A good friend of mine has an inversion table. When I visit her, she offers its use like others would offer a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice. “Would you like to lie on the inversion table? It’s good for you,” she says.
Yoga practitioners have touted the benefits of being upside down for millennia. Poses such as Downward Facing Dog, Handstand, Headstand, Shoulder Stand, and Legs Up the Wall Pose put the body in a position where the effect of gravity is reversed, giving the lymphatic system a boost, aiding digestion, and reducing the spine’s weight-bearing responsibilities. There’s the added advantage of learning to see the world from a new angle.
Headstand, handstand and shoulder stand all come with risks, however. Without building strength and dedicated, regular practice, you can easily hurt your neck with these poses. In addition, inversions should be used cautiously for those with high blood pressure, according to a study published in Physical Therapy and are also not advised for people with glaucoma.
You can read more about the benefits and risks of yoga inversions in this Yoga Journal article.
Inversion tables offer many of the same benefits without the potential damage to the spine. Simply hop on, rotate yourself to the desired upside down angle and rest or read. I even saw one advertised on TV recently.
The most promised benefit is to take pressure off the spinal joints, decompress nerve roots and rehydrate the discs between the vertebrae. A study published in the Archives of Physical and Rehabilitative Medicine in 1978 concluded that short periods of inversion increased spinal length and decreased nervous activity of the low back muscles. Being inverted is a type of gentle traction. The angle of the table determines the rate of traction.
There are many brands of inversion tables including Teeter Hang Ups ®, Body Flex, Body Max, FitForm, Paradigm, and Ironman Relax. You can even use a well-built inversion table to do exercises such as curl ups, but be sure you have an extra sturdy model. It’s also important to follow all safety precautions for these products. Just like being in a handstand, you run the risk of falling down if not properly secured.