Back pain can be a tricky condition to alleviate. Oftentimes, people are left with lurking soreness in their lower back and confusion about which treatment methods to try. Does an inversion table work for back pain?
Research tells us that it probably does! The inversion table could be a beneficial technique for patients looking to add variety to their home care routine and further care for their back pain symptoms.
How Does an Inversion Table Work?
An inversion table is essentially a rotating cot that provides gravity-assisted traction to the lower back. It features a surface that a patient lays on top of, securing their body to the table, and applies a backward tilt to position the patient in a sustained inversion. It sounds a bit medieval but is widely used to treat lower back pain.
The benefits of an inversion table include:
- Stretches the intervertebral joints
- Can provide symptom relief from chronic lower back pain
- Improve poor lumbar flexibility
- Improve the quality of life by improving back motion and use.
When back pain patients are able to lessen their symptoms, further benefits follow. Taking the debilitating pain out of the equation allows the muscles of the lower back to strengthen, thus improving overall strength, motion, and patient ability.
Combining inversion table treatment with Physical Therapy results in even better outcomes for chronic lower back pain, specifically among patients with disc herniation avoiding surgery.
Who Would Benefit from an Inversion Table?
A patient with chronic lower back pain may benefit from using an inversion table. The term chronic lower back pain is often used to describe varying afflictions. This could be a patient with nondescript lumbar pain, sciatica, or neurological symptoms related to their back pain.
If you have lower back pain and think you may benefit from using an inversion table, it is just as important that you pay attention to who shouldn’t use an inversion table. Read below for the contraindications to this treatment.
Who Should Avoid Using an Inversion Table?
Not everyone will be an appropriate candidate for using an inversion table. Due to the sustained upside-down position, the following patients are not advised to use this method:
- Previous cataract surgery
- History of retinal detachments
- Eye conditions (verify with your optometrist)
- History of elevated intracranial pressure
- Significant ankle injuries (strap locations may cause issues to previously injured areas)
- Circulatory System conditions and Heart Disease
It is also recommended that the use of an inversion table always be in a supervised setting. You may see inversion tables among outdoor park exercise centers, but these machines represent a high fall risk.
How to Use an Inversion Table
On your first session, keep the inversion angle low and your treatment time short. Try something like -20 deg and 1-2 minutes. From there, you can slowly progress the angle and extend your time. It is recommended to make adjustments to your parameters by the week, not the day.
A standard treatment session on an inversion table may last 2-5 minutes and be set at an angle of -30 to -60 deg.
Try a treatment period of 8-12 weeks. After this, focus your rehabilitation on exercise and activity.
A few tips:
- Always follow the instructions for your specific table – be confident in your understanding before attempting to use your table for the first time.
- Double-check the security of your straps.
- Slow your breathing and focus on relaxing.
- Don’t try to progress your treatment too quickly, or it could result in injury.
Remember to include a well-rounded treatment program outside of your use of the inversion table. Though it may help your symptoms, it’s best used as a part of comprehensive rehabilitation.
Using an Inversion Table for Back Pain Relief
Alternative Treatments to an Inversion Table
Not every person has the means to purchase their inversion table and your physical therapy clinic may not have one on the floor. Thankfully, there are a good number of alternative treatments to using an inversion table!
Try these alternatives:
- Mechanical Traction at your Physical Therapy clinic
- Manual Traction by your healthcare provider
- Lumbar Traction at home techniques (see our article about this here)
- Aquatics! Being in the water will unweight your body and provide similar benefits to traction therapy. It can also be a great source of exercise.
There are many methods of treating back pain and the inversion table is a commonly used device for patients with chronic symptoms. Used properly, an inversion table can provide a calm and relaxing treatment that helps patients reduce their back pain and improve their overall function.
Alrwaily M, Almutiri M, Schneider M. Assessment of variability in traction interventions for patient with low back pain: a systematic review. Chiropractic & Manual Therapies. 2018; 26: 35. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6139896/
Kim JD, Oh HW, Lee JH, Cha JY, Ko IG, Jew YS. The effect of inversion traction on pain sensation, lumbar flexibility, and trunk muscles strength in patients with chronic low back pain. Isokinetics and Exercise Science. 2013; 21:237-246.
Kondrashova T, Makar M, Proctor C, Bridgmon KA, Pazdernik V. Dynamic assessment of cerebral blood flow and intracranial pressure during inversion table tilt using ultrasonography. Journal of the Neurological Sciences. 2019; 404: 150-156. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022510X19303363
Lerebours VC, Rohl AJ, Shaikh S. Bilateral retinal detachments associated with inversion table therapy. Cureus. 2017; 9(3). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5392039/
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only. This is not a substitute for a medical appointment. Please refer to your physician before starting any exercise program.