As a back specialist I'm asked this question almost weekly, or "right regular" as they say in the country parts of North Carolina, and I'll answer the question directly in just a few moments, but first let me point out that the same question could be asked about innumerable other things: What about a vibrating thing for your special chair? What about heat or ice? Or magnets? Or meditation? Or an expensive bed? Maybe a massage would help? Perhaps a hot tub? A cane and eventually a walker may be of some benefit too. There are all sorts of back braces available. The list goes on. Now, don't get me wrong, I understand that life can be stressful. And I like a good soak in the hot tub as much as the next person, and a quality bed may help prevent back problems down the road, but if you're hoping that thing you saw on TV for 3 easy payments of $69.95 is going to fix your back - it probably won't.
First, let me applaud you for still searching for an answer for surely doing nothing won't work. Second, the fact that you are still searching is telling, and what it tells me is that something is wrong with your back. So, will an inversion table help? Yes, it probably will at least for a while in the same way that if your car were overheating on hot days you could simply open the hood every morning before leaving for work and add a half a gallon of water to the radiator. So long as it doesn't get too hot and you don't drive too far you should be able to make it through the day. Sounds crazy though doesn't it? How long would it take you to figure out that something must be wrong with your car? Do you really want to take a chance on being stranded on the side of the road?
What Could Be Wrong With Your Back?
Degenerative Disc Disease is a common cause of what is wrong with backs and necks. As a spinal disc degenerates the side walls first get drier and weaker and consequently begin to bulge taking up space and putting pressure on (or pinching) the spinal nerve root. In the early stages this bulge can come and go somewhat dependent upon what you did or didn't do yesterday explaining why your symptoms come and go. Second, as it gets drier and drier it gradually loses height and the vertebrae get closer together further compromising the space for the nerve and exaggerating the effect of the bulge. At this stage the symptoms tend to be more frequent and more severe. Third, the resulting stress on the joint causes a gradual calcium buildup much in the same way that stress on the skin of your hand results in a gradual buildup of skin. In the case of skin this buildup is called a callous and in the case of bone this buildup is called bone spurs or arthritis. The build up of bone further narrows the space for the nerve roots. At this stage the symptoms can be nearly constant. The effects of degeneration have culminated in a narrowing of the channel for the nerve root which is referred to as spinal stenosis.
Gravity Causes Stress On Your Spine
An inversion table counters the effect of gravity. When you hang upside down the weight of your upper body separates the vertebra temporarily increasing the space between them to possibly relieve enough pressure on the nerve to make it feel better. Temporarily. The trouble is that the disease remains, the disc is still degenerated.
There are many problems with inversion. Depending upon your body weight there may be way too much pressure being applied to the weakened disc fibers which runs the risk of tearing them further or there may not be enough force being applied to the right place at the right angle to actually result in any benefit. There is simply no way to measure the force or change the angle. Further, hanging upside down is at best uncomfortable as the blood rushes to your head. A minute of this seems like a very long time. Those with heart or blood pressure issues and those with certain eye conditions must be specially wary. Depending upon the design of the particular inversion table it is likely that a slant position can be accomplished as opposed to being completely upside down which may make it easier to tolerate for a longer time but again there is no way to adequately determine the pressure being applied to the offending disc. In any event, it is doubtful that even several minutes is long enough to effect any lasting change in the physiology of a damaged disc. Additionally, most designs require at least some degree of athleticism to actually flip your body upside down prohibiting those who are the most desperate for relief from even trying.
Attempts to counter the effects of gravity to relieve back pain and neck pain is not new. Traction in one form or another has been employed for centuries to achieve just that. Unfortunately, traction whether done mechanically or by inversion is too little, too late. Spinal Decompression Therapy, however, is a non-invasive, non-surgical treatment performed on a special, computer controlled table similar in some ways to an ordinary traction table, but singularly different because it targets a single disc level and utilizes specific traction and relaxation cycles (a pumping action) throughout the 20-30 minute treatment. This, along with proper angle or positioning, creates a negative pressure within the disc. It works by gently separating the offending disc 5 to 7 millimeters creating a negative pressure (or a vacuum) inside the disc promoting the retraction of the bulging disc tissue. It actually "sucks in" the bulging disc material. The pumping action also circulates water, oxygen, and nutrients throughout the disc, thereby re-hydrating a degenerated disc and bringing in the nutrients needed to begin the healing process. This will in many cases also restore at least some of the lost disc height.
Dr. Michael L. Hall, D.C. practices at Triangle Disc Care in Raleigh, North Carolina specializing in Spinal Decompression for the treatment of acute and chronic neck pain and back pain due to herniated, degenerated discs. This is a conservative procedure for patients suffering with bulging or herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, posterior facet syndrome, sciatica, failed back surgery syndrome, and non-specified mechanical low back or neck pain.