We frequently hear questions about inversion tables from patients suffering from back pain, especially low back pain. This question typically comes in three forms:
- “What do you think about inversion tables?”
- “Should I buy an inversion table?”
- “Should I stop using my inversion table?”
What are inversion tables anyway?
An inversion table is a device which aids in providing inversion therapy. Inversion therapy involves being positioned upside-down, or “inverted” in opposition to gravity. This usually consists of hanging by the legs, ankles, or feet. Using an inversion table, a person essentially straps him/herself to a vertical platform and uses this platform to turn him/herself upside down, allowing gravity to stretch the spine. In theory, these tables help to remove the pressure from the spinal discs and the surrounding muscles and nerves. This could relieve painful muscle spasms caused by spinal disc compression.
Most people have seen advertisements for these devices on late-night television, with the promoter promising benefits of a healthy body and a pain-free life.
Dozens of articles touting the benefits or warning of the dangers already populate the internet. The “gurus” will tell us “it’s great!”, and claim that it will relieve our back pain in “just six weeks!” Those who warn against these tables, however, point out the potential pitfalls that we should watch for, and advise us to always consult our doctor before beginning this type of therapy.
And that is pretty much where the information stops; the reader is left hanging (pun intended) with the unanswered question of “well, then what should I do?”
Inversion therapy may be helpful for a select few people if used correctly. However, most people are not spinal experts (neither, generally, are the people making and selling these tables), and our culturally-embedded tendency is to say “if something is good, then more is better!” This often translates to people overindulging in this therapy, doing it too hard, for too long, or too often. This can lead to injury and occasionally, permanent damage.
Help For Spinal Disc Issues and Back Pain:
There is hope, however, for spinal disc problems and low back pain! We use a combination of professional spinal decompression therapy along with clinical massage therapy. The spinal decompression tackles the disc problems and the massage therapy addresses the surrounding muscles and tendons.
There are five main pitfalls of inversion tables that are not often discussed and reasons why professional spinal decompression ensures better results and greater safety:
- How far should you stretch the spine?
- How long should you stay in the stretched position?
- How many stretch “repetitions” should you do?
- How often should your spine be decompressed?
- Is there a potential risk of “getting stuck”, which can lead to irreversible injury?
Let’s take each of these in turn, and compare the use of inversion tables to professional spinal decompression.
How Far Should You Stretch the Spine?
Inversion tables utilize gravity and your full body weight to stretch your spine. As the ligaments and tendons continue to stretch, they can no longer protect spinal vertebral discs from further injury. In essence, you just “keep stretching”.
Professional spinal decompression, on the other hand, does not involve gravity. The person’s muscles remain completely relaxed in a neutral position. The professional table only exerts a certain amount of highly-controlled “pull” on the spine, which equates to being pulled a certain distance. A professional spinal decompression table contains the software technology to monitor the amount of “pull” and it will adjust to your body weight and other parameters.
How Long Should You Stay in the Stretched Position, and How Many Stretch Repetitions Should You Do?
Most inversion tables don’t have timers or other set time limits. The amount of time the user remains inverted depends on personal judgment. If you’re “lucky”, you might receive some documentation with “recommendations”, but given that non-professionals probably wrote them, how trustworthy are they? Additionally, how do we know that your particular needs match those of the “average”?
Conversely, a professional spinal decompression table has been programmed to exert gradual, gentle force for short intervals of time before releasing. It does this in specific patterns for specific tissue types (muscle or tendon) and it can also target specific vertebral discs. Until you’ve undergone a thorough professional examination, it is hard to determine your individual needs.
How Often Should Your Spine Be Decompressed?
Many people experience an immediate (even if brief) improvement in their spinal symptoms after using an inversion table. Thus, the mantra “if something is good, then more is better!” comes into play, and those people will tend to overuse their inversion table, giving themselves inversion therapy too often. Unfortunately, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing”.
With professional spinal decompression, however, the chiropractic physician is a specialist who can determine how often you need spinal decompression therapy. This allows your vertebral discs, muscles, tendons, and ligaments to relax sufficiently in between treatments. The chiropractic physician will evaluate your condition to create a personalized treatment schedule that fits your individual needs.
The Potential Risk of “Getting Stuck” on Inversion Tables:
Some inversion tables carry the risk of “getting stuck” in the inverted position because they feature mechanical locking mechanisms to keep the user in an inverted position. If these mechanisms fail, and the user is unable to move the table into the upright position, the person can indeed become “stuck” upside down. This can have disastrous effects on blood pressure, digestion, and so on, not to mention being extremely uncomfortable! The possibility of a subdural hematoma (blood clot in the brain), although rare, also exists.
By contrast, professional spinal decompression tables feature an override function, which is always accessible to the patient and under the patient’s control. This override feature will stop the table’s program and return the table to its original position. Additionally, the patient is under professional supervision at all times by a spine specialist.
In short, professional spinal decompression care serves as a much better option for people with back pain and bulging or herniated spinal discs. When it comes to your spine, ultimately, we need to be under professional care. Spinal health is not “DIY”!
Dr. Jay Sweeney is currently taking new Spinal Decompression patients and is ready to help you get your life back.