I hang upside down fairly regularly because of the inversion benefits to my physical health. When I do it, my back feels better and my muscles feel looser. I’ve recommended them to patients for years, and so far, everyone has been very happy with their results.
So what can inversion therapy help with? Let’s start with the most obvious.
Inversion tables are widely known to help back pain. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, disk issues cause many back problems. If you’ve read my pages on arthritis of the spine you’ll remember that the disks don’t have their own blood supply; they get nutrients and fluids through the process of “imbibition” or soaking them up from the surrounding tissues. Inversion separates the disks which will naturally draw fluids to them. If you add a slight rocking motion to your inversion session, you can “pump” nutrients into the disks. It’s this stretching and pumping action of the spine that helps with osteoarthritis prevention.
Second, inversion tables provide slight, full spine traction. Removing gravity from your spine allows all of the supporting muscles and ligaments to relax and stretch, taking pressure off the disks and the nerves. Keeping these stabilizing structures flexible can help prevent age related changes in the disks in later life.
Gravity takes a pretty heavy toll on us. If you measure yourself at the beginning of the day and then again at the end, you’ll see that the compressive forces of gravity have made you slightly shorter. That’s due to the fluids being pushed out of the disks during the day. Daily inversion benefits your spine health tremendously.
Physical activity is crucial to long term health, but with every step you take, the pressure on your joints (including all your spinal joints) increases. If you do high impact sports like running, aerobics, basketball, skiing, or weightlifting there’s even more pressure.
These activities also cause slight spinal mis-alignments. If you can’t get to your chiropractor right away, inversion therapy with stretches and side to side motion may help your body naturally correct them.
The complete body relaxation of inversion tables can’t be beat. By removing gravity and just hanging passively, your stabilizing muscles can fully relax and elongate, relieving back pressure and pain from your workout.
Muscle soreness after a workout comes from the build up of lactic acid and other waste products. The way the body flushes these waste products from muscles is through the lymphatic system. In school, we were taught that the lymphatic system is like the sewer system of the body… all of the metabolic wastes travel through lymph and get dumped into the blood stream to be taken the filtering organs.
Much like your veins, your lymphatic system has one-way valves to push lymph to the draining areas. These one way valves constantly work against gravity, and there’s no pump to help it along. The lymph moves solely with the contraction and relaxation of your muscles.
By hanging upside down, the lymph system gets to clear. The lymph fluid travels easily to the chest where it joins the blood stream to be filtered. The muscle soreness you feel after that intense workout can be shortened by helping clean the lactic acid and other waste products faster.
I hope this one seems fairly obvious.
Our heart is a strong pump that circulates our blood. After the oxygenated blood is used, veins send that blood back to the lungs for more oxygen and the process starts all over. Our veins have a pumping action and one-way valves to keep the blood moving back to the heart and lungs (we certainly don’t want de-oxygenated blood moving backwards!) and these valves constantly work against gravity.
By using an inversion table, you can help that process along by letting reverse gravity pull the de-oxygenated blood back towards the heart and lungs. This is an excellent way to help circulation in the legs, since blood there has the furthest to travel back up to the heart.
Gravity works on all your internal organs, too. It’s constantly pulling on your organs, and blood in them has to get back to the heart just like blood in your muscles.
Inversion therapy can help “decongest” these organs.
Balance is regulated by the inner ear, through a tightly controlled fluid mechanism.
Inverting makes you extremely aware of where you are in space. The first time I put a patient on the inversion table, it’s always interesting to see that they think they are inverted before they hit horizontal. Inverting as little as 25 degrees from horizontal has tremendous health benefits.
The upper ear that controls balance is stimulated during an inversion session, and hanging upside down may normalize inner ear pressure.
Click here for information on differences between inversion tables.