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Woman hanging from inversion table in a gym

Are Inversion Tables Safe to Use?

"So Doc, I was at work yesterday and my buddy told me he got an inversion table. He's been using it every night and says his back is feeling great! What's the deal? Are these things safe to use?" Lots more patients are asking about inversion tables and if I think it can help them. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, don't worry. We're going to dive into what exactly inversion tables are, what they are used for, do they work, and most importantly, are inversion tables safe? Here's the scoop on what you need to know.

What's an Inversion Table?

An inversion table is a mechanical device that is advertised to relieve back pain and sciatica, among other conditions. The idea is to decompress the spine by tilting the patient partially upside-down. This uses gravity to unload the forces acting upon the spine. You strap your legs into a harness and lean back, rotating backwards to a particular angle that you adjust on the machine. You then hang in this position for around a minute.

Who is it Supposed to Help?

Inversion tables are marketed to people who suffer from mild to moderate chronic low back pain, disc degeneration, and sciatica. Sometimes people incorrectly self-diagnose their condition and end up making their symptoms worse. Some examples of when it is not recommended is during acute low back pain, and muscle spasms. Also, people with high blood pressure, glaucoma, and vertigo can all worsen their symptoms. These patients should not use inversion tables.

Inversion table

What Does the Research Say?

One study in research journal Disability & Rehabilitation claims that the device helped patients who have a disc herniation avoid surgery, however it didn't reduce the sciatica symptoms. Another study from The Journal of Physical Therapy Science draws similar conclusions. A third case study reports that retinal detachment is associated with inversion therapy for patients who have a history of previous cataract surgery, high myopia, history of previous retinal detachments and direct ocular trauma. Those are pretty scary side effect for trying to help low back pain!

Benefits

  • Temporary reduction in low back pain
  • Gives the patient some control of their symptoms
  • Relatively low-cost

Risks

  • Dangerous for certain conditions, must be cleared by your doctor
  • May make back pain worse even if used correctly
  • May be improperly used without professional advice
  • Far more control with our chiropractic tables and without the blood rush to the head

So, What's the Verdict?

My personal opinion is that I believe while some patients may be able to temporarily relieve some of their day-to-day back pain with inversion tables, the risks outweigh the benefits. You definitely should not use an inversion table if you have any red-flags like high blood pressure, glaucoma, vertigo. Inversion tables can worsen the symptoms of these conditions.

If you are still interested in the absence of those red flags, absolutely try it before you buy it. It can activate inflammation and muscle guarding in some patients. What worse time to get sharp low back pain and muscles spasms than when you're hanging upside down? I believe that our chiropractic tables are safer and and under the control and supervision of your doctor. However, given all that, it's not likely to fix anything, and the results are usually short lived, but I don't think it will hurt you.