An inversion table is a plank with an adjusting incline on which you lie upside down. This is called full inversion and is believed to have a positive impact on your body. It improves spine stretching and helps you relax. In this guide, we will work out who needs an inversion table, how to use it to relieve back pain and how to exercise properly with it. You’ll find out whether buying the best inversion table for back pain is justified, what the doctors think about it and a list of the top 5 best inversion tables according to their price and technical specifications.
What You Will Learn from This Guide:
How Does An Inversion Table Work?
The advocates of inversion therapy claim that this wellness practice was used by Hippocrates back in ancient times. However, its true popularity reached inversion only at the end of the twentieth century. The athlete, Christopher Harrison, invented anti-gravitational yoga that consists of exercises performed on hammocks hung to the ceiling. Gravitational shoes made for hanging upside down which featured in the movie “American Gigolo” became trendy. At the same time in the 1980s, the scientists began active research on the impact of these procedures on certain patient conditions. The advocates of inversion therapy claimed that it has a vast range of healing properties such as growth stimulation, treatment of varicose veins, improvement of cerebral circulation and lymph flow.
Naturally, the more diseases this practice seems to treat, the more doubtful its usefulness becomes as it can’t be a panacea. The supporters of this skeptical idea did not reconsider. Instead, they revealed such negative effects as vision deterioration, detachment of the eye retina, headaches, and increased blood pressure. So far, researchers have only proven the helpfulness of inversion tables for back treatment.
Scientific Research and Proven Effectiveness
Patients with lumbosacral radiculitis managed to avoid surgery thanks to a combination of physiotherapy and inversion techniques, as per the James Cook University Hospital, Middleborough specialists’ article. The researchers divided pre-surgery patients in two groups: one had to attend both physiotherapy and inversion (13 people), and the other one was prescribed physiotherapy only (11 people).
After six weeks, most (10 out of 13) patients from the first group no longer required surgery as their well-being improved dramatically. Examination results of the second group were not as impressive as only two patients out of eleven were allowed to cancel surgery.
Another research studied the impact of inversion equipment on patients with chronic back pain. The participants of the experiment used an inversion table at various incline angles for eight weeks. The elasticity of the lumbar region improved in the group that used the trainer at 60 degrees as pain and discomfort were gone. Inverse body position is considered to relieve tension in the spine that is pressurized by gravitation and evolutionary upright walking. The pressure on the intervertebral discs decreases, and the space between the vertebrae increases. As a result, back pain is relieved. The question remains whether this effect is long-term. Sceptics assume that inversion tables relieve symptoms rather than cure them. According to Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D., editor in chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch, the trainer stretches spinal ligaments and muscles, and temporarily relieves muscular spasm. The doctor believes that no benefits of inversion therapy have been proven, and it has a number of contraindications (eye diseases, hypertension, heart disease and pregnancy). Inversion table therapy can still be prescribed within a complex approach to treatment of back pain upon consultation with a physiotherapist. Summarizing the experts’ opinions, inverse stretching won’t cure your illness, but will relieve symptoms and reduce your intake of painkillers.
How to Choose an Inversion Table: Factors and Features to Consider When Buying an Inversion Table
Just like an orthopedic mattress, an inversion table should be individually tailored according to your height, weight, condition and load requirements. Here are several points to pay attention to when evaluating a mattress’ quality.
- Stable steel carcass
- Durable ankle mounts ("open" in the form of foamy rollers or ergonomic "closed" ones)
- Flexible turning levers
- Rubber handles and angles
- Inclineis regulated and inversion aiding equipment is intact (engine, straps)
- Height adjustment (a smaller incline can be used if you set your training to four inches plus your height)
- Extended rubber handles for horizontal hold
- Lack of pressure, mounting adjustment
- Soft adjustable head
- A lumbar pad and a soft backrest, in case you do not hang upside down (full inversion)
Inversion Table Tutorial
TOP-5 Best Inversion Tables
The best inversion tables can cost up to $3,000. Expensive items allow adjusting the incline angle and serve as a trainer for various muscles. We’ve picked the most interesting devices in terms of price and performance. You won’t find the most expensive ones here (electric ones); instead the most popular among users are items within an affordable price range between $150 and $329.
