Are inversion tables worth the money?
December 19, 2007 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone have any experience using inversion tables to treat back pain? Do they work? Bonus: any credible studies you know about or can find discussing the use/pros/cons of inversion tables?

My husband's got at least one badly squished disk in his lower back. In addition to drugs and exercise, we were wondering if an inversion table (one of those things where you hang upsidown) is likely to be helpful. (He's hoping to put off surgery as long as possible.) Anyone have either anecdotes or data? All I get when googling is a lot of quackery.
posted by leahwrenn to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I used one of those umpteen years ago, when I wrecked a disc. I can't say it helped in any real way, other than the temporary relief of pressure on the nerve. I eventually had to have surgery (but not a fusion)
posted by Thorzdad at 1:08 PM on December 19, 2007

They're considered pretty much nonsense by doctors at least. I'd recommend a heating pad - they're most effective with something simple like muscle pain, but they're super cheap and help a lot; alternating hot and cold will do wonders. Other than that, nothing is going to fix a compressed disc - he can put off surgery, but I'd just get it over with ASAP and be done with it.
posted by lrodman at 1:18 PM on December 19, 2007

posted by cashman at 2:01 PM on December 19, 2007

I had a squished disk in my neck, and part of my physical therapy involved laying on my back, with my feet tucked into something to hold them, and a machine that gripped me under my chin and pulled my head to the point where I thought my head would pop off. It would hold me in that position for a few seconds, and then release, then grab my head again, and so on and so on. This felt amazingly good. The idea was to pull the vertebrae apart a little, and hope that the disk would eventually pop itself back in*, and also to stretch the muscles in my neck so they would relax.

For lower back disk problems, hanging upside down offers the same sort of relief. But it may not help long-term. If the disk is hung up on a piece of bone, no amount of space opening up between vertebrae will help it go back to its correct position. But dang, it feels good.

And my father-in-law has been using one for about a year, and has suffered no ill effects. Whether it has actually helped, I don't know for sure.

There is a term for this phenomenon - where you create suction by pulling apart two things that are connected to create a space in between - is just "suction"?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:37 PM on December 19, 2007

This is essentially self-traction. Physical therapists use traction tables to do this in a lying-down position. I have heard no anecdotes one way or another, but the idea seems sound.
posted by jennyjenny at 2:43 PM on December 19, 2007

My chiropractor g/f bought an incline contraption for us several months ago.

We both felt pretty dumb when we put it together and started to use it. That whole 'control your entire body's position by adjusting the direction of your arms' thing was awkward at first (think: learning to drive a standard transmission vehicle... wiggle, jerk, stall, jerk, zip), but we both figured it out quickly and each find it an excellent way to re-center and relax.

Shortish-term, it helps to relieve my hip and sciatic pain. When I finally allow myself a relaxed state upside-down, I usually feel the various caught places separate. And oh my, does that feel niiiiice. Ours has the ability to lock into place upside-down for those who enjoy upside-down sit-ups or inverted exercise. I don't happen to be one of those people, but ymmv.

'Fraid I have no studies to cite; only my experience.

BTW, if you do decide to try an inversion machine, consider stopping by a fitness equipment store to try one or two out before you purchase. And if you decide to buy one, heed the part of the instruction manual in which they tell you to always wear shoes when you are using the machine. I learned that one the hard way. Aside from my cavalier attitude, neither of us has been harmed by using the inversion table. There will always be people around to poke fun at the unusual, but I say if it works for you then give it a whirl.
posted by mcbeth at 3:36 PM on December 19, 2007

It made my mom nauseous, and I assume if my dad had found it helpful for his back pain, then it probably wouldn't have become a hanger for not-quite dirty laundry.
posted by happyturtle at 11:31 PM on December 19, 2007

I have had one for a few years now. My experiance with the inversion table is mixed at best.

I suffer from a herniated disc in my lower back, and at approximately six monthly intervals (more if I am on my feet for the better part of a day) suffer from fairly acute back pain. I can't use the table during my acute pain stage; the act of getting onto the table is too painful. It is relaxing at other times, although the blood rush to the head when completely inverted is disconcerting. There seems to be no discernable effect in whether this delays my acute back pain episodes. I would attribute any therapeutic results from using this machine to the placebo effect. There may be, of course, other health benefits to inversion that I am not aware of.

Not a worthwhile purchase, IMHO. And, if you have little children, keep them away from the contraption. Little fingers can get caught in the pivot mechanism and, while I have not had that happen in my house, could result in serious injury.
posted by rasputin98 at 7:46 AM on December 20, 2007

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