If you want a blizzard of unsolicited advice to weigh you down, just casually mention to acquaintances that you have back pain. Flaky miracle cures and “what you should really do”s will be pummeled at you like snowballs thrown by your middle-school frenemy whose crush just winked at you. Some of those back pain remedies might work. Others can send you down a slick, precarious path that makes your back feel like you spent days digging your mini-van out of a snowbank.
Among the things that seem to work wonders for certain people’s pain, but might be best avoided by others, are inversion chairs. Before you plop down, strap-in, and casually flip upside down in hopes of instantly quashing your pain, it is best to investigate what inversion chairs are, how they work, and whether or not one might work for you.
What is an Inversion Chair?
Back pain can have many causes including muscular strains, joint degeneration, connective tissue problems and nerve dysfunction. Inversion chairs are one way to execute spinal decompression (gentle stretching), which, for some people, helps temporarily mitigate back pain.
Of course, it depends on what exactly is causing your back pain. A medical diagnosis is always useful. Knowledge is power when it comes to understanding what back pain relief techniques might work for you. And doctors who deal with the 16 million adults who experience back pain at one time or another truly can provide good insight into what might be the source of your troubles.
Using an inversion chair requires you to sit on the chair, strap-in your feet, and then tilt the chair back until you feel like you are inverted enough to relieve spinal tension. You can relax for 1-5 minutes in the inverted position. In addition, some inversion chairs allow you to bump it up a notch when your back pain subsides.
They are built to allow you to do core exercises while strapped-in. Improved core strength found through inverted abdominal exercise can lead to decreased back pain in the log run, in some instances.
How Do Inversion Chairs Work?
Helping you achieve spinal decompression safely to relieve pain is the primary goal the makers of inversion chairs seek to address. But, what does that mean? In short, since humans are bipedal, the spine has to support ample weight in the face of gravity pushing down. The human head alone can weigh 11 pounds.
When you add forward-leaning tendencies to this that are exacerbated by staring down at screens, poor posture, and gravity, your spine can be supporting more than 30 pounds. That constant weight puts pressure on your spine and causes dysfunctional movement patterns and pain.
Human spines have 24 vertebrae with padding in-between. That’s a lot of spots where problems related to compression can crop up. “Opening up” those spaces between vertebrae by hanging your head low while keeping your spine in line, can feel great to some people and provide a sort of “reset.”
In addition, passive inversion is a simple way to briefly get more oxygen to the brain. Some users say this makes them feel more alert.
Should You Consider an Inversion Chair?
There are many ways to get into an inverted position without an inversion chair. For instance, yoga poses like headstand, handstand, shoulder stand, and plow are a few ways to do inversions without dedicated equipment and at little to no expense. Well, that is if those poses are useful, if you are mobile, and if you are pain-free enough to get into those yoga poses.
Many individuals with back pain are not able to bend down to tie their shoes without wincing, let alone get into a handstand. And depending on what condition is causing your back pain, a systemic joint issue or connective tissue disorder might prevent you from taxing other joints, such as your wrists or knees, in order to decompress your spine. So, while less complicated yoga poses might benefit you and your back right now, you might need a more accessible way to get into a passive inverted position.
Another option is to use an inversion table. Inversion tables require your legs to be straight. You strap-in your ankles and lie on your back. Then, you tilt the table back to an angle that works for you. As with inverted yoga poses that takes preparation, practice, and strength, it takes a degree of mobility and flexibility to get strapped into an inversion table and confidently get into and out of the inverted position. And, if you are battling ankle pain or have knee issues, this table might be off of the table for you.
Finally, some people like to use gravity boots that allow you to hang upside down like a bat from a bar. They are space saving and seemingly simple. However, while putting on a pair of gravity boots might not be all that tough, getting your toes up to an overhead bar is extremely difficult without ample abdominal strength and a freely moving spine. And if getting hooked into the bar was difficult, imagine getting safely out of the configuration!
