Inversion tables can help with back pain. But not everyone can use them. In addition, they might be dangerous for some people.
In this article, you will learn more about who should not use an inversion table and why it may be risky for those individuals. You will also learn more about the benefits of inversion therapy in general and the different features offered by various inversion table models.
Inversion Table Contraindications
Although inversion therapy or inversion traction is a safe and effective form of physical therapy for people with back pain, it’s not without its contraindications.
In addition, some pre-existing health conditions, circumstances, or injuries may make inversion therapy dangerous for affected individuals.
But how do you know when not to use inversion devices? Your best bet is always to ask your doctor what form of physical therapy is best for you. However, the following people should not use an inversion table.
18 People Who Should Not Use an Inversion Table
1.) People with Heart Conditions & Circulatory Problems
For those with heart conditions, high blood pressure, and other circulation issues, the increase in blood flow, heart rate, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure caused by inversion therapy can be dangerous.
And, because inversion places more stress on your blood vessels, an inversion table may also increase your risk of stroke or aneurysm.
2.) People with Glaucoma & Other Eye Conditions
Inversion therapy may also harm glaucoma and other eye conditions. In addition to increased blood pressure, inversion therapy’s placement of the head upside down increases intraocular pressure, which can be dangerous (1).
3.) People with Severe Back Problems
Though inversion therapy can reduce back pain for many individuals, those with more intense back issues should use caution. Depending on their severity, spinal stenosis or extremely herniated discs may worsen with an inversion table.
4.) Pregnant Women
Performing inversion therapy while pregnant adds unnecessary strain to a body already working overtime. Hanging upside down could also cause too much movement between the baby and the umbilical cord, compressing both and potentially causing harm (2).
If not done correctly, inversion therapy can quickly lead to injury in the back or simply falling. Generally, an adult or physician should supervise children who attempt inversion therapy.
As you age, your bones and muscles may begin to naturally deteriorate, weakening them and increasing the odds of injury. Inversion therapy is not recommended for the elderly because it can place extra strain on the body.
7.) People with Vertigo & Balance Problems
Inversion therapy is not recommended for people with vertigo or balance issues since inversion therapy can negatively impact the inner ear. In addition, inverting your body may trigger dizziness and aggravate balance problems, increasing the risk of falling.
8.) People with Osteoporosis
Similar to the case of elderly individuals, conditions like osteoporosis cause frailty and weakness in bones. This weakness may increase your risk for bone fractures when attempting to use inversion therapy.
9.) People with Joint Problems
If you experience severe joint problems, inversion therapy may not suit you. Inverting your body may place additional stress on already struggling joints, damaging them further.
10.) People with Chronic Medical Conditions
The use of inversion therapy may aggravate chronic medical conditions like epilepsy or diabetes. Therefore, you should always consult a physician before attempting inversion therapy if you have any pre-existing conditions.
11.) People with Implants & Artificial Joints
You should exercise caution before inversion therapy if you have metal implants like a pacemaker or artificial joints. The added strain may negatively impact artificial joints, mainly your body, so talk to your physician before using any inversion device.
12.) People with Spinal Cord Injuries
Though inversion therapy relieves several forms of back pain, it may be dangerous for anyone with severe spinal damage. In addition, inversion tables may place extra stress on the spinal cord, causing more harm.
13.) People with Surgical Procedures
After surgery, the body needs time to recover as your tissues slowly heal. Even if you had surgery on another area aside from the back, those tissues could still be negatively affected by the strain of inversion therapy.
14.) People with Migraines
The inner ear’s workings may contribute to migraines. Since inversion therapy can mess with your inner ear, it may trigger migraines or make them worse for those that frequently suffer from them.
15.) People Taking Medications
Certain medications may interact negatively with inversion therapy. Blood thinners, for example, may be affected by variations in blood pressure. If you take any medications, ask your doctor before using an inversion device to ensure safety.
16.) People that had a Stroke
Blood pressure and heart rate variations can be dangerous if you have had a stroke. Inversion therapy naturally results in these variations, so you should avoid it unless otherwise instructed by a physician.
17.) People with High Anxiety & Panic Attacks
Inverting your body affects not only your physical but also your mental state. So, hanging upside down for extended periods may worsen anxiety or trigger panic attacks for some, especially those with already high anxiety levels.
18.) People that had Seizures
If you have a history of seizures, you should use caution before attempting inversion therapy. Such added stress on the body or a sudden change in orientation could trigger an episode.
Quick Guidelines for Inversion Tables
Let’s run through a quick guide on some of the essential inversion table dos and don’ts to keep in mind for anyone just starting their inversion journey.
Do! Use your safety strap at all times.
