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What Is an Inversion Table Supposed to Do?
The theory behind inversion table use is that by flipping your body over, you are able to unload the bones, joints and discs in the low back. This is thought to create a traction force through the spine, and it has been theorized that traction can decrease low back pain. Another name for inversion tables or inversion therapy is gravitational traction.
Are There Risks Assosciated with Inversion Tables?
The most common risks associated with inversion tables are an unsafe rise in blood pressure, a rise in pressure in the eyes (glaucoma), or a rise in heart rate. It is therefore recommended that if you have glaucoma, high blood pressure, or cardiovascular disease you check with your doctor before attempting inversion therapy. That being said, there is little research to guide one in assessing the safety of inversion therapy in these conditions and therefore it would probably best to avoid inversion therapy if one has these conditions.
Inversion Tables and Low Back Pain
Most studies indicate that inversion therapy does cause some traction force through the lumbar spine. One study found as much as a 3 mm separation between lumbar vertebrae during inversion therapy. So the question arises: Does lumbar traction help low back pain?
A review of available research was published in 1995 and found that most studies about the efficacy of traction for LBP were of poor quality. Those studies that were of high quality were not able to demonstrate that lumbar traction helps LBP. A paper in the 2001 issue of Physical Therapy Journal examined published evidence for various treatment modalities for acute (< 4 weeks of pain), sub-acute (4-12 weeks), and chronic (> 12 weeks) non-specific LBP. In short, the findings indicated that traction for acute, sub-acute and chronic LBP received a grade of “C” (no benefit demonstrated).
A 2012 study evaluating inversion therapy hypothesized that inversion therapy would reduce the need for a surgical procedure in subjects with sciatica due to single level disc protrusion. The results of this study do support this:
“Surgery was avoided in 77% in the inversion group while it was averted in only 22% in the non-inversion group. Previous trials of traction have not reported on avoidance of surgery as an outcome measure and this trial has addressed that issue.”
In 2014 a survey performed to review the benefits of lumbar traction in LBP concluded:
“Several biases can be introduced by limited quality evidence from the included studies. Lumbar traction seems to produce positive results in nerve root compression symptoms. Data in degenerative and discogenic pain are debatable. To date, the use of lumbar traction therapy alone in LBP management is not recommended by the best available evidence.”
To date, no other high quality studies have been published to investigate these findings.
While lumbar traction and inversion therapy may help LBP and reduce the need for surgery, definitive studies are lacking to establish the true benefits. Safety concerns are present for those with high blood pressure, glaucoma and heart disease and inversion therapy is not recommended in these populations.
Inversion Therapy – Overviews
- DEVELOPMENT OF INSTRUMENT TO COMBINE INVERSION THERAPY & ZERO GRAVITY CONCEPT – 2013
- The Design of a Novel Tilt Seat for Inversion Therapy – 2013
Inversion Therapy – Low Back Pain
Emphasis on Education
Accurate Clinic promotes patient education as the foundation of it’s medical care. In Dr. Ehlenberger’s integrative approach to patient care, including conventional and complementary and alternative medical (CAM) treatments, he may encourage or provide advice about the use of supplements. However, the specifics of choice of supplement, dosing and duration of treatment should be individualized through discussion with Dr. Ehlenberger. The following information and reference articles are presented to provide the reader with some of the latest research to facilitate evidence-based, informed decisions regarding the use of conventional as well as CAM treatments.
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