Decompression Table vs. Inversion Table: Benefits and Risks

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Nearly everyone will experience back pain at some point in their lives. For some, the pain is chronic and requires treatment.

There are many treatments available, but which one is best?

We will compare the decompression table vs inversion table and the functions they perform, how they work, the benefits and risks inherent in each type of treatment, the side effects, and much more. Keep reading to learn more.

Spinal Decompression vs Inversion Table: What is the Difference?

What is Spinal Decompression, and How it Works? 

Spinal decompression is a therapy to relieve back/spine problems. The therapy comprises a series of sessions designed to reduce the pressure built up in your soft disc cushions (in the intervertebral discs). It is carried out on a decompression table by a licensed professional known as a chiropractor.

A chiropractor is a trained expert in matters involving the spine, and you must be sure that the chiropractor whose services you will be engaging is registered and licensed to carry out the treatment. This is necessary because spinal decompression is a calculated therapy that requires a high degree of expertise. Also, accuracy is essential for the therapy to be effective.

There are two forms of spinal decompression treatments: nonsurgical and surgical decompression. The approach will depend on the extent of your spinal problem, as determined by the chiropractor.

Nonsurgical Spinal Decompression Therapy

Nonsurgical decompression involves the application of a kind of traction. A decompression table is connected to a computer program using meticulous calculations. The programmed computer controls the movement of the decompression table.

Hence, both of these gadgets make up the traction system. The traction system works by pulling the segments of your spine apart. You do not have to fear because the process is not painful. You will be very relaxed during the entire process.

This form of treatment is quite adequate, with a nearly 80% success rate reported among patients who went all the way to complete the therapy. In addition, it is pretty inexpensive compared to the surgical decompression method. It is estimated to cost anything between $100 to $200 per session. You will spend no more than $5,000 for a 25-session therapy.

Surgical Decompression

Surgical decompression is done in a hospital. If your condition is very severe, non-surgical spinal decompression may not work effectively, and your healthcare provider or chiropractor may decide that surgical spinal decompression is more appropriate.

There are no less than five different types of decompression surgeries. They all focus on the removal of parts of the discs, vertebrae, or connective tissues.

Surgical decompression techniques are pretty intensive. Also, they are financially demanding, and surgeries costing more than $10,000 are not uncommon. These surgical operations can also have side effects, including blood clots, tissue damage, and allergic reactions to anesthetics.

However, decompression surgeries are highly effective and have a higher success rate than nonsurgical decompression therapy. According to Cleveland Clinic, around 90% of the people who opt for this procedure reported significant relief to their spine.

What is an Inversion Table? 

An inversion table is one type of equipment used to perform inversion therapy. It is a well-padded table attached to a metal frame so that it can rotate around the hinges and tilt over a wide range of angles. It can even flip over so that it is aligned horizontally.

Inversion therapy itself is another method that is employed for back pain relief and problems relating to the spine. It differs from spinal decompression therapy in several ways, which we will examine later.

If you are undergoing inversion therapy using an inversion table, you will be positioned to hang upside down at an angle. The treatment is proper to its name, as it involves you being inverted.

Inversion therapy is thought to work on the principle of reverse gravity. It is believed that when an individual is inverted in such a way that their feet are up and above their head, the effect of gravity on the spine can be reversed.

It is known that gravity leads to the gradual compression of the spine, and this could cause chronic back pain. Inversion therapy is quite popular among people experiencing pain in the lower back.

It ideally uses your body weight to stretch your spine and relieve pressure from your spine. If you are hanging upside down, the load pressure on the lower back is relieved.

It is believed that inversion therapy can help decompress the spine and relieve the patient. Hence, this method could be appropriate for you if you have lower back pain.

Also, it is not uncommon to see individuals who perform inversion therapy independently. However, this is not safe. It is better carried out under supervision.

5 Common Benefits of Inversion Tables

There are several benefits that you can derive from using inversion tables. The benefits go beyond relieving the pressure on the spine and back pain. Some of them are listed below.

  • Rehydrate Discs

Your discs are essential shock absorbers. Therefore they must be well moisturized. The pressure on the lower back due to the weight of the upper part of the spine will cause the spine to decompress, reducing the space in the discs.

This will force the fluid in this space to escape to neighboring tissues. The result is that you will experience reduced flexibility, and the shock-absorbing abilities of the affected vertebrae will be significantly inhibited.

However, the lower back is free from the load when your body is inverted, reducing pressure. This will allow fluid to flow back into the space created, increasing the discs’ nutrients and improving their shock-absorbing abilities.

  • Correct Misaligned Vertebrae

The pain you experience in your back could be due to some discs that have slipped slightly out of their natural position. A slight misalignment of the bones in the body is enough to cause a great deal of pain for you.

Your day-to-day behaviors and activities, such as how you sit, could play a massive role in building up stress in your spine.

It is usually tricky for the column’s vertebrae to readjust themselves once they come out of place. However, an inversion table at about 60° can go a long way in readjusting the vertebrae. A little stretching and easing the pressure on the vertebrae, which an inversion table allows you to do, can correct the anomaly.

  • It helps to relax your Tense muscles

Your muscles will be slightly stretched when you use an inversion table. This leads to an increase in circulation, which will, in turn, help to reduce tension.

  • Alleviate Stress

As said earlier, inversion therapy will not only help to relieve your back pain, but it can also help do some other things. One of these is that it can help ease your stress. When inverted, you are made to feel relaxed.

  • Enhance Fitness

Inversion tables will help build up your fitness levels. Inverting can help you strengthen your core. The muscles that make up your core support your upper body. Hence, it invariably helps to build your fitness.

Risks Associated with Inversion Table Therapy

Although several people have reportedly succeeded in using this method, there is very little scientific evidence to back up its efficacy, and many medical experts are skeptical about it.

They have raised a few points which suggest that inversion tables are not ideal for spinal pain relief. The procedure is known to carry some risks, which include:

  • During an inversion therapy session, there is a surge in blood pressure. The pressure on the eyes (glaucoma) also increases when you’re turned upside down. As a result, the inversion table is hazardous, especially for people suffering from glaucoma, high blood pressure, and heart-related diseases.
  • It is unsafe to hang down for too long as it can cause blood pressure in the head. This can lead to a coma or even death. It would be best if you did not stay inverted for too long. Ideally, a session should not last for more than 30 minutes.
  • Furthermore, it can be dangerous if you’re not careful when strapping yourself to an inversion table because you can fall off the table and hit your head against a hard object. Hence you need to be careful.

Differences Between Decompression Table vs Inversion Table

  • Decompression therapy requires a certified professional (chiropractor) to carry out the therapy, but this is unnecessary for inversion tables.
  • Decompression therapy can focus on the affected disc/vertebrae, but an inversion table has a general treatment that broadly covers the entire spine.
  • Inversion tables provide short-term relief, but decompression therapy provides relief for a much more extended period. Evasive decompression methods are more or less permanent.

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.