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Which Is Better, a Back Stretcher or an Inversion Table?

by
author image Henry Halse
Henry Halse is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer, speaker, and writer. He's trained a wide variety of people, from couch potatoes to professional athletes, and helped them realize their own strength, determination and self-confidence. Henry has also written for various fitness and lifestyle publications, including Women’s Health, AskMen and Prevention.
Which Is Better, a Back Stretcher or an Inversion Table?
Stretching your back can be tough without help from a back stretcher or inversion table. Photo Credit jacoblund/iStock/Getty Images

It's just as important to take care of your spine as it is to take care of any other part of your body. However, the spine isn't like any other structure. It's long and has many bones, ligaments and muscles. On top of that it protects your spinal cord, one of the most delicate and important collections of nerves in your body. Two types of popular spinal care devices are back stretchers and inversion tables.

Stretching the Spine

There are 33 vertebrae in your spine. Between each one is a joint, and in that joint is a gel-like disc that prevents the vertebrae from rubbing against each other. Muscles, tendons and ligaments run up and down your spine to control it and protect it. There are also nerves coming into and going out of your spinal cord that spread out through your body.

Stretching your spine with exercises or practices like yoga can be effective, but if they aren't working you may want to try a back stretching device or inversion table. Devices like a back stretcher or inversion table take pressure off of your spine to allow the muscles around it to relax, which they can't normally do when you're stretching.

Read More: Inversion Table Benefits

Back Stretcher

Back stretchers come in all shapes and sizes. One of the most popular forms is a round pad that has a half circle shape, with the round part of the circle facing up and the flat part on the ground. You can lie down on your back and allow your back to bend over this half circle shape, letting gravity do the work to pull your spine into a stretch.

Benefits of a Back Stretcher

This device works well if you need to practice stretching your back in a backwards direction. Someone who has posture problems in which the shoulders roll forwards, or someone who's spine is flat instead of curved, could use a back stretcher to practice stretching back and opening up the chest muscles. However, the back stretcher is not meant to help with problems other than tightness.

Drawbacks of a Back Stretcher

Bending backwards with a back stretcher may be dangerous if you have a spine injury. If you have a herniated disc, where one of the gel-like discs between the spinal vertebrae is squished and inflamed, then the back stretcher could make it worse. As you bend backwards there is more pressure on the back of your vertebrae which can press down on those gel-like discs. It can be quite painful if you have a herniated disc.

Stretching your spine backwards can be dangerous if you're injured.
Stretching your spine backwards can be dangerous if you're injured. Photo Credit max-kegfire/iStock/Getty Images

Inversion Table

Strapping yourself into an inversion table and flipping upside down might make you feel like you're imitating a sleeping bat, but there is much more to this device. When you flip upside down and hang from an inversion table, gravity is pulling your spine in the opposite direction than it usually does. When you stand upright your spine is being compressed by gravity, whereas when you invert gravity lengthens your spine.

Read More: Alternatives to Inversion Tables

Benefits of Inversion

As you hang upside down the muscles and ligaments of your spine stretch out and lengthen, which makes it easier for the space between the vertebrae of your spine to expand. Unlike the back stretcher, which moves your spine in a certain direction and stretches it, the inversion table creates more space between the vertebrae of your spine.

Considerations Before You Invert

Inverting can help you if you have a disc herniation because it takes pressure off of your discs. This can temporarily relieve back pain and possibly help the recovery process. However, you shouldn't use an inversion table if you have high blood pressure or glaucoma. The pressure in your head from having your body inverted can be dangerous for these populations, so this device isn't for everyone.

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