Think of your spine. It’s responsible 24/7 for keeping you upright; supporting your skull; helping you maintain balance and letting you stretch, lean, bend and rotate. It protects the spinal cord – the nerve center of your body – and creates red blood cells. All of this without complaint!
Well, most of the time. Sometimes it does complain. And the resulting back pain can leave you stressed, distracted, unable to work or even flat out in bed.
Some spinal complaints are from overuse (lifting too much, stretching too far, taking too much on day after day) and some arise simply from the long-term effects of gravity.
Yes, gravity. In a single day, a person can shrink up to ¾ of an inch between waking up and going to bed. That’s gravity exerting its downward pull, compressing the spine. Over time, this compression can cause the spinal discs (the flexible components of the spine, between the vertebrae) to flatten and spread, coming into contact with vulnerable nerve endings. And that causes pain.
How Can Inversion Therapy Help?
Inversion therapy harnesses the power of gravity to work for you instead of against you. With an inversion table, you can tilt your body back in a completely relaxed position while the earth’s gravitational pull gently stretches the spinal column into a more natural position.
Why Use Inversion Therapy?
If you’re not sold by the thought of tilting back on a table for ten minutes of upside-down, stretched out leisure, consider the numerous proven benefits to inversion therapy:
- Decompresses the spine. The inverted position relieves pressure on the spine. The Nachemson study (1970) found that even when a person is lying down, there is still some pressure on the spine. Fully relieving the spine requires traction equal to 60% of body weight. This traction can be achieved with a 60 degree inversion angle.
- Relaxes the muscles. Lying upside down suspended from your ankles can be quite relaxing. Don’t believe it? Nosse (1978) found a 35% reduction in EMG (electromyography, which measures electrical activity in the muscles) in the first 10 seconds of inversion. A lower EMG means a more relaxed you.
- Rehydrates spinal discs. When you’re in an inverted position, the discs open up and that allows fluid to flow back in, plumping and strengthening the discs.
- Reduces nerve pressure. If the vertebrae open up that can also free up the pinched nerves that cause sciatic pain.
- Stimulates circulation. Circulation is a continual cleansing and renewal of your blood, managed by the heart. Oxygen-rich blood is pumped out of the heart to all organs of the body, and waste blood returns to the heart where it is pumped to the lungs for cleansing. Waste blood from the lower limbs works against gravity in its trip back to the heart. Inversion turns that process around, making it much easier to take oxygen-poor blood away from the lower limbs.
In addition to those benefits, many people believe inversion therapy keeps you young by maintaining height and body shape (organs that flatten out over time from gravitational pull – kidneys, stomach, intestines – can regain their normal shape with inversion).
Are There Any Reasons Not to Use Inversion Therapy?
There are risks to inversion therapy for certain groups of people. In particular, people with heart disease, high blood pressure or glaucoma should not use inversion therapy. You should also avoid inversion therapy if you are obese, have a spinal injury or are pregnant (for a more complete list, see http://missioninversion.com/getting-started/).
How Do I Get Started?
To get started with inversion therapy you need an inversion table. Fortunately, there are a lot of choices in prices ranging from below $100 to just under $1000. Somewhere in that range is the table for you.
There are three basic factors to consider when choosing an inversion table:
- You – specifically, your height and weight.
- Comfort – how much or how little do you need?
- Price – what can you reasonably afford for a quality inversion table?
You need a table that can accommodate you – that’s basic. Make sure to choose a table that can stretch to at least an inch past your standing height and easily handle your full weight.
Beyond the basics, the choice gets personal. You can get a table that inverts you – nothing more. Or you can get a table that lets you do abdominal exercises while you hang. Or you can get one with an LCD screen, a flip-switch tilt mechanism, vibrating pads for massage and a heated back pad.
Here are some key considerations:
- Can you control the degree of inversion? It’s advisable to start shallow – no more than 25-30 degrees – and build up to the 60+ at which your spine is fully relaxed.
- How much space do you have? Some inversion tables are built as standing equipment and some fold for easy storage.
- Are the foot platform and clamps adjustable? This consideration is particularly important if you are out of the average range in height or weight.
- How comfortable is the back pad? Here you need to consider both structure and padding. Make sure the back pad is solid – extra cushioning won’t help if the basic structure is unsound.
- Does it have a motor? If tilting yourself backwards sounds like too much work, you can choose a model with a motor, and just flip a switch.
- What about extras? For those who always need that bit more, you can get inversion tables with a massager and heated back pad, among other luxuries.
Two of the top brands for inversion tables are IronMan and Teeter Hang Ups. Both feature quality tables in a range of prices. Other recommended brands are Body Max and Soozier.
To get an idea of how quality tables differ in features and price, here are a few of the best:
IronMan Gravity 4000 Inversion Table
One of the best-reviewed inversion tables on the market, the IronMan Gravity 4000 is built for intensive use. It has non-skid floor stabilizers and holds up to 350 pounds. This table is built for comfort as well, with a memory foam back pad and ergonomic ankle cushions. Price: $170.
Teeter Hang Ups EP-950 Inversion Table With Healthy Back DVD
This table features a “Flex Technology” design that allows for lateral movement in addition to horizontal. The EP-950 will move with you, tilting left and right as you change position. The company claims this extra movement helps align the spine and relax the muscles even better. Another key feature of this table is the Ankle Comfort Dial, which lets you easily adjust the ankle clamps to fit. Price: $399.
Emer Deluxe Padded Foldable Gravity Inversion Table for Back Therapy Exercise Fitness INVR-3
A very basic table that safely inverts you. Does the job with no extra features. Price: under $100.
Innova Fitness ITX9250 Inversion Therapy Table
The Innova Fitness ITX9250 is the table built for comfort. Featuring breathable mesh, a headrest, soft touch foam handlebars and foam leg rollers, this is the inversion table that pampers you. It folds easily, as well. Price: $120.
Health Mark Pro Max
The Health Pro Max is a top-of-the-line inversion table. The table is both light and strong, and full of extra features, such as anti-slip leg and ankle brackets and a foam-covered wooden backboard. With a weight capacity of 600 pounds, this table is one of the strongest on the market. You can also do face-down inversions with the Health Mark Pro Max. Price: $717.
With that list of possibilities you may be tempted to run out and buy immediately. But if you can, try out an inversion table first. Many chiropractors now have inversion tables in their offices. Or you might be able to test one in the store. Trying it out in a safe environment will give you an idea if inversion is for you.
One last thing – once you have your table you may find yourself staring at it, wondering “What now?” No fear. Consult “Mission Inversion’s” “How To Use An Inversion Table: Easy Guide!” You’ll be decompressing your spine before dinner.
What are the Functions of the Spinal Column?
Spinal Anatomy: Overview of the Spine
Canadian Chiropractor – Inversion Therapy
Inversion International – Training Benefits
Medical Studies on Inversion Therapy
Mission Inversion – Getting Started
Overstock Inversion Table Buying Guide
Top 10 Rated Inversion Tables