Health benefits of gravity table/inversion therapy
There was a recent discussion about a gravity/inversion table in one of my support groups, so I wanted to share some information about how this device works and my experience using it. The reason I began using it is because of the dystonia I have, which is a neurological movement disorder that causes muscle to involuntarily contract and cause painful postures and other body positions. Not everyone assumes painful postures, so there is no one absolute manifestation of dystonia, but this is how mine presents as you can see in the photos below, which was when it was its most severe (I have had it for 20 years).
The approach I have taken over the years to manage my symptoms have been mostly movement type therapies to elongate my muscles and retrain faulty motor programming in the brain to restore normal movement patterns. This is why the gravity/inversion table fits into my treatment approach, but it can be of possible benefit to anyone regardless of their treatment(s) of choice. Like every approach, it is an individual thing.
The theory behind using a gravity/inversion table is that by inverting your body, you are able to unload the bones, joints, and discs in the back and neck. This is thought to create a traction force through the spine. Another name for inversion therapy is gravitational traction. Proponents of inversion therapy claim that it helps relieve back, shoulder, neck, and joint pain, improves circulation, promotes lymphatic drainage, relieves the discomfort of varicose veins, eases stress on the heart, improves posture, revitalizes and tones facial tissue, and enriches the brain and eyes with oxygen rich blood.
Over the course of the day, gravity compresses the spine and weight-bearing joints, which can cause pain, poor posture, and a host of other problems. Inversion allows your joints and spine to elongate, creating space between your ligaments and discs. This helps relieve some of the pressure accrued over the course of your daily activity (or inactivity). The image below illustrates the extent to which different postures can strain the body and how inversion therapy for just a few minutes a day might make a big difference in how we feel.
The inversion table that I use is called Teeter Hang-ups. I have an older model (purchased around 2008) and it is very solid. Newer versions are just as solid, if not more so, and have some updated modifications/improvements. There are many places to purchase one, but I suggest starting at Amazon. There are several options, so do some shopping around to find the best brand and price for you.
The main reason I began doing inversion therapy was because I had severe neck spasms in 2008 whenever I would lay down. This is what my neck always did since 2001 when I developed dystonia, no matter my body position, but over the years I did a lot of things to help better manage my symptoms to where the involuntary movements decreased and my posture improved when sitting and standing. Laying down is when the severe spasms still reared their ugly head. Below is an image of how my neck was laying down.
After about 3 weeks of using the inversion table roughly 3-5 minutes twice a day, I was able to lie down on my back without any twisting, pulling, or spasms. I was amazed at how little it took to relieve this problem! My posture also improved, I had better mobility turning my head left and right, and I had less pain. I can’t promise similar results for you, but this was my experience. While some people invert a full 90 degrees, 45-60 degrees is sufficient for me. Below is a silly selfie of me hanging upside down. I clearly find inversion therapy to be a lot of fun!
Risks using inversion/gravity table
If you are pregnant, have heart disease, acid reflux, glaucoma, high blood pressure, or cardiovascular disease, check with your doctor before attempting inversion therapy. This is recommended regardless of your health condition. In addition, the first time anyone tries inversion therapy, they should have someone standing by in case assistance is required to get out of the apparatus, or if health problems are experienced. It is a sensation that can take some getting used to.
As with any treatment, inversion therapy is not for everyone. If you choose to do it, please slowly build up how often and for how long you use it. I once made the mistake of doing too much too soon and developed severe pain in my neck and upper back. It subsided, but I was unable to turn my head in either direction for a few days. Also, check with your doctor to determine if it is right for you, as it may not be appropriate for your situation. Best of luck. I hope it helps you like it has me.
Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and the author of 2 books: Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey (2015) and Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges (2021). He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, volunteer for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, and is a member and writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network, The Mighty, Patient Worthy, and The Wellness Universe. To learn more about Tom, get a copy of his books (also on Amazon), or schedule a free life coaching consult, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.