One question I have been asked often lately is what I think of inversion tables/therapy. To be honest I hadn’t really thought much about this particular method of spinal decompression.
Table from Relax the Back
On further investigation it appears to be just what I expected, generalized spinal decompression. Research is sparse and biased, but the theory seems sound. When you stand all day gravity pulls you down which causes compression of your body and the specific anatomy that is designed to handle compression is your spine, specifically the intervertebral discs. One related fun fact is that you are taller in the morning than at night. Your discs take on fluid all night long while there is no pressure on them from gravity and are full when you wake up. All day long that fluid is compressed out, thus you shrink. Inversion tables allow you to reverse that trend for a few minutes. So if you are experiencing back pain due to compression these tables may provide some relief, or even allow the body to heal.
I would say that it is safe, but would not recommend this therapy to people with cardiovascular problems, glaucoma, are pregnant, or other conditions where increased pressure going the opposite direction could cause problems. I would also recommend having another person present when using this therapy in case something does go wrong. There are decompression tables that can be used without the risks of inversion.
One thing I should mention; in any form of decompression if you have a sprain or strain it will increase, not decrease your pain. In this case you would just be pulling on already injured soft tissue. Decompression is more for chronic pain, not acute sprains or strains. I have seen success with patients in using the more specific decompression, but they are always in my office and monitored. I have not had first hand experience with inversion. If it works for you then by all means use it. Inversion products range from $100’s to $1000’s. You could also just hang upside down at your local jungle gym.