Inversion Therapy: Information and Exercises
Synopsis: Information regarding inversion therapy, back exercises while hanging upside down to relieve spinal and back pain by taking gravitational pressure off nerve roots and disks in the spine.1
Author: Disabled World Contact: Disabled World (www.disabled-world.com)
Published: 2019-10-05 Updated: 2020-10-05
Inversion therapy is one example of the many ways in which stretching the spine (spinal traction) has been used in an attempt to relieve back pain.
Inversion therapy involves hanging upside down. In theory, inversion therapy takes gravitational pressure off the nerve roots and disks in your spine and increases the space between vertebrae.
Today, inversion therapy can no longer be called an alternative treatment as it has been the subject of a great deal of clinical study. From health care professionals to athletes, from the young to the young at heart, thousands of people every day are discovering the benefits of Teeter inversion and many of them feel compelled to share their personal triumph over back pain.
Inversion therapy involves hanging upside down. In theory, inversion therapy takes gravitational pressure off the nerve roots and disks in your spine and increases the space between vertebrae. Inversion therapy is one example of the many ways in which stretching the spine (spinal traction) has been used in an attempt to relieve back pain. Studies evaluating spinal traction have found the technique ineffective for long- term relief. However, some people find traction temporarily helpful as part of a more comprehensive treatment program for lower back pain caused by spinal disk compression.
Inversion therapy has been proven to help relieve many forms of back and neck pain including the following:
Picture shows a person using an inversion table at home.
Benefits of Inversion for Back Pain
While relieving your back pain is your primary reason for considering inversion therapy, there are a number of additional benefits many people experience with a regular program of inversion. Here are several reasons to use inversion therapy:
- Maintains your height:
Regularly inverting will help you avoid the "shrinkage" that naturally occurs as a result of gravity over a lifetime.
- Improves circulation:
When you're inverted, your blood circulation is aided by gravity rather than having to work against it. In addition, with inversion, gravity helps the lymphatic system clear faster, easing the aches and pains of stiff muscles.
- Relieves stress:
Everyone knows that a full-body stretch is rejuvenating! An inversion table provides the same feeling of relaxation as a yoga class-with a lot less effort. Many people find that they sleep better with regular inversion therapy.
- Heightens mental alertness:
Any upside-down activity increases the supply of oxygen to the brain, which many experts believe helps maintain mental sharpness.
- Increases flexibility and range of motion:
With inversion, your joints stay healthy and supple, meaning you can remain as active as you were in your younger years.
- Improves posture:
The stretching that comes with reversing the force of gravity on your body helps you sit, stand, and move with more ease and grace.
- Realigns the spine after workouts:
Running and other aerobic activities inevitably compress your spine-often unevenly. One-sided activities such as golf or tennis often pull the spine out of alignment. During inversion, minor misalignments often correct themselves naturally.
Challenging Activities Using an Inversion Table
If the above hidden benefits were not enough to make you want to consider using inversion, here are some other exercises you can try:
- Inverted Squats:
In the full inverted position, you can use your glutes and hamstrings to pull yourself up; the motion would be simply trying to bend your legs at your knees. Because the inverted squat is very challenging and isolates the glutes and hamstrings, most back pain sufferers first need to strengthen their glutes and hamstrings.
- Inverted Crunch:
In the full inverted position, place your hands on your chest and use your abs to lift your upper body about one-third of the way up.
- Inverted sit-up:
In the full inverted position, extend your arms as if you were reaching for your feet and try to touch your feet; some experts say that one inverted sit-up is equivalent to 10 regular sit-ups.
- Increase the Decompression:
In the full inverted position, grab the table legs and pull down; this way you can increase and control the amount of decompression if you want or need more.
- Inverted Rotation:
In the full inverted position, reach with the opposite hand to the table legs and pull yourself into rotation; you can then switch hands and do the same for the opposite side.
Let's take a look at what a back pain sufferer will go through in a typical session. First, you do not need to go into full inversion to get the benefits. (Note: It will take time before you will be able to tolerate full inversion.) Here is a simple guide for beginners:
First 2 Weeks:
Adjust the table to go to 20-30 degrees for 1 to 2 minutes, once or twice a day.
Slowly increase your time until you become comfortable with the process and the position.
The best way to tell if you're getting used to the inversion table is whether or not you can relax while you're using it.
Partial Inversion After 2 Weeks:
This is considered anything up to 60 degrees, which is parallel with the rear legs of the table.
See if you can work your way up to 15 minutes, once or twice a day.
There are two basic ways to invert:
- Static inversion: This is when you hold yourself at the desired angle and do not move from that position.
- Intermittent Inversion: This involves using a rocking motion, alternating 20 to 30 seconds in the inverted position and 20 to 30 seconds in the upright position. Some people believe that it is the pumping action that delivers the best results. You will have to experiment to see which way is most comfortable and works best for you.
Full Inversion After 2 Weeks:
This is when your body is completely upside down and hanging freely. Full inversion is the position you need to be in to do the 5 "ultra" exercises listed above. The amount of time you spend is up to you, but 5 to 15 minutes twice a day is recommended. The amount of time it takes for you to tolerate full inversion will depend on your ability to accommodate to the position; everyone is different so go slow.
While inversion has been proven to be beneficial, it is best to start slow-that is, at a low angle for short amounts of time. Going straight into full inversion will make you sore. So please resist the temptation to go into full inversion on day one.
Be patient and consistent with its use, the inversion table is a device that can be used for a lifetime to support optimal health. So make a habit of using it on a consistent basis, the research supports the use and your body will reap the benefits.
- Sheffield, F.: Adaptation of Tilt Table for Lumbar Traction. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 45: 469-472, 1964.
- Nosse, L.: Inverted Spinal Traction. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 59: 367-370, Aug 78.
- Gianakopoulos, G, et al: Inversion Devices: Their Role in Producing Lumbar Distraction. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 66: 100-102, Feb 85.
- Ballantyne, Byron, et al: The Effects of Inversion Traction on Spinal Column Configuration, Heart Rate, Blood Pressure, and Perceived Discomfort. Jour of Orthopedic Sports Phys Ther. 254-260, Mar 86.
- Kane, M, et al: Effects of Gravity-facilitated Traction on Intravertebral Dimensions of the Lumbar Spine. Jour of Orthopedic and Sports Phys Ther. 281-288, Mar 85.
- Goldman, R, et al: The Effects of Oscillating Inversion on Systemic Blood Pressure, Pulse, Intraocular Pressure, and Central Retinal Arterial Pressure. The Physician and Sports Medicine. 13: 93-96, Mar 85.
- Dimberg, L, et al: Effects of gravity-facilitated traction of the lumbar spine in persons with chronic low back pain at the workplace.
- Nachemson, Alf, et al: Intravital Dynamic Pressure Measurements in Lumbar Discs. 1970.
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