Using an Inversion Table for Sciatica Pain Relief – Will It Help or Make It Worse?

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Inversion Table for Sciatica

Sciatica patients know first-hand how debilitating and painful the condition can be. There are times when flare-ups prevent victims from moving around. It is crucial for those with sciatica pain to seek proper treatment and follow medical advice to improve the condition.

Often, people feel that the only treatment options are invasive surgery or living with sciatica pain. However, an inversion table and other non-surgical methods are available for treating the condition. Simple ways to ease the pain include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Specific exercises, done routinely
  • Not overexerting yourself
  • The use of an inversion table

When we sit or lie down, we put extra stress on our bodies compared to when we are stood up. Due to the increasingly sedentary nature of modern life, back pain, particularly lower back pain, is becoming increasingly common. This leads to more people benefiting from inversion therapy, which work by angling your body and taking pressure off your back.

Inversion is an ancient medical practice, but it has been gaining traction in recent years as the demand for non-invasive treatment for back pain surge. Even stars like Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, and Martha Stewart are advocates of inversion therapy. Potential benefits beyond using an inversion table include backpain relief, better brain function, reduced stress, mood swings, better sleep, maintaining height, better digestion, increased circulation of blood, and increased immunity.

Does Inversion Therapy Help Sciatica?

Sciatica patients or People who suffer from lower back pain can find relief through the use of an inversion table, which works by easing gravity and decompressing the spine. Inversion therapy is similar to spinal traction. From a standing position, gravity pulls the spine downward and compresses the discs, nerves, vertebral bodies, and other structures.

Inversion tables use gravity to change physical dynamics and relieve spinal compression. As a result, the spine is temporarily lengthened, and the pressure on the back is reduced.

There is a limited amount of study on inversion tables for sciatica pain. However, one study published in the National Library of Medicine showed that 77% of patients who were candidates for spine surgery experienced dramatic relief and no longer needed surgery after using an inversion table.

Of those who did not use inversion therapy, just 22% avoided surgery. (1) And other studies have shown similar benefits and a reduction in the need for surgery. (2) (3)

Like all treatments, it could have miraculous results for you and not for someone else. However, considering how debilitating sciatica pain can be and the invasive nature of spinal surgery, it is worth trying.

Inversion Table and Sciatica

However, you should be aware that some people are not suited to inversion therapy because it can raise blood pressure. Always consult with your doctor before starting any new therapy.

Other Benefits of Inversion Therapy

Although inversion therapy is becoming increasingly popular, it is not a new idea. In fact, the father of medicine, Hippocrates, used inversion as early as 400 BC. The goal is to defeat gravity’s effects – the downward force that creates constant pressure on our bodies.

Most studies using inversion have focused on its ability to relieve back pain through spinal decompression. However, many people also report an improvement in blood circulation and a reduction in muscle spasms.

This is because inversion tables are a great way to stretch back, hip, and leg muscles. Improved blood circulation leads to better cellular health, better delivery of nourishment, and effective removal of waste.

Inversion tables can also help relieve stress and help you be more present and aware of your body and its spatial orientation and balance. All of these aspects can also work to ease sciatica pain.

It is not necessary to be completely upside down. Unlike therapies such as antigravity boosts, the best inversion tables are completely adjustable, so you can find a way to be comfortable.

One study looked at 47 people with chronic low back pain. They practiced inversion therapy from different angles; the study found that inversion therapy at 60 degrees was the most effective. At this level, patients found great pain relief after 8 weeks. It also improved torso strength and flexibility. (4)

People with sciatic, degenerative disc disease, or generalized back pain can benefit from using an inversion table. However, everyone’s bodies are different, and it is not recommended that you start your journey at such a high angle if your sciatica pain is severe. Instead, start at a small angle, and with time, you will feel comfortable increasing it.

Talk with Your Doctor About Inversion Therapy

Spinal conditions are complex, and it is important to speak to your doctor about inversion tables before you use one.

Some medications and health conditions may mean that you are not suited for inversion table therapy. Your doctor may recommend that you avoid inversion tables if you have any of the following:

– Obesity
– Hernia
– Heart condition (a circulatory problem)
– Osteoporosis, Spinal injury, Fracture
– Middle ear or eye infection, A detached retina, Glaucoma
– Implanted device
– Pregnant

There may be other conditions that could also affect the benefits of inversion tables, so be sure to speak to your doctor before starting therapy.

How to Use an Inversion Table for Sciatica

  • Invert at a small angle for a short period of time and make sure that you do not feel pain in your back, head, knees, or heart. Some people experience shooting pains in their lower back if they invert at too great an angle too quickly.
  • It is recommended to start at around 15 degrees for 30 seconds and work up to 60 degrees for 5 minutes. You may also want to invert for a short period, sit up, and then invert again. This trains your body and brain to retain the benefits.
  • A high-quality inversion table should have bars that you can use to brace yourself and stretch. You can twist to each side, bend your knees to open your hips, or move your head to one side and then the other to stretch your neck.
  • Some people experience muscle guarding, where the muscle tightens to protect the injured area. This may prevent decompression. One way to get around this is to apply heat to the area before using your inversion table.

Causes of Sciatica

The definition of sciatica is the discomfort or pain along the sciatic nerve. The location of the sciatic nerve begins in the lower back and extends into the legs and feet.

Any pain felt along the nerve is referred to as radiculopathy or sciatica. Common causes are:

– Degenerative disc diseases
– Herniated disc and Slipped discs
– Muscle injury
– Spinal stenosis and fractures

Recognizable Symptoms of Sciatica

Sciatica exhibits various symptoms, and there is a range in severity. People experience pain most often in the lower back, feet, legs, and buttocks. The nature of the pain differs from one person to another, and therefore so do effective pain-relieving methods.

The suggested treatment for sciatica depends on the cause of the pain. Some doctors suggest surgical options while others recommend a non-invasive treatment such as physical therapy. Often, patients with herniated discs are told surgery is necessary for relieving pain.

Studies show that regular exercise—performed correctly—eases sciatic nerve pain and relieving pain along the spine, if not resolve it. Inversion tables are also helpful in alleviating the symptoms of sciatica. Before beginning any exercise regime to reduce pain, seek medical advice from your doctor.

The causes of the pain determine individual needs. You do not want to make nerve problems worse unintentionally. A doctor may recommend physical therapy on the spine, at-home exercise, or using an inversion table for relieving pain. There are also simple exercises which you can follow on Youtube, such as this.

References

  1. Qaseem A, Wilt TJ, McLean RM, Forciea MA; Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians. Noninvasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Low Back Pain: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern, Med. 2017 Apr 4;166(7):514-530. doi: 10.7326/M16-2367. Epub 2017 Feb 14. PMID: 28192789.
  2. Prasad KS, Gregson BA, Hargreaves G, Byrnes T, Winburn P, Mendelow AD. Inversion therapy in patients with pure single-level lumbar discogenic disease: a pilot randomized trial. Disabil Rehabil. 2012;34(17):1473-80. doi: 10.3109/09638288.2011.647231. Epub 2012 Jan 23. PMID: 22263648.
  3. Mr. Sudhir Dinkar Nalawade, Prof. M. M. Jadhav, 2019, A Study of Inversion Traction Therapy: for Lower Back Pain Problems, INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING RESEARCH & TECHNOLOGY (IJERT) Volume 08, Issue 06 (June 2019)

Dr. Lucas Carrera is a board certified physiatrist. He graduated from University of New Hampshire. Dr. Carrera received his medical education from Boston University School of Medicine and completed his residency at Harvard Medical School.