Do Inversion Tables Help Back Pain?
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Are you currently suffering from pain in your back? Does this pain prevent you from performing some of your normal daily activities or avoid activity all together? Have you been told by your doctor that you have “stenosis” or “bulging discs?” Back pain can be a debilitating condition, and many times it will leave people desperate to find sources of relief so that they can return to their normal lives.
One treatment that is available to treat back pain is the use of inversion tables. Inversion tables strategically use gravity to provide decompression to tissues in and around the spine that may be causing pain. There is increasing scientific data that supports the use of inversion tables as an effective method of relieving back pain. This article will discuss back pain, some of its most common causes, and look at research on the effects of inversion tables on back pain.
What is Back Pain?
Although the phrase “back pain” essentially describes itself, a more specific definition will be determined for this article. Back pain is often referred to “Nonspecific back pain.” This is because sometimes the cause of pain cannot be determined from diagnostic tests or imaging. Nonspecific back pain can be acute, resulting from some kind of injury, prolonged awkward positioning, or repetitive motion. It may also become chronic, in which people will suffer from persistent pain due to a hypersensitivity of the nervous system without any real tissue injury.
Acute and chronic nonspecific back pain can be movement based or constant depending on the underlying pathology or the severity of symptoms. This pain often leads to avoidance of movement, which is a normal response to pain, but often makes the problem worse.
What are Common Symptoms of Back Pain?
Now that we know what back pain is, let’s discuss common symptoms of the dysfunction. Symptoms and functional limitations of back pain include but are not limited to:
What Causes Back Pain?
As mentioned above, there often is not a confirmed visual cause of back pain. However, given what is known about the anatomy and physiology of the spine and pain mechanisms, there are several structures that can be possible causes of back pain. Refer to this of the lumbar spine anatomy for the technical nomenclature of certain structures and how mechanics of the spine affect the following structures discussed.
All of these pathologies may cause back pain and must be treated with proper care for effective symptom relief. Several other factors that are correlated with increased risk of back pain include:
Although none of these risk factors show causal relationships to back pain, they are modifiable factors in most cases that are worth exploring to decrease overall risk for developing the pathology. (1)
The Prevalence of Back Pain in Society
Now that we know about the anatomical causes of back pain, let’s discuss how prevalent it is in the population. Back pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal problems globally, and it is one of the most commonly researched because of this. However, the prevalence of back pain differs significantly between studies due to several factors such as study design, methods, population studied, and length of time studies were conducted.
A systematic review conducted in 2014 showed that globally at a singular point in time, the estimated prevalence of back pain is 12%. These numbers increase to 23%, 38%, and 40% for one month, one year, and lifetime timespans, respectively. (2)
Another study conducted demonstrated that in individuals between 24 and 39 years of age, chronic back pain prevalence was 4.2%. However, when the age range was expanded from 20 to 59 years of age, the prevalence of back pain grew to 19.6%. (3)
Additionally, a study of just over 3000 Swedish men between ages 69 and 81 found that 24% of the participants experienced back pain within the last 12 months. Almost two thirds of these individuals reported decreased ability to perform activities of daily living. (4)
Such staggering numbers are concerning regarding this growing global health issue. However, current research supports effective treatment methods for back pain. One such treatment is inversion therapy and using inversion tables.
Spinal Decompression Therapy with Inversion Tables
Now that we have discussed the structures in the spine that can cause back pain, let’s discuss spinal decompression and how inversion tables can help relieve back pain.
Spinal decompression aims to decrease compression forces on injured or sensitive structures in the spine. When spaces between vertebrae are increased, a temporary improvement in disc height, facet joint space, intervertebral foramen size, and decreased muscle hypertonicity can be observed.
Inversion tables utilize gravity to induce a traction force through the spine. With this force, decompression occurs on all structures of the spine, including the discs, facet joints, intervertebral foramen, and lumbar musculature. The decompression of these structures can help relieve pain and subsequently improve perceived mobility, strength, and activity tolerance. Several studies support the use of inversion tables as an effective form of symptom relief in those with back pain.
Do Inversion Tables Work for Back Pain?
Yes, inversion tables are effective in relieving symptoms related to back pain. There are several scientific studies that support this.
Studies conducted using inversion as the experimental intervention demonstrate that there is an increase in disc height, intervertebral space, and spinal length during and immediately following inversion. (5, 6, 7, 8) This is significant, as increased space and disc height allows for decreased intervertebral pressure and therefore a subsequent relief in symptoms from back pain.
Research also supports inversion tables as a low-risk intervention for back pain and sciatica. (9)
Inversion Table Treatment Protocol
The following recommendations for use of inversion tables are based solely on my knowledge as a physiotherapist on the topics of back pain, spinal issues, and inversion therapy. Because of the infancy of the device and the research being conducted, there are no specific evidence based protocols available at this time.
Beginners in using inversion tables or those in high levels of pain should begin at the low level of decline and gradually work their way to higher levels of decline after gaining more experience and comfort using the device.
Exercises to Perform with Inversion Tables
While inversion therapy can be an effective form or symptom relief and temporary improvements in function, specific exercise has been shown in multiple studies to decrease symptoms and limitations from back pain and sciatica both on its own and with other treatments.
One of the most beneficial aspects of inversion therapy is its ability to immediately improve symptoms so that you can move with more ease. This means that you can use inversion tables and then immediately follow it up with movements that you were not previously able to achieve. Furthermore, you can even do stretches and stabilization exercises while on the inversion table so that you can teach your body how to move in these newly acquired pain free ranges.
Here is a list of exercises you can do while on an inversion table that will help your range of motion and pain. These are listed from least difficult to most difficult.
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
2. Trunk Rotations
3. Overhead Stretch
4. Pelvic Tilts
Back pain is a common musculoskeletal problem that is encountered by 40% of people in their lifetime, and can severely inhibit these individual’s daily function. There are a variety of causes and risk factors that can contribute to low back pain, and these can lead to both acute and chronic conditions.
Inversion therapy has been shown to have benefits in relieving symptoms from back pain. Inversion tables are a convenient and safe intervention that individuals with back pain can perform and progress as a home remedy for their symptoms. They can also be combined with exercise to create more pain free movement, facilitating improved function and return to normal daily and work activities.
There are many studies that support the use of inversion tables as an effective form of treatment for back pain.
For those suffering from back pain, an inversion table could be an exciting and effective new way to approach and improve your symptoms.