Years ago I went to a rheumatologist, Dr. Gold, the first thing Dr. Gold did was take x-rays. Dr. Gold called me in to view the films, and he turned to me, and said with a sad face, “that’s a bad back.” He went on to say that it was perfectly understandable why my back hurt so much as I had a couple of herniated discs, a few discs that were so compressed he could barely see them, and some spinal stenosis. He continued to say that there wasn’t anything that could be done surgically as there was too much deterioration in the facets and other places to make surgery feasible. He said the only things to could be done were anti-inflammatory medications, exercise programs, and physical therapy when necessary.
Like others who have developed severe back problems my condition reduced my capacity to stand, walk, and even sit. Still Dr. Gold was encouraging saying that the back is still a mystery to a lot of people and even with severe conditions the pain in some people’s backs improves over time.
At physical therapy I was given a series of exercises called dynamic stabilization exercises which helped somewhat. Also at physical therapy one of the therapies tried was traction. At physical therapy the technique used to apply traction was to strap my chest and hang my body to let my lower body weight pull on the spine therefore hopefully giving the spine some relief. This device was too painful for me. My chest is often painful to touch and strapping it in a rig and having it bear the weight of my lower body was just too uncomfortable. So traction was eliminated as a viable therapy in that setting.
The physical therapists encouraged me to do whatever exercise I could whether strength training with light weights, yoga modified to my needs, tai chi, biking, walking on a tread mill with support, and especially exercises in a heated pool. I have exercised all my life so I followed their advice and used all of these exercises as I could. I can’t do any of these exercises very much, and sometimes hardly at all. Besides my back condition I have fibromyalgia and as a result both I tire quickly and my muscles get sore quickly. But I have found that just doing what I can when I can provides benefits not only in my physical health but can reduce my pain level and improve my emotional mood as well.
In my case following the exercises got me to the point where as long as I didn’t do much my back didn’t hurt as much. But as soon as I walked very far, carried a few items, or even stood for short while my back would begin hurting and the pain would get worse quickly. Even carrying groceries could precipitate “my back going out.” The problem was that once my back started hurting it often might take a day or longer for the pain to ease.
Enter the inversion table. I started seeing TV commercials for Teeter Hangups inversion tables, and was intrigued. (The actual inversion table I bought looks very similar to this one.) The principle is simple. All day long as you are on your feet, or basically as long as your head is above your tailbone, your back is being compressed by the weight of your upper body. With an inversion table this process is reversed. Basically you get on the table with your feet secured, and you rotate the table so that your head is below your waist. There is no strapping of the chest so that problem was removed for me. And with the device you can control how much pull you place on your spine by how regulating much you are inverted.
This device has been very helpful to me. From the first time I used it I found it could ease the pain in my back. In my case I have three places where the pain in my back seems to localize. One is in the low back right below where my belt sits. The second is in the middle of the back. The third is my neck region, especially right at the base of the skull.
The pain in my low back often feels like someone has clipped a clothespin to the area. The first thing that I noticed the first time I got on my inversion table was this pain easing. The pain in my middle back is similar but not as bad as my low back. This pain eased quickly also. The pain in my neck is just this tight, squeezing feeling sore like a tension headache does when it starts. Actually it feels a lot like a mild tension headache all the time as I hung on the inversion table and did some of the stretches in my neck I felt that tension loosen up as it seemed to like my body slowly lengthened. After a few minutes I was able to move my neck freely while hanging upside down and it felt loose for the first time that I could remember in recent years.
The incredible thing seems to be that the inversion table actually does “stretch” you. I noticed this right away because the light fixture in my room where my inversion table is is low and usually I can just barely walk underneath it without hitting my head. When I got off the inversion table I walked under this fixture and bumped my head!
Inversion therapy is not a cure. The effect of “stretching” is short-lived. After months of using the table for a couple of minutes at least once a day I am not noticeably taller. When I went on vacation for a few days I seemed to lose all benefit with a couple days. However, the therapy does increase my ability to recover more quickly when I do something to “throw my back out.” So when I lay them carrying in some groceries and I feel those pinching places in my back starting to increase in pain I can get on my inversion table and feel those places stretch out.
Using the table hasn’t increased my capacity to carry things much more or do more physical work. I have tried to do a little “heavier” work, and my back quickly went out, got very sore, and even using the inversion table didn’t relieve it. I had to rest, do my dynamic stabilization exercises and slowly my back slowly calmed down. Some of that is probably due to my fibromyalgia which seems to flare easily when I try to exert myself.
The experience of hanging upside down takes a little getting used to. My advice is to not even try it if you are congested in your sinuses as my head feels like it’s going to explode if I try to hang upside down with my head congested. Otherwise, the feeling is not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. There is a slight feeling of more pressure in the head, but it is very bearable. Of course anyone was a medical condition should consult their doctor before using this kind of device.
All in all I would have to recommend that anyone with back pain should consider an inversion table. For some, according to reports, it has dramatically improved their back condition. For others, like me, while not dramatically improving my condition it has proved valuable aid in dealing with my back condition. Used in conjunction with the dynamic stabilization exercises, anti-inflammatory AIDS, and other therapies it’s a very interesting gadget that can help people have more better days.
© copyright Mark W Smith 2009, all rights reserved