Yoga poses, tables and gravity boots – all of those inversion methods necessitate more balance, strength, flexibility and general mobility than using an inversion chair. Excruciating back pain can make all of these methods a no-go.
How Does an Inversion Chair Work?
All you have to do to use an inversion chair is sit down, strap a belt around your waist and make sure your feet are secure before you tilt back to a comfortable position. Inversion chairs fix your knees at a ninety degree angle. While the flexed knee position puts less stress on the knees and ankles than inversion tables and gravity boots, it does mean that your hip flexor area will not benefit from lengthening while inverted.
However, this more supported hip position might be what you need for comfort. In addition, inversion chairs generally have ample padding on contact points too, which make them kinder to joints and sensitive bodies than hanging from fragile ankles and tugging on extended knees.
For example, check out the features on the Stamina Inline Inversion Chair. It has many safety and comfort features that can help you address your pain issues instead of creating new injuries. Users enter by simply sitting down. There is padding on the ankle support system for comfort. Handlebars are even padded. The foot bar and the lap belt are both adjustable to accommodate various body sizes and heights. A ratchet-based system allows you to secure your legs in place.
The makers of Stamina In-line Inversion Chairs also seem to realize that whether you are using the chair solely for inversion or adding core exercises to your inversion experience, stability is important. The chair is made of steel for toughness but has skid-resistant pads on the bottom to keep it from sliding (and from scratching your floor). For a couple of hundred dollars, an inversion chair like this might be a logical addition to your back care regimen.
- Easy to get on and off
- Adjustable lap belt for security; ratcheting leg lock System with push-button release; foam-padded ankle support
- Quick-adjust foot bar to accommodate different heights; cushioned, comfortable upholstery
- Inversion-angle adjustment strap to control the degree of inversion; padded handlebars for added comfort
- Skid-resistant rubber floor protectors for stability; heavy-duty steel frame construction
Pull-Up a Chair….with Caution
Inversion chairs are not for everyone since inversion is not suitable for all, although some individuals with chronic lower back pain and conditions like scoliosis and sciatica might benefit. Even though inversion chairs are more accessible to those with mobility, balance, and joint issues other than spinal challenges, there are several reasons why it might not work for you.
One of the reasons people like inversion is because it causes blood to rush to your head. The increased oxygen to your brain might feel energizing. However, the rapid change in blood pressure that can occur by looking at the world upside down can figuratively turn the world upside down for people with high blood pressure or those who are prone to strokes. Pregnancy can complicate use. And eye problems, like glaucoma, are made worse by inversion, as are some inner ear issues.
The best advice is, don’t go it alone when it comes to inversion chairs (or inversion tables or gravity boots). First, talk to your doctor who understands your medical record and any medications you are taking. Second, consult any other healthcare provider who is advising you on back pain like your physical therapist or chiropractor.
The final person to get involved should be a trusted friend who can be on stand-by in the off-chance that you cannot get yourself out of the inverted position. Inversion chairs are relatively easy to use and are built with safety features galore. However, if you get dizzy or panic, getting out of it might not be as easy as getting in!
The Bottom Line Before You Sit Down Your Bottom
If you have the space for one, inversion chairs can be a versatile piece of equipment to address back pain at home. When you are lacking mobility, getting into a seated position for inversion is more accessible than pulling your feet up to an overhead bar while wearing gravity boots or hanging from your ankles on a full length table. When you are feeling great, many inversion chairs are built sturdy enough to allow you to do core strengthening movements like oblique crunches. Stronger abs = a more supported spine. Gravity boots take up less space than inversion chairs (and tables) and also allow for both spinal decompression and core workouts and strengthening. But, if you have ever had bad back pain, the mere thought of trying to get your feet up a bar and clipping in will make you cringe.
If you are cleared for inversion, remember spinal decompression on an inversion chair (or via another apparatus or method) is meant to temporarily relieve pain. It is meant to be part of a larger, comprehensive back health plan that involves movement and lifestyle choices.