Most back pain patients aren’t head over heels about their condition: Agonizing pain that intensifies with each movement can be completely debilitating, especially when the problem involves a herniated disc.
But what if getting “head over heels” – literally – could actually provide some relief?
Inversion therapy – physically flipping a patient upside down – is said to work by taking gravitational pressure off the nerve roots and discs in a patient’s spine. It’s a less orthodox type of therapy, and various studies have been mixed on its ability to provide long-term relief for herniated discs and similar injuries.
Nonetheless, it’s one non-surgical method of back pain relief that many patients ask me about.
The spine is comprised of vertebrae stacked almost like coins, separated by discs made of cartilage. Besides providing connective functions that help our spines move and bend, these discs act as shock absorbers for the vertebrae and the spine overall.
When one of those discs is out of alignment – either due to over-exertion or some other trauma – the disc will “slip,” causing a herniated disc. Imagine your spine again as a stack of coins, this time with a few pushed out. The entire stack is weakened. Pictured that way, it’s easy to see why a herniated disc is such a problem.
It’s also easy to see why stretching out the spine via inverting a back pain sufferer is such a popular form of therapy. In theory, inversion increases space between vertebrae, giving those discs some wiggle room.
Inversion therapy has been around for years. There’s no shortage of inexpensive chairs, tables and other devices on the market for patients to try this organic back pain relief method for themselves.
But it’s not without its detractors. A herniated disc can involve a tear in cartilage, so it’s unclear if simply inverting the spine can heal that. And if done improperly, inversion therapy can lead to other health problems.
If you’re interested in getting vertical to relieve your back pain, here are a few things to consider:
Inversion therapy Pros:
- Hanging upside down has the opposite effect of gravity on the spine (decompresses the spine)
- Uses gravity to help elongate the spine (traction)
- Home units are very inexpensive
- You can control the amount of traction on your spine based on the angle of incline
- Creates a negative pressure inside the disc, which in theory, could help heal a bulge/herniation
Inversion therapy Cons:
- Inversion therapy is not certain to provide long-term relief
- Because the heartbeat slows and things like your blood pressure and pressure on your eyes increases when your body is turned upside down, there are several contraindications for trying inversion therapy. Those include:
High blood pressure
Previous spinal surgeries
Unfortunately for many back pain sufferers, surgery may be the only way to truly heal a herniated or bulging disc. Still, others may want to try inversion therapy – under your doctor’s supervision, of course!