You’ve probably seen the ads and infomercials extolling the benefits of using an inversion table. Inversion therapy is said to relieve back pain, let your joints decompress, allow more nutrients to reach your discs, and boost circulation. I own an inversion table and use it regularly, bottom line (and disclaimer): I am a fan. I can only speak for myself, but after a 10 or 15-minute session, I feel great. My back feels rejuvenated, my neck is limber, my circulation is humming, every muscle in my body feels like it just received a healthy stretch, and my well being is noticeably elevated.
Inversion Therapy Instead of Surgery?
Inversion therapy is used most often as a non-invasive answer to back disorders and sciatica, especially for people who want to avoid surgery. I suggest extreme caution when considering back surgery. Many people who have had surgical back procedures done will tell you that even if the acute concern was addressed, overall, they’re not “back to normal.” In my opinion, it’s worthwhile to exhaust non-surgical methods of relief first. Individual situations will always vary, but according to James Cook University Hospital, inversion therapy may reduce the need for surgery in some people.
Inversion Therapy and Kidney Stones
If you or someone you know have had kidney stones, you probably have one word to describe the experience: hell. When they pass, the pain is excruciating and, in the case of large stones, may cause complications. What do kidney stones have to do with inversion therapy?
There is a procedure called extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy which, in short, delivers a targeted shock wave through your body. It’s done with the intent of breaking up kidney stones into small pieces so they pass more easily. Sometimes after the procedure, however, stone fragments remain. In these situations, it seems that inversion may actually help the body push out the kidney stone remnants and multiple studies have observed the effect.[2, 3, 4, 5]
The Effects of Inversion Therapy and Appropriate Warnings
Inversion therapy has been likened to using a sauna — it’s mostly great but there are a few cautions to be aware of. According to the Olive View Medical Center at UCLA School of Medicine, inversion increases pulse and blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure or cardiovascular issues, you should avoid inversion therapy unless your own doctor personally tells you otherwise.
A study evaluating the effects of traction on persons with chronic back pain noted low occurring instances of headache and temporary blurred vision following inversion. This should not be dismissed. Neither should the fact that the same study also reported that over 80% of the participants experienced improvement in their back symptoms.
Inversion Therapy: Should You Try It?
It’s important to note that back concerns have many causes and everyone is an individual who needs to be individually considered. Someone who has been in a car accident probably has an entirely different set of concerns to contend with than someone who has a sports injury. Lumping it all into a general “back concerns” category is not a reliable method of evaluation.
If you’ve been working with a healthcare provider to address your own back symptoms, it’s a good idea to discuss inversion therapy with them to determine if it’s appropriate for you. Additionally, if you have high blood pressure, heart issues, are overweight, or have other individual concerns, talk to your doctor first.
- Prasad KS, Gregson BA, Hargreaves G, Byrnes T, Winburn P, Mendelow AD. Inversion therapy in patients with pure single level lumbar discogenic disease: a pilot randomized trial. Disabil Rehabil. 2012;34(17):1473-80. doi: 10.3109/09638288.2011.647231. Epub 2012 Jan 23.
- Yu X, Chen ZQ, Yang WM, Liu JH, Zhou XC, Wang SG, Guo H, Ye ZQ. [Application of inversion-table in the treatment of lower pole renal stones]. Zhonghua Wai Ke Za Zhi. 2009 Feb 15;47(4):255-7. Chinese.
- Chiong E, Hwee ST, Kay LM, Liang S, Kamaraj R, Esuvaranathan K. Randomized controlled study of mechanical percussion, diuresis, and inversion therapy to assist passage of lower pole renal calculi after shock wave lithotripsy. Urology. 2005 Jun;65(6):1070-4.
- Pace KT, Tariq N, Dyer SJ, Weir MJ, D'A Honey RJ. Mechanical percussion, inversion and diuresis for residual lower pole fragments after shock wave lithotripsy: a prospective, single blind, randomized controlled trial. J Urol. 2001 Dec;166(6):2065-71.
- Heng MK, Bai JX, Talian NJ, Vincent WJ, Reese SS, Shaw S, Holland GJ. Changes in cardiovascular function during inversion. Int J Sports Med. 1992 Jan;13(1):69-73.
- Brownlee N, Foster M, Griffith DP, Carlton CE Jr. Controlled inversion therapy: an adjunct to the elimination of gravity-dependent fragments following extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy. J Urol. 1990 Jun;143(6):1096-8.
- Gianakopoulos G, Waylonis GW, Grant PA, Tottle DO, Blazek JV. Inversion devices: their role in producing lumbar distraction. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1985 Feb;66(2):100-2.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.