I am often asked in the clinic if inversion tables really work for people with low back pain (LBP). Many of my patients have seen advertisements on TV or on the internet that promise pain relief and functional improvement with the use of inversion tables. But do inversion tables really help low back pain?
While doing some research into the benefits and risks of inversion therapy, also known as gravitational traction, I came across a study by Tekeoglu, et al. The study measured the amount of traction that was achieved by using inversion tables. Thirty people with low back pain were put on an inversion table and x-rays were used to measure the amount of separation of the lumbar vertebrae that occurred. A group of 30 people with no LBP were also measured.
The results indicate that both the LBP group and the no-LBP group showed distraction of the spinal bones during gravitational traction. Therefore, gravitational traction may be effective in separating the lumbar vertebrae.
Sounds great, right? But wait...does inversion traction help low back pain? While researching, I came across a website that cited the study by Tekeoglu. This website concluded that gravitational traction is effective for low back pain. Hmm. Wait a minute. The real study said that the inversion provided traction, not relief from LBP. And many high quality studies have shown that traction is not very effective in the treatment of LBP.
When choosing the treatment or modality you use to treat low back pain (or any other medical condition) you must be careful about evaluating the research. Sometimes the conclusions drawn by one group may be different than the conclusions published by the actual researchers.
The risks of inversion tables (changes in heart rate, blood pressure and eye pressure) might possibly outweigh the benefits of (maybe) reduced low back pain. Plus, inversion tables can be quite expensive.
Source: Tekeoglu I, Adak B, et al. Distraction of lumbar vertebrae in gravitational traction. Spine, May 1998;23(9), pp1061-64
- Read more: Does an Inversion Table Help Low Back Pain?