Updated on 6/22/2005
Inversion tables and other types of inversion therapy using chairs, boots and other devices that enable you to hang upside down have been around for a long time. The idea is that by letting gravity exert its effects on your spine, you can get rid of back pain, neck problems or any number of complaints. I've seen ads on the Internet touting inversion therapy for improving lymph flow in order to boost the effectiveness of the immune system, for correcting skeletal misalignments, improving balance and circulation and for reducing stress on joints, ligaments and muscles.
Mostly, inversion therapy is promoted for relief of back pain. There's very little medical research on the subject, and from what I've read, no scientific evidence demonstrating that inversion therapy provides more than temporary relief, if that. It won't reverse the effects of gravity, and while it may elongate your spine while you're hanging there, the feeling won't last when you're right-side up. What's more, dangling upside down can result in some unpleasant side effects including headaches or bleeding into the retina. And it could even worsen your back problem. If you are tempted to try inversion therapy despite these potential hazards, you should be aware that it can be even riskier if you have heart disease, hypertension, glaucoma or other eye diseases, or are pregnant.
If your back bothers you, I suggest that you read my favorite book on the subject, Healing Back Pain: The Mind Body Connection by John Sarno, MD (New York: Warner Books, 1999). You're much more likely to get lasting help by spending $14 for a paperback copy of this classic than shelling out much more on an inversion device.
Andrew Weil, M.D.