disc problems & inversion tables

Inversion Table

DiffAngle ColKorn1982

I have been intrigued by Inversion Tables since I first saw one in action over twenty five years ago.  Although the first Inversion Tables were clunky and expensive, today’s tables are lightweight, inexpensive, and for the most part, extremely user friendly.  Inversion Therapy is somewhat of a dichotomy.  Although hotly disputed by many, it is undoubtedly one of the most popular alternative back pain treatments available today.  As with any treatment, Inversion Therapy will not work for everyone. But if you’re looking for a non-invasive drug-free way to treat low back pain, and you’re curious about inversion therapy, it may help to hear about some of the scientific research on the topic.

  • 1964- Dr. Sheffield: Adaptation of Tilt Table for Lumbar Traction study
    This study consisted of 175 patients with back pain so severe they were unable to work.  After eight inversion treatments, 155 of the patients were improved enough to return to work. CONCLUSION: stretching of the back muscles with inversion helped free up the ligaments and relieve the pain.
  • 1978- Dr. Nosse: Inverted Spinal Traction study
    The Nosse study looked at twenty healthy males and found that EMG activity (an indicator of muscle pain) declined by 35 per cent within the first 10 seconds of inversion. The study also found that inversion increases spinal length.  CONCLUSION: There is a correlation between a reduction in EMG activity and an increase in spinal length.
  • 1985- Dr. Kane: Effects of Gravity-facilitated Traction on Intravertebral Dimensions of the Lumbar Spine study
    In the Kane study, fifteen normal male subjects were fully inverted for a period of 10 minutes.  Comparisons of pre and post inversion measurements proved that gravity-facilitated traction (inversion) produces significant intervertebral separation in the lumbar spine  CONCLUSION:  Inversion causes a separation of the lumbar vertebrae, showing that it can potentially be an effective modality in the relief of low back pain.
  • Dr. Dimberg et al: Effects of Gravity-Facilitated Traction of the Lumbar Spine in Persons with Chronic Low Back Pain at the Workplace study
    The Dimberg / Volvo Automotive study evaluated 116 Volvo employees in a randomized controlled trial that lasted for 12 months. Three training groups were studied, and after 12 months, the researchers demonstrated a 33 per cent decrease in sick days from back pain for those who used Inversion Therapy for 10 minutes once or twice a day.  CONCLUSION: Inversion Therapy is an efficient and cost-effective way to improve employee health while reducing sick day costs to employers.   
In my opinion, the Ironman 4000 is as good a deal for the money as I have found.  As of the time I wrote this, you could still get it for about $200.00 with free shipping.  The thing is built like a tank.  Instead of a nylon-like material stretched over the frame, the bed is made of plywood, covered with memory foam.  On top of that, it is built to accommodate people up to 6′ 6” tall and up to 350 lbs.  It is easy to put together, can be stored flat, and is extremely stable. 

However, my favorite feature of the Ironman 4000 is the foot piece.  Instead of having clips to adjust and mess with around your ankles, it has clamps that are on a ratchet mechanism.  The ratchet handle has a button release at the end of a lever that sticks about a foot or so upward from between your feet.  This allows you to set and undo your ankle clamps without having to bend very far forward.

However, if money is no object, the Cadillac of Inversion Tables is probably the Master Care Back-a-Traction unit that is imported from Sweden.  The real advantages to this unit are the fact that you can lock the inversion position into place so there is near-total stability.  The back piece slides up and down just like our SPINAL DECOMPRESSION TABLE, and like our table, you can actually lay face down or face up on these units —- a huge advantage for many people.   Is the Back-A-Traction worth the extra $1,000 bucks over the cost of an Ironman 4000?  You would have to decide that for yourself.

There is another Heavy Duty “Commercial” style table in the mix.  The massively advertised “Teeter” Company makes a motorized table that comes in several different models.  I would have an easier time recommending this unit to more patients if it were made to allow Inversion Therapy to be done in both the face down and face up positions.  These motorized units run from around $1,000 to over $2,000 dollars.

The truth is that when I was researching Inversion Tables a few years ago, I decided on an Ironman 4000.   I noticed that as far as results were concerned, it did not really matter what brand of table you bought, as long as it fit your height and was strong enough to hold your weight —— neither the brand nor the price seemed to have much bearing on outcomes.  This can be verified by looking at lots of reviews of multiple units on either Amazon’s or Mal Wart’s websites. 

Most of the people I have met who say that Inversion did not help them, were doing it wrong.  I have a few simple rules for Inversion that will make your time both pleasant / relaxing and effective.  An over-arching principle of Inversion is that less is more.  Here in America, we believe that if a little is good, then 10 times more should be ten times as good.  As you might imagine, it does not work that way.

  • To get your proper height / weight adjustment, see your Owner’s Manual.  If you bought your unit used, print one off online.  BTW, the Ironman 4000 has settings labeled for your exact height / weight.
  • Start with only a slight bit of Inversion.  If you have any back problems whatsoever, you do not ever need to go below 45 degrees.  Do not hang upside down.  This is how people mess themselves up on Inversion Tables.  Many of my patients report the best results in a position that the head is just below the feet.  I call this “hovering”.
  • Start with a minute or two and progress from there.  Unless you are hovering, I would not spend more than 10 minutes at a time on the table, although you can get on it multiple times a day.
  • Your best Inversion results occur when you are pain free.  If you have a history of back problems, DO NOT wait until your back flares up to use the table.  Do 3-5 minutes a day and help preserve the disc.
For our SPINAL DECOMPRESSION THERAPY PROTOCOLS, I almost always recommend the patient purchase an Inversion Table.  Although I do not sell these tables, I can assure you that the good results that people TYPICALLY ACHIEVE on on our Non-Surgical Spinal Decompression Program are more likely to continue over the long term if patients are pro-active in their post-Decompression care.  Yes, we will give you exercises to do, but keeping the Spinal Discs stretched out and hydrated will go a long ways toward keeping the spine healthy.  Two five minute sessions on the Inversion Table a day, at a pitch of less than 45 degrees, along with the proper exercise and nutrition protocol, will help keep the disc healthy once your Spinal Decompression Protocol is through.
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