Inversion Therapy: Definition, Benefits, & Safety Risks

Instructor: Meghan Greenwood

Meghan has taught undergraduate and graduate level science courses and has a PhD in Immunology.

This lesson will define inversion therapy and in what situations it is recommended. It will also describe the benefits of the treatment as well as the safety risks.

Gravity and the Spine

What goes up, must come down. As inhabitants of planet Earth, we understand that throwing a ball into the air will eventually result in it falling down. We also realize that going for a walk does not mean we have to worry about floating into the atmosphere; our feet will remain planted firmly on the ground. Unlike the moon, Earth is affected by gravity. Gravity is the principle that gives weight to physical objects. And although gravity is responsible for keeping our feet on the ground, think about what effect it may have on the inside of our bodies.

At birth, our spine contains 33 bones or vertebrae. As an adult, a few of the lower vertebrae fuse together, reducing the total to 26. The spine is segmented into 5 main regions, as shown in the image below: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal. Our spine not only protects the spinal cord, but is also crucial for movement and supporting our weight. The lumbar spine, or the lower back region, is especially important for carrying the upper body's weight, and is impacted greatly by gravity.

The spine consists of 5 major regions: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal vertebrae.
Spine

Definition of Inversion Therapy

In between each vertebrae lies a padded disc that contains spinal fluid and nerves. These little cushions are what keep the vertebrae from rubbing against each other. However, they are also the targets of pressure from gravity. You can imagine how gravity may contribute to pain in the spine. As the weight of the body pushes down on the vertebral discs, the spine has a tough job of keeping us upright and pain-free. Importantly, gravity is not the only cause of pain in the spine; aging, poor posture, and injury are also key players in spinal discomfort.

As an alternative to pain medication or other invasive treatment, inversion therapy is recommended by physical therapists, especially when the cause of back pain is unclear. Inversion therapy is a mechanical method performed by suspending the body on a table in an upside-down position (see image below). This position helps to stretch the body and provides traction to the spine. Traction is a method used to decompress the spine, alleviating pressure on the vertebral discs and vertebrae.

The image shows a typical inversion therapy table, where the feet would strap in, allowing the body to be shifted upside-down.
Inversion table

Benefits of Inversion Therapy

The four main benefits of inversion therapy include:

  1. spinal realignment
  2. disc rehydration
  3. nerve pressure reduction
  4. muscle relaxation

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