The Ups and Downs of Inversion Therapy

~by Dr. Greg Eisert


Inversion therapy is nothing new… Hanging upside down to relieve pain and the effects of gravity has been documented as far back as 400 BC. Hippocrates used a complicated system of ladders and pulleys in order to remove weight from the spines of his patients. Today, inversion therapy is used with the goal of reversing the gravitational pull on the body’s organs, bones and joints.  But are the benefits of inversion purely theoretical or does it actually work?  See which are the best inversion tables here.

Reducing the pressure on the spinal joints and increasing disc spacing can relieve lower back pain. In theory, inversion tables should help to stretch and elongate the spinal column, allowing the spinal joints to separate. This separation of the spinal joints (where the spinal nerves enter and exit the spine) enables nerve impulses to travel unhindered to and from the brain. These nerve impulses are essential for life, coordinating everything from cellular repair to breathing.

Apart from spinal benefits, the use of inversion also has been shown to:

  • stimulate venous return
  • stimulate the lymphatic system
  • stimulate the autonomic nervous system and its baroreceptors (potentially effecting blood pressure)
  • increase oxygen flow to the brain
  • help maintain correct posture




Our joints are held together by muscles and ligaments. During inversion therapy the body is “actively” engaged against gravity. Unless the muscles are completely relaxed, the desired effect will be elusive. If there is an injured joint (spinal joint for example) the body will actively engage its muscles to protect or shield that joint from further injury. As a direct result of this protective reflex, the joints that need the most movement get little to none. Furthermore, the muscle spasm around that injured joint is amplified. This amplification consequently constricts the blood supply further, allowing for no separation of the spinal joints, no reduction of pressure on the spinal nerve roots and potentially an aggravation of symptoms.


For most “healthy” people, inversion therapy poses few threats. Inversion therapy is not without complications however, and is not recommended for use by people who have had recent back surgery. Individuals with herniated or bulging discs, spondylolisthesis, scoliosis, muscle spasms, as well as ankle, knee or hip issues should ultimately avoid inversion therapy. Any other medical condition that may be provoked by an elevation of blood pressure, intracranial pressure or the mechanical stress of the inverted position should be considered a contraindication to inversion therapy. Below is a comprehensive list of contraindications to inversion therapy.

Acute Infections (joint, sinus, ear, eye) Hernias (Hiatal, Ventral)
Anti-Coagulant Use (asprin, warfarin) High Blood Pressure (>140/90mmHg)
Aneurysm (cerebral, abdominal, etc.) Inner Ear Disorders
Artificial Prostheses (knee, hip, etc.) Motion Sickness
Cardiovascular Insufficiencies in Limbs Obesity (>300lbs.) (machine dependent)
Cerebral Sclerosis Osteoporosis
Circulation Disorders Poor Coordination
Congestive Heart Failure Pregnancy
Conjunctivitis (Pink eye) Recent Trauma and/or Operations
Detached Retina Skeletal Implants (neck, back & joints)
Dizziness Spinal Injury (acute or chronic)
Fainting Spells (history of) Stroke (history of)
Glaucoma Swollen or Damaged Joints or Ligaments
Head Injury (history of) Transient Ischemic Attack (history of)
Heart Disorders Unhealed Fractures

What is the “take home” message on Inversion Therapy?

Inversion is a relatively simple, cost-effective treatment that does not require highly expensive equipment or lengthy training. Inversion therapy can “theoretically” result in a reduction of pain, realignment of the vertebrae, relaxation of the muscles and reduction of recovery time.  However, it’s important to remember that inversion therapy has its limitations and is not for everyone.

In my opinion, inversion therapy can be beneficial for individuals in the “maintenance” phase of their spinal health program. These are individuals who are healthy, active, have no contraindications and are under regular chiropractic care (ensuring proper spinal alignment).

Patients who present with conditions such as herniated or bulging discs, sciatica, spondylolisthesis, scoliosis, or muscle spasms need to have those issues addressed prior to any sort of inversion therapy.  In contrast, spinal decompression therapy is very effective in the treatment of these conditions.  By utilizing a very precise pull and release cycle, spinal decompression therapy is able to relieve pressure from spinal nerves and stimulate disc rejuvenation while the muscles are completely relaxed.

A safer alternative to inversion therapy for those individuals who want to “help themselves” by working at home is the use of spinal foams (spinal orthotics). These specialized foams, prescribed by your chiropractor, assist the body to regain its proper structure.  A spinal health routine that includes spinal decompression therapy, in conjunction with spinal alignment therapy and spinal foams, will have you well on your way to an active and healthy lifestyle.