with scientific studies.  Those claims may or may not be true.

Are There Conditions Where Inversion Therapy Should Be Used Cautiously Or Not At All?

Inversion therapy is not for everyone.  Because of the change in body position, both blood flow and breathing are affected by it.  In the following conditions, inversion therapy should be used with caution or not at all:

  • Morbid Obesity
  • Congestive Heart Failure
  • Glaucoma
  • Heart Disease
  • Hypertension
  • Gastro-esophageal Reflux
  • Hip Joint Replacement
  • Knee Joint Replacement
  • Unstable Ankle Disorders
  • Asthma
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • Stroke
  • Intracerebral Hemorrhage
  • Intracerebral Aneurysm

THIS MONOGRAPH IS NOT INTENDED TO BE MEDICAL ADVICE BUT IS INFORMATIONAL ONLY. YOU NEED TO USE INVERSION THERAPY UNDER THE DIRECTION OF YOUR PRIMARY CARE PROVIDER. 

Finally

Inversion therapy is a useful tool for the treatment of a variety of chronic painful conditions. It is reasonably cheap, safe, and can be done at home. It will give you flexibility to treat yourself as you need more or less therapy.

If you have further questions please comment . I would love to hear from you and will answer you promptly.

To your health.

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