Don’t! Stay inverted for too long.
Do! Move slowly in and out of your upright position.
Don’t! Invert yourself too far.
Do! Have a spotter with you.
Don’t! Use an inversion table if you have a pre-existing health condition.
Avoid Making Your Back Pain Worse
Is it possible to have more back pain after inversion table use? The answer is yes. But more often than not, such pain occurs either because you overdid it or you weren’t practicing inversion therapy safely. Here are some inversion table tips to help avoid worsening your back pain after inversion.
- Know your limits. Start with small sessions (maybe 5 minutes, twice a day) and work your way up incrementally.
- Take it slow. Tipping your body up or down too quickly can trigger a muscle spasm or injury, increasing the pain in your back.
- Find your sweet spot. Your first instinct may be to tip yourself entirely upside down to achieve fast results. However, this can lead to injury, so start with small angles from 10 to 35 degrees.
Do Inversion Tables Work?
Inversion tables work to relieve back pain and improve spinal health. Spinal traction through inversion therapy alleviates back pain by reducing gravitational pressure on the spine.
The pull of gravity should reverse when your hips are raised above your head, stretching the spinal discs.
As the space between the discs increases, spinal compression decreases, lessening pain and inflammation associated with common back problems like herniated discs and sciatica (3). In addition, the extra space fills with more spinal fluid that heals damaged discs and protects them.
The medical research of the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association reports that 81.25% percent of patients with chronic low back pain improved their symptoms after inversion therapy.
Aside from pain relief, inversion therapy can also provide various other health benefits, such as muscle pain relief and relaxing muscle spasms.
Improved spinal health – stretching your spine may increase flexibility, preventing future back-related injuries and making movement easier (4). You might even find some improvements in your posture too.
Types of Inversion Tables
Inversion tables come in various models, some with extra features while others keep it simple. Depending on your needs, you can decide which brand and model have just the right features for you.
The most simple tables will likely focus on only inversion at its core. They allow you to hang upside down safely for as long as needed, provided you don’t move around too much. These tables may be less expensive, ranging from $100 to $200.
As you add features to your inversion table, you will probably watch the price climb steadily. For example, some models allow you to exercise safely while suspended upside down.
Others might offer gentle heat and massaging instruments. Depending on your selected features, your table could be anywhere from $300 to $600.
You don’t have to break the bank to get a quality inversion table. A simple model accomplishes the same job as the models with extra features. However, these pricier models may bring additional comfort, so choose whichever one seems best for you.
Can an inversion table mess up your back?
An inversion table should not cause harmful side effects or harm your back if you use it safely and don’t overdo it.
However, suppose you have a severe back injury or other pre-existing conditions. In that case, you may be more at risk for spine damage from inversion than others.
Do physical therapists recommend inversion tables?
Some do, and some don’t. However, inversion tables can help patients with back pain, so your physician may recommend one based on your unique health needs.
How do you use an inversion table properly?
Prioritize your safety above all things. For example, using your table recklessly to get faster results will only result in further injury, so aim to follow safety guidelines.
Always have a spotter on hand in the unlikely event that you end up stuck upside down.
Start small with both your angles and your time spent inverted.
Can you lay on your stomach on an inversion table?
Most inversion tables allow you to invert while lying on your back safely. There is no evidence that lying on your stomach is harmful.
However, you should still follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer of the table and your physician to ensure your safety.
Can you use an inversion table by yourself?
You can use an inversion table alone if you have a lot of experience with it. Even so, unexpected situations may occur, resulting in you being trapped upside down. Hence, spotters are almost as essential as a safety strap.
Can inversion tables cause blood clots in the brain if used too often?
There is no evidence to indicate a link between inversion tables and blood clots in the brain. However, inversion could affect cerebral veins over time, so you should follow your physician’s recommendations regarding how frequently you use your inversion table.
- Weinreb, R.N. et al. “Effect of Inverted Body Position on Intraocular Pressure.” American Journal of Opthalmology, 15 December 1984, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6507552.
- Lasater, Judith. “Poses for Pregnancy.” Yoga International, 2022, https://yogainternational.com/article/view/poses-for-pregnancy1.
- “Can Inversion Tables Really Relieve Back Pain?” Cleveland Clinic, 2 March 2021, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/can-inversion-tables-really-relieve-back-pain.
- “Healing Back Pain with Inversion Therapy.” The Healthy Back Insitute, 2012, https://d3nauzviflkfb4.cloudfront.net/tenants/e0cfbe25-fad4-49fb-be9d-fc94ed042cce/service-requests/inversion-table-for-a-herniated-disc-will-it-help-azrjvnfxoi9pxvhug3yx/InversionTherapySpecialReport.pdf.