I’ve been asked a couple times over the last couple weeks about inversion tables, or whether hanging upside down is good for you. So in case anyone else was wondering, thought I’d give my two cents here.
Do I think there is some value in inversion tables?
I think the concept of stretching your spine is a good one. Clearly, we are all compressed for far too much of the day. A big part of this is all the sitting we do…the most recent estimates is that the average North American will sit for 10-12 hours per day…over 30 YEARS of your lifetime!
That’s A LOT of sitting.
All of that sitting absolutely compresses your spine, so yes, some way to help decompress it would be a good idea.
The question is, do inversion tables decompress the spine, and in a safe way?
The first part of this is a partial yes. Wish it could be unequivocal, but it isn’t.
Hanging upside down, or even partially upside down, would cause tractioning of your body, which will stretch some of it.
However, where exactly is this stretching happening, and is this really a good thing?
Depending on which part of your body is fixed, or attached, to whatever apparatus you are using, it’s THAT PART which is getting most of the stretch, and not your spine.
If you’re hanging from a chin-up bar, most of the stretch takes place in your shoulder girdle, not in your spine. This would be the easiest way to stretch, and likely the safest. Stretching your shoulders and upper back is good, but it doesn’t really target your entire spine.
Locking your feet in an apparatus and hanging upside down would initially stretch your ankles, knees and hip joints more than anything, less so your spine. If you were in this position for an extended period, more than 5-10 minutes, your spine would likely start to sustain some stretching.
The question is… is being upside down good for you for extended periods?
My initial thought is likely no. Were human being ever designed to be upside down? When in our ancestry or evolution were we ever suspended upside down for any extended period? NEVER.
So, this makes me question whether this is actually beneficial for us.
Combine this with studies, and basic logic, that shows that being inverted significantly increases blood pressure to your head and brain. What’s the big deal about this?
Well, as we age, the blood vessels in our bodies, particularly in our brain, become more fragile. If we suddenly increase the blood pressure in these arteries, there is the potential for bad things happening, like haemorrhagic strokes, or the bursting or leaking of blood vessels.
In addition, anyone with the possibility of glaucoma in their eyes, or an increase in pressure, needs to be cautious about any activities which may artificially increase pressure in their eyes. Such as hanging upside down.
So, with all that factored in, when people ask me about inversion tables, I generally advise against it.
If you want to do it, I recommend avoiding full inversion, aka you being vertically suspended. Partial inversion, at an angle, is likely safer, but likely won’t have the effect you are looking for.
If what you’re trying to accomplish is stretching your spine, I’m all for it. But I tend to err towards a low-tech and cautious approach to this, as in most things.
Stand up, and stretch your arms up as high as you can. This will stretch your spine. Or do this on the ground, lying down, stretching your arms and legs as far from your core and torso as possible. You will feel this stretch.
Or, get into the downward dog posture, and stretch your hips back.
All low tech, but you’ll definitely feel them, require no equipment, and you’re much less likely to cause any catastrophic damage to your body.
Hope this helps. Any questions, please ask.