Half the patients we see in our clinic our back pain patients and sciatica is a common issue, causing a lot of pain and limitation.
But there is something else that we have noticed as well, often, a patient with sciatica has come in for a follow up significantly better after using an Inversion Table of a friend or family member. The nerve pain has improved markedly afterward.
Due to this, we started looking into it further, and even though there isn’t any high-level solid research showing that it works every time, there is both theoretical and anecdotal evidence to say that it really does help relieve sciatica and low back pain.
Note: Various forms of lumbar traction has been used for the relief of pain since the time of Hippocrates. So this is in no way a new thing. It is now just far more accessible!
Sciatica is not a diagnosis
Sciatica is a symptom of an underlying back pathology. That helps a lot in understanding how traction and inversion tables help relieve back pain and sciatica.
The nerve pain that people with sciatica feel are pain referral due to nerve irritation or compression somewhere higher up in the low back by the real cause. This underlying cause is what needs to be treated.
Often sciatica and other forms of back-related pain are due to a number of underlying pathologies, including:
- Stenosis – Narrowing of the spine, where the nerves travel through
- Spondylosis – This is effectively Osteoarthritis of the spine
- Degenerated discs
- Herniated or prolapsed discs
Note: You do not need to have sciatica or nerve pain for this to be relevant to you.
How Inversion tables actually helps sciatica
By inverting your body, your spine is tractioned. This improves the space around the nerves as well as stimulating healing and flow of fluid.
Traction of the vertebrae changes the position of the nucleus pulposus. This is the gooey part of your intervertebral disc. Tractioning the vertebra has been shown to improve space and reduce pressure on the disc. This also increases the area of the lateral foramen where the spinal nerves exit.(1) It isn’t known how well this maintains once full bodyweight is back on your spine though.
We often get asked for recommendations, so here is a quick link to the most popular, most affordable Inversion table on Amazon:
When instructions are followed, yes they are.
The main things to remember are to have someone with you to help if needed and check with your GP first to ensure there are no medical issues that may not be able to handle the change in position, such as a cardiac condition.
How far should you tilt on an inversion table
Studies show that you need to have at least 26% of your body weight force on your spine to achieve an effect on your low back.
Maitland suggests 30-45kg weight to be ideal on average, so it does not need to be your entire body weight and often just part of half way can achieve the required effect.(2)
The evidence is inconclusive on traction and inversion tables but anectdotally and theoretically that can be beneficial in helping relieve low back pain and sciatica. If you have had experience with low back pain and inversion therapy, let us know how it helped you.