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Understanding Spinal Decompression Using an Inversion Table – Will It Work

This article is a transcribed edited summary of a video Bob and Brad recorded in October of 2020 . For the original video go to

Brad: Hi, Brad Heineck, physical therapist.

Mike: Mike Kenitz, Physical Therapist Assistant.

Brad: Together, we are the most famous physical therapist on the internet.

Mike: In our opinion, of course.

Brad: There you go, Mike. Today’s episode is understanding spinal decompression using an inversion table. And will it work for you? You’re going to understand it and you get some answers for this. So, understanding why this can take care or delete or does it actually work? Or take care of your back pain. We’re going to cover that. How it works, is traction or decompression which really is the same thing. We’re going to look at that closer using the spine. If we look at the spine, often times particularly with sciatica, we’re going to be dealing with a bulging disc. Now if you have tight muscles, this also can be helpful just for relaxing the muscles, but we’re going to look at the bulging disc. Here we have, L3 and L4 and there’s a bulging disc here pushing on the nerve causing back pain and sciatica all the way down the leg. Now, that bulge, if we can centralize it or reduce it, medically speaking. We want to get it to go back in. If we actually could pull the vertebra apart, allowing space for the bulge to go back in, that is good.

Mike: Typically, reduces the pain you are experiencing from sciatica or wherever it may be causing.

Brad: Now, what used to happen back in the day, when I was early in the therapy, there wasn’t inversion tables. They had traction machines where you would lay down. I should call them devices. Machines sound a little industrial.

Mike: They still have them.

Brad: They would have a device where they connect up your waist and connect up your trunk or your torso.

Mike: You laid on a big table and it would pull and would get relief.

Brad: If you got relief, you’re doing the right thing. You typically lay there for 15-20 minutes on a certain protocol prescribed by the therapist or the doctor. So, how do we do this without an expensive device? We found out the inversion table can work out very well. These have come more popular over the last 5-10 years.

Mike: Yes. This is a Teeter table. They have different versions. We have one of the higher end models here. This one just has a bigger base of support. It also comes with a few adjustable features compared to the other ones. But, they all work well.

Brad: I used to have an inversion table. It worked well on my spine for about two and a half years with spondylolisthesis, then it stopped working and I actually sold it on the used market. That worked out well, but these are very top quality. You’re going to be happy with how it’s built mechanics and the how it works. Before we get into that, I did do a little research Mike, I want to share this with people. There’s a nice research study done, people who had a sciatica, a bulging disc, according to the MRI. And they split it into two groups. One group had therapy exercises alone. The other groups had the same therapy exercises with the inversion table treatment. What they found out was that people who had the inversion table, by the way, all of these people were cited for surgery. There was a significant difference and people who used the inversion table did not have the surgery, evidence that it works. Mayo Clinic, I looked at them. They also said they’re very consistent with reducing back pain. Then they’re saying not for long-term, in other words, you might need to use it for maintenance. I’ve had patients own one. They say they love it because they invert, they decrease the pain. It lasts but not forever.

Mike: Yeah, it’s not a long-term solution.

Brad: Should I let you talk? I’ve just been babbling on.

Mike: Go ahead.

Brad: LOL, so, why don’t we demo?

Mike: Okay. So, to get into these, you have to first step in. Obviously, if your back is hurting, you might have to have someone bend down to push this closed. You want it tight. You don’t want it so tight your ankles are uncomfortable. So, I’m just going to snap it in. That feels tight for me, it’s adjustable. We have this preset to my height. We also have it strapped in here, so it will not fully invert.

Mike: You can full invert. We do not recommend it. Full inversion is honestly used more for exercises, which we’ve showed in previous videos in the past, but this is set up so all I’m going to do is lean back. As soon as I lean back, I’m going to get to a neutral position. This is set up for me, for my height, my weight. You’re going to have to mess with it. Brad and I are the same height but I’m a little more top heavy than him. So, I have to set it up a little different than him. As you can see, if I bend my knees, I start to come back down. If I straighten and go back this way. I’ll go neutral, start in neutral. And then to actually invert, I’m going to start raising my arms up above my head. And down I go.

Brad: And at this point, as the weight of his arms, head and trunk offer that traction and Mike, as the person using it, or the patient if you will, needs to learn to relax the abdominal muscles and the core muscles. And that allows that traction to occur. If you’ve got that bulging disk allow that to centralize go back in or if it’s just a relaxing of the muscles. You have to kind of learn how to relax here and focus on your breathing. Are you feeling okay, Mike?

Mike: Yep.

Brad: Also, if you have arthritis in your back, in the facet joints that can gap those and allow that synovial fluid to get in reducing the pain and Mike’s going to come back up.

Mike: Also, if you had any type of back surgery, you probably should not do an inversion table, check with your doctor. And some people's pain is so bad, getting into this is uncomfortable. So, it’s not for everybody.

Brad: There are a few instances that you’re not going to be a candidate for the inversion table with some medical issues. Number one, if you have glaucoma. The pressure in your eyes goes up when you invert. And if you have any eye problem, make sure you check with your eye doctor or your eye doctor. Glaucoma’s uh, what are you laughing at Mike?

Mike: The eye doctor or the eye doctor.

Brad: Did I say that?

Mike: Yeah. Optometrists, is that what they’re called?

Brad: There you go. Heart conditions. If you have blood pressure problems, any cardiac problems, make sure you check with that doctor. If you recently, or in the past, had a stroke, a hiatal hernia, because you don’t want the pressure and that to change and irritate that. Or, if you’re pregnant.

Mike: Or high blood pressure. Hypertension is also precautious.

Brad: Didn’t I say that?

Mike: I think you skipped that one.

Brad: All right. So, what I did was, I went to a store that had them and I tried it. You’re only going to, in my recommendation, you’re only going to use these if they offer relief while you’re doing it as well as after you get off and walk around and for the next few hours. In other words, it could feel good while you’re inverting, and then when you get up and walk around, oh man, that was not the right thing to do. That’s the problem. You’re not going to use one. If you invert and you’re going to not invert too long the first time. The first time I did it, I was inverted for about five minutes. I thought if one minute is good, five is better. Well, my back was feeling good, but I got a headache for the rest of the night. And I inverted too steep. I recommend 60 degrees, at the most and this is about 60, maybe a little less.

Mike: The strap is adjustable. It’ll allow them to go further back or less.

Brad: What if I can’t find a store, particularly now with COVID going on. You can buy one of these from Teeter. You have a 60-day trial. If you’re not happy with them in 60 days, full money back guarantee.

Mike: Yes, if you go through the link we put in the description, you do get a bit of a discount as well.

Brad: So, there we go. Understanding spinal decompression or traction as it is described here. I've used them. They are vaild and they're useful and I really hope that we helped straighten this out in your head.

Mike: And your back. Thanks.

Interested in learning about the products mentioned:

1) Teeter FitSpine Inversion Table:

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