Inversion therapy is not a new concept. The idea of using gravity as a form of spinal decompression has been employed by multiple cultures throughout history. Supporters of the concept argue that the ancient Greeks were among the first civilizations to make use of inversion therapy to aid patients suffering from back pain. However, while the idea of inversion therapy endured for centuries since its perceived founding, it was not until the mid 20th Century that the inversion table – arguably the most popular piece of hardware for the job – was introduced to the public.
Dr. Robert Martin introduced the Gravity Guidance System in the 1970s; the first gravity boots. By 1984, a system was developed that allowed users to invert themselves without a need to use the boots. Thus, the gravity table was born.
The concept of the inversion table is simple enough: Users strap themselves onto a platform, and then rotate backwards until they reach a comfortable angle. The weight of the person does the rest to stretch the spine, decompressing it, and allowing intervertebral discs to relax. Unlike gravity boots, the typical inversion table can be adjusted to hold the user at any angle. This addition of a “setting” to inversion therapy meant it was possible for patients to adjust the intensity of the session to suit their bodies’ needs. It essentially made the table a “safe” option for those who were unable to make use of the gravity boots system.
Like all forms of physical therapy, there is solid evidence to support the effectiveness of the inversion table. As a form of spinal decompression, inversion can aid in recovering from damage to the spinal nerve roots. It also has an effect on back muscles similar to stretching exercises, eventually developing a measure of flexibility in the person. As a result, it can be an effective way to overcome stiff neck, or other forms of pain caused by prolonged periods of tension around the spinal area. Inversion tables can be used to treat injuries to the vertebrae as well; for instance, to realign the bones of the spinal column after receiving injuries to the lower back.
Also like other forms of therapy, there are limitations to what inversion therapy can do; and as such, there are limitations to who may be allowed to make us of it. One of the main problems of inversion is that the human heart is not used to pumping blood down to the head. This increases blood pressure the longer the user remains inverted, and can be potentially dangerous to those suffering from heart conditions and high blood pressure. As always, it is recommended that the patient consult a doctor and receive medical clearance before attempting to undergo inversion therapy. Even after being cleared by a medical professional, it is recommended that the user begin at shallow angles for short periods of time before gradually increasing duration and difficulty level; a notion important to physical activity as a whole.
Despite the risks involved, it cannot be denied that the inversion table is here to stay. It can be argued that if the idea didn’t work, then it would not have lasted as long as it did throughout different places and time periods in history.