Can inversion therapy cure back pain?

woman strapped in to inversion therapy machine for back pain

Is treating back pain as simple as turning everything upside down?

It’s called inversion therapy and involves upside-down suspension using a specialist ‘table’ or chair to flip you over.

Inversion therapy works on the theory that by shifting the body’s gravity, pressure eases on the back and provides traction for the spine.

And it seems science is backing it up.

There is evidence it can reduce back pain, improve spinal health and increase flexibility.

All sounds good, right? And it is, but it also comes with a warning. Inversion therapy is not a silver bullet.

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The causes of back pain can be complex. Inversion therapy won’t fix every problem and, in fact, stretching the spine could make things worse.

So, like any new physical therapy, you should consult your doctor or physiotherapist before beginning any new program. 

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Where to start?

There are three devices that facilitate inversion therapy – inversion tables, inversion chairs and gravity boots. Who else remembers Richard Gere in American Gigolo?

You can also try fabric yoga slings, but not before a few lessons and someone to anchor the equipment into the ceiling.

Tables cost anything from about $200 to well over $1000, with chairs harder to find at the $300-plus mark.

At those prices, it may pay to try before you buy at a gym, Pilates studio or physiotherapy centre.

The technique for the tables and chairs is simple. Strap yourself in and tip. That’s it.

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However, to get the best out of your treatment, it’s worth following these points.

  • If you are an older person, it pays to have a ‘spotter’. It could all so easily turn bad if you can’t get back up again.
  • Don’t lean any further than you are comfortable with. It could be a 10-degree angle or 30 degrees, but find what works for you and stick with it.
  • Check all the fasteners. Could be awkward hanging at a weird angle and then you realise a vital buckle isn’t done up. The resulting crash would easily cancel out any benefit the inversion was likely to solve.
  • Time your treatment. Do it in short intervals until you feel more comfortable with the set-up. It could be as little as one or two minutes a session. Health website webMD.com recommends no more than five minutes, twice a day.
  • Go slow. Imagine you are a rotisserie chicken rather than a spinning top. When you come back up, do it slowly to give your body time to adjust.
  • Don’t limit yourself. Inversion therapy should be just one weapon in your arsenal against back pain. If it’s working for you, try a complementary therapy such as yoga or even just a stretch routine.

Be aware that there are people who are not suitable for inversion therapy. If you suffer from cardiovascular disorders such as high blood pressure, ear infections, glaucoma or osteoporosis, this may not be the solution for you.

Other factors that may cause complications include pregnancy, obesity and blood clotting medications.

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

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