Inversion therapy has been recommended as a way to deal with short-term back pain or migraines — but could inversion table risks outweigh the benefits? Here's what you need to know before you turn your world upside down.
Inversion Therapy for Back Pain
Some doctors have recommended using inversion tables to deal with short-term back pain. "Inversion tables can provide short-term muscle relaxation, flexibility and back pain relief," says Stephen Liu, MD, clinical assistant professor in orthopedic surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, and founder of IFGfit.
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One benefit to inversion table treatment is how quickly it works — just one minute twice a day could help relieve your back discomfort, Dr. Liu says.
But in some cases, using an inversion table can make back problems worse. "Depending on the severity of the nerve impingement, inversion could elicit a deep muscle spasm, causing a worsening of symptoms," says Andrea Shakarian, DC, CHt, a chiropractor and certified hypnotherapist at Wagner Holistic Center in Pacific Palisades, California.
And while inversion tables can be an effective treatment for a recent injury, research has not shown they help with back pain over the long term. "Many well-designed studies have shown inversion tables are ineffective for long-term spinal health," Dr. Liu says.
Inversion Table Risks
Inversion therapy can slow your heartbeat, increase your blood pressure and raise the pressure within your eyeballs dramatically when you're inverted for more than a couple of minutes, according to the Mayo Clinic. For those reasons, you shouldn't use inversion tables if you have high blood pressure, heart disease or glaucoma, per the Mayo Clinic.
As with any medical treatment, there can be unintended side effects or issues related to using inversion tables. "Clinical studies have shown mixed results, and health risks may outweigh benefits of long-term usage," Dr. Liu says. For instance, using inversion tables could make some existing medical conditions worse and create new issues.
Potential negative side effects of inversion tables include:
Changes to Blood Pressure and Flow
"Due to the increase in blood flow, patients who are on blood thinners or hypertension should avoid inversion," Shakarian says.
Using inversion tables could also have a negative effect on people who have high blood pressure and heart disease, according to Dr. Liu. A September 2019 Journal of the Neurological Sciences study evaluated the effects of inversion therapy on heart rate, blood flow and blood pressure. It found inversion lowered heart rate, decreased blood flow in two arteries in the head and created an increase in pressure within the skull that could be dangerous in some people — particularly those who are at high risk for stroke.
If you have any eye conditions, it's especially important to consult your doctor before trying inversion therapy. "[Because] inversion causes an increase in pressure in the head, patients with glaucoma or retinal detachments should avoid inversion," Shakarian says.
The change in pressure that goes along with turning upside down could cause problems if you already have issues with your ears, such as an inner ear infection, vertigo or Meniere's disease. "Inner-ear problems would also be a contraindication due to the changes in pressure," Shakarian says.
Muscle and Bone Concerns
Inversion could cause spinal fractures and muscle pulls, Dr. Liu says. And if you have skeletal fractures or osteoporosis, using an inversion table would be ill-advised.
You also should not start inversion therapy without checking in with your doctor first. "Inversion therapy should not be a stand-alone form of care," Shakarian says.
Though using an inversion table may help relieve short-term back pain for some people, for others it comes with significant risks and could be hazardous to your health. That makes it imperative that you consult with your doctor before you give it a try.
- Mayo Clinic: “Inversion Therapy: Can It Relieve Back Pain?”
- Stephen Liu, MD, clinical assistant professor, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, and founder of IFGFit
- Andrea Shakarian, DC, CHt, chiropractor, certified hypnotherapist, Wagner Holistic Center, Pacific Palisades, California
- Journal of the Neurological Sciences: “Dynamic Assessment of Cerebral Blood Flow and Intracranial Pressure During Inversion Table Tilt Using Ultrasonography”
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.