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Inversion therapy is a form of treatment that involves inverting a person (turning them upside down) to various degrees to relieve pain in the back, stretch the spine and relieve pressure between the vertebrae. Inversion can also promote stimulation of blood circulation resulting in the relief of stiff muscles and relaxing the body overall.
I purchased a professional ‘Ironman’ inversion table (pictured above) from the United States mid-2015 to add to my practice. I could not purchase this quality of equipment from the UK and this is probably the reason why there is a plethora of cheap second hand UK inversion tables available.
This inversion table has a maximum user weight of approx. 125kg or 19.5st and is suitable for people from 4’10” up to 6’6”. It has an “iControl” Disk Brake System which is easy to lock at any angle, locks the table when mounting and dismounting and prevents any “free falling” while inverting which can be very disconcerting and commonly experienced on inferior quality units with only a tether strap.
Benefits of Inversion Therapy
(Note: See later for cautions and contra-indications for use)
There are many stated benefits of inversion therapy, which uses gravity as a natural form of traction to elongate the spine. This increases the space between the vertebrae, relieving the pressure on discs, ligaments and nerve roots and allows the muscles and ligaments around the spine to relax. Less pressure often means less back pain. There are articles on the web which also claim that inversion aids Arthritic hip pain, which can be caused for example by ‘gritty bits’ found in the synovial fluid of the joint which grind into the joint when the person walks. It is suggested that if the joint is opened by “hanging”, these compounds can move out of the joint region easing the pain. I have no reference points from personal experience with my clients to corroborate this but will include in later versions of this article if these materialise.
Inversion can also help to encourage better posture. When inverted, the spine naturally follows a gentle “s” curve without the normal gravitational forces and inherited and/or adopted bad posture habits. Some consider that it also helps to ease stress, which often causes shoulder and back pain, while giving an unusual full body stretch (similar to the yoga concept of the head stand position). When I have measured a client’s height before and after a treatment a temporary difference of over 10mm is not uncommon! From my own personal point of view hanging upside down just feels good with the weight lifted from your shoulders and I can understand why people think it’s good for stress relief.
There are lots of articles regarding inversion benefits on the web which I do not intend to repeat; the links below are to the Ironman website and their article on benefits, and to one on YouTube which you might find interesting (Note: this YouTube clip does not show a good quality inversion table in my opinion):
Ironman Article – Why Inversion Therapy is important
Youtube Clip – Benefits of Inversion Therapy
I sometimes suggest the use of inversion therapy as part of a broader treatment session or it can be used as a totally stand-alone treatment within a 15-minute time slot. Going to a therapist is a great way of trying an inversion table under supervision before thinking about buying your own.
You don’t have to fully invert to get benefits and in any case this should be only be gradually increased starting with a small angle of around 20 degrees from horizontal before progressing to a 60 degree angle which is necessary to decompress the lumbar spine. You can eventually build up to full inversion if you are comfortable doing so.
Remember to go slowly and breathe deeply and relax. It is suggested that you begin with few minutes per session and advance only as you feel comfortable. Over time, work up to say 5 minutes or more as long as it takes for your muscles to relax and release. Try to listen to your body – when you feel like you’ve had enough, rotate upright and rest. Return slowly upright, stopping at the horizontal position for approx. 20 seconds or more. This allows your inner ear to readjust to being upright, and it also allows your back to “recompress” gently.
Some people like the feeling of just hanging with a gravity stretch; those who are a bit more advanced sometimes like to pull on the bottom bar which can help joints that are slightly out of alignment to naturally realign with gentle stretching during decompression. Others like to oscillate with slow rotations down and up. This creates a “pumping” action in the spine which can help to stimulate circulation and fluid movement into the discs.
Some people feel the benefits immediately while for others it may take a few sessions/weeks before you and your body start getting used to the upside down sensations and begin to relax and decompress. Manufacturers recommend routinely inverting several times a day or as a tool for occasional relief from back pain and tension.
Precautions of Inversion Therapy
Although this activity is generally considered to be safe, I fully support manufacturers’ recommendations that you should seek your doctor’s advice before using inversion therapy if you are pregnant, have a hernia, glaucoma, retinal detachment, conjunctivitis, high blood pressure, recent stroke, heart or circulatory disorders, spinal injury, cerebral sclerosis, swollen joints, osteoporosis, unhealed fractures, surgically implanted supports, use of anticoagulants, ear infection or obesity.
Inversion therapy is not for everyone. It is regarded by some as a natural treatment for back pain and stress and can be great to use as a regular home treatment once you know how to use the equipment correctly. There are some great testimonials on the Amazon site from people who have brought inversion tables and as always some negative ones. What helps others may not be ideal for you and if you do it too fast it can easily result in a headache!
What I offer is a great way to try before you buy to see if inversion therapy will help you after a consultation and assessment. I will give you guidance to best practice during use and offer advice in the selection of a table if found to be beneficial for you.
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