A Cut-Rate Inversion Table | Innova ITX9600 Heavy Duty with Adjustable Headrest
In the case of this cheap inversion table, the word primitive is not derogatory but has a connotation of being durable and low-maintenance (hence, its name and over 4,500 customer reviews).
The trainer’s incline is manually adjusted from 15 to 85 degrees with a moving pin that can be inserted in one of the five slots. Most cheap inversion tables lack this option and allow adjusting the incline only with straps.
The adjustment mechanism is covered by a gray plastic box, hence the minimalist design. This inversion table is designed for people 4’10” - 6.6” tall and weighs up to 300 lbs.
Despite its low price, the trainer is heavy and durable because its carcass is made of steel and not plastic that is so popular with budget competitors.
Innova ITX9600: Check the current price
Best Inversion Table for Lower Back Pain | Innova ITM4800 Advanced Heat and Massage Therapeutic Inversion Table
The same brand Innova offers a similar item with an important add-on for those who are looking for the best inversion table for lower back pain. The lumbar zone has a special pad supporting the back with heating and massage options. According to the users, the vibration is quite weak. Among the disadvantages, they mention the noise that the massaging pad makes. For this reason, many customers use only the inversion option. Others, on the contrary, loved the pad so much that they manage to massage their shoulders with it.
The pad is controlled by a remote control. It is attached to the table with Velcro and can be moved to other areas of your back if necessary.
Innova ITM4800: Check the current price
The Lightest Inversion Table for Back Pain Relief | Teeter EP-560 Ltd. FDA-Cleared
Teeter has been manufacturing inversion tables for over 30 years and is FDA-certified, unlike other brands. This is one of the market leaders, so its products are often featured in the reviews of the best inversion tables. According to the study by the School of Dynamic Systems University of Cincinnati in 2013, Teeter Fitspine was the most popular product under $400.
Teeter inversion tables look different nowadays: the slippery back that caused you to slide up has been replaced with thin perforated plastic. This might have contributed to Teeter EP-560 light weight (58 pounds) in relation to its competitors. Bright, plastic massaging elements and a detachable plastic pad. Other than that, the performance of Teeter EP-560 is inferior to that of cheap Innova items. The incline, for instance, is not adjustable. The only thing that can be done is fixing the table at about thirty degrees with a strap. The headrest cannot be adjusted either.
In general, the Teeter inversion table is light and of high quality. Ergonomic ankle mounting is vastly praised by consumers.
Teeter EP-560: Check the current price
Highest Weight Capacity Inversion Table | IRONMAN Gravity 4000
Here is another renowned inversion table brand. IRONMAN Gravity 4000’s unique selling point is its extended soft pad and increased carrying capacity. This trainer is the most durable among the ones listed here as it can carry up to 350 lbs. Its extended handles allow quick return to horizontal position. Soft lumbar pads ensure comfort in case you do not practice full inversion (upside down).
The carcass of the trainer is made of steel and covered with extra protective powder. This device is equipped with the same ergonomic ankle mounts as the Teeter EP-560, while cheaper products only use foam pads.
In general, the IRONMAN Gravity 4000 can compete with Teeter in terms of quality while being quoted at a substantially lower price. A special noise-isolating mat can be ordered for an additional $26.
IRONMAN Gravity 4000: Check the current price
Best Fitness Inversion Table | Conquer 6-in-1 Inversion Table Power Tower Home Gym
This might as well be the best fitness inversion table as it combines the functions of an actual inversion table and home training equipment. Its stable steel carcass can carry up to 220 lbs, and inversion height ranges from 4'10" to 6'3". Note that the fully assembled device’s dimensions are 44" x 29" which may be insufficient for larger users.
Detachable elbow rests and rubber handles allow training of biceps, shoulders, chest, abs and upper back. This 82-pound device can replace several stationary trainers.
Undoubtedly, the idea is great, but its fulfillment leaves much to be desired, as some customers believe. They observe that assembling and disassembling the device is quite difficult, so you can’t just hide it somewhere after working out. Over time, dents appear on plastic handles. Since inversion is one of the many functions of the device, and not a primary one, you’ll find it difficult to adjust it as the mechanism won’t allow it. On the other hand, if Conquer was perfect, it would cost much more. Its current price is half as low as the basic Teeter item.
Conquer 6-in-1: Check the current price
Inversion Tables Benefits
Sooner or later, everyone faces back issues. Prolonged sitting, driving, lifting weights cause a negative impact on your spine. The intervertebral space decreases, and the spine itself is shortened, like a compressed spring. The pinching of nerve endings between vertebrae causes pain which is why stretching is very helpful: all the tissues stretch, and it is easier to stay upright and breathe. In general, the effect of stretching is similar to that of yoga.
Inversion tables help resolve the following issues:
- Back pain relief (proven)
- Improves posture and flexibility (highly likely)
- Can be an alternative to surgery in some cases
An inversion table can really relieve pain in case of chronic back diseases. For instance, Nicole left the following review of the Innova ITM4800 inversion table: “I was in a bad car accident many years ago, and I have been suffering since. I have been trying everything for pain. I recently saw a new doctor, and he recommended an inversion table due to my spine being compressed. After getting a caudal epidural, I began my treatment. I am feeling a huge difference! I am able to cut back slowly on the pain pills! I feel my spine lengthening and the pain subsiding!”
Apart from the therapeutic effect, any inversion table is a fitness trainer as you can bend, do pull-ups (by holding the hands), tilt to the right and left and do abs exercises. To increase the intensity of the training, the trick is to set the height a few inches more than your real height. If you are not using full inversion, consider setting the trainer’s height to a smaller number than your real height. In that way, you won’t be able to turn without making an extra effort.
Inversion Tables FAQ
How to use an inversion table?
The use is straightforward: lie down, mount the ankles at the bottom, slowly reach the comfortable incline, go back to a horizontal position, lie for a few minutes and repeat. Before lying on the table, check whether it moves slowly. It should be located at a distance from the wall so that you do not bang your head. Wear running shoes when training as other shoes won’t mount well.
When performing full inversion, you are supposed to hang freely without touching the table with your back. Relax. You can twist or do other exercises.
How long to use the inversion table?
This is the most popular yet difficult question as everything is very personalized. It is recommended to rest for three minutes after every 30 seconds of inversion. However, you can increase the interval to your judgement if you feel comfortable. During your first session, do not immediately turn upside down. Try staying at 60 degrees and check your state. Recommended daily training is 20-30 minutes. Start with two minutes in the morning and in the evening.
Is full inversion necessary?
The effect is maximized when you don’t touch the back of the table. You are supposed to relax and close your eyes to feel your spine stretch under the weight of your body. However, the inversion index is very individual, and you should rely on your well-being only. Some perceive full inversion as a fun and pleasant experience while others find it torturous. The rule of thumb is that you should never do any sharp movements. First, learn to only put your head down, then follow to try full inversion. Should you feel pain, nausea, sickness, go back to the previous position immediately!
How do I know whether inversion is suitable for me?
Test your comfort at home before ordering the trainer. Lie down in such a manner that your body is below your legs at the angle of at least 25 degrees. Trying full inversion unprepared is not recommended, and even small inclines have a certain positive effect.
Are there any negative effects?
Hanging upside down stresses your blood vessels, so high blood pressure is possible. Some patients suffer from headaches.
Are there any contraindications?
The list of contraindications is vast: hypertension, all eye diseases, obesity, stroke rehabilitation, and spine and brain injuries. Children and pregnant women are not recommended to use inversion tables. If you are taller than 6’6,” you might hit the floor with your head. In general, the exercises are contraindicated if a pressure drop can cause an acute attack of any chronic disease you might have. In case you do have any, consult a doctor first.
Comparative Chart of Inversion Tables
Precise incline adjustment (15-85 degrees), soft adjustable headrest
Same performance as Innova ITX9600, + detachable vibrating heated massage pad
Rough plastic back, topical massage elements, closed ergonomic feet mounting
IRONMAN Gravity 4000
Extended soft back, high carrying capacity up to 350 lb, extended handles, closed ergonomic feet mounting
Inversion table and a biceps, shoulder, chest and abs trainer
We found out that an inversion table can be useful if you suffer from one of the following back conditions: sciatica, chronic low back pain, spinal canal stenosis, facet syndrome, degenerative spine changes. Inversion table exercises can relieve muscular spasm and pain. The device can also serve as a trainer for keeping your abs and back muscles toned. However, just like with any other therapeutic methods, you should be careful when using inversion. Consult a doctor to find out whether you can use an inversion table and don’t begin with maximum incline.