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Inversions gain traction


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Inversions gain traction

Rosie O’Donnell hangs upside down to treat depression. "DaVinci Code" author Dan Brown does it for a creative burst. And runner Marc Swerdlow of Highland Park swears it alleviates back pain.

Ct_yoga1_2 Should you shake up your life with inversions, a concept traditionally embraced by yogis, children, gymnasts and bats?

Like all activities that promise better health, it depends on your fitness level, pre-existing conditions and expectations.

Proponents say inversions can be beneficial because when you spend your life sitting or standing, blood pools in the lower part of the extremities. Inversions can reverse the blood flow in the body, temporarily counteracting the negative effects of gravity, improving circulation and lymph flow and bringing blood and oxygen to the brain.

These changes are said to help stimulate the immune system, alleviate arthritic and low back pain, prevent varicose and spider veins, firm up sagging organs and reduce stress.

Arthritic hip pain, for example, can be caused by small, hard compounds found in the synovial fluid of the joint, which grind into the joint when someone stands, walks or runs. But if the joint is opened by hanging or swiveling, the compounds move out of the joint region, alleviating the problem, according to British researchers who studied the effects of hanging from the feet.

"The foremost benefit is the ability to traction the spine," said therapeutic yoga instructor Mark Kater, owner of Harmony Yoga Reiki Center in Skokie, who has been dangling wrong-side-up for two decades. "Turning upside down causes the spinal column to lengthen in the opposite direction to normal gravity stress. This means the spaces between the vertebra open. And this relieves the stress on the spinal discs, which may be pinching on the nerves and causing pain."

But not everyone has a body that responds well to the unnatural inverted state. People with high blood pressure, extreme obesity, glaucoma, hypertension, bone weaknesses, heart or circulatory disorders or who are pregnant shouldn’t try it without a doctor’s supervision.

And though inversion therapy dates to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, evidence that it can permanently relieve back pain is limited and dated. It’s easy to pull a muscle by overdoing it because there’s a tendency to believe that if hanging for two minutes is good, then 10 minutes is even better, said Craig Singer, a massage therapist at Alternative Health Group in Bucktown. And most of the effects are temporary at best.

"It’s like when you stop going to the gym, you lose fitness," said Riley Teeter of Teeter Hang Ups, which makes inversion products for commercial use, gyms, spas and medical lines designed for doctor’s offices.

"If you stop using [inversion therapy], gravity comes back, compresses the soft tissue in joints and the negative effects might return," said Teeter, whose father started the company in 1981 to help his own backaches. "It’s really a lifestyle change. You incorporate inversion in your life."

In addition to yoga poses, inversions can be achieved using gravity boots, a yoga sling or inversion tables. Gravity boots, which are strapped around the ankles, are hooked on to a horizontal chin-up bar. The boots allow a full, 180-degree inversion, which can be good for athletes who want extra traction or want to perform challenging exercises such as inverted curls or squats. But for beginners, it can be difficult to get back up to the bar while wearing the boots.

A yoga sling, which O’Donnell demonstrated on "The View," is easier to use than gravity boots and requires less strength, Kater said. Some snap into eye hooks that are anchored into the wall or ceiling, or they can be attached to a horizontal bar.

Then there are adjustable inversion tables or chairs, which allow people to begin upright and gently tilt back to a comfortable degree, whether it’s 30 degrees beyond horizontal or a full 180 degrees. The feet are held in place by ankle pads, and the inversion is controlled by the users’ arms.

For Chicago real estate developer Jeff Grinspoon, 43, it was the inversion table that worked for his back pain. At first, he found it stressful. But before long, he had his 78-year-old father trying it too.

"Blood flowing to the head feels weird," said Grinspoon, who inverts once or twice a day for about five minutes. "But if you let go, it’s relaxing. I’ve actually gotten sleepy while being upside down."

Swerdlow, 43, a marathoner and real estate attorney, suffered from a herniated disk. His physical therapist suggested an inversion table, and Swerdlow now uses it once or twice a day to help recover from long runs or lengthy plane trips. Unlike Grinspoon, he never found turning upside down to be uncomfortable.

"I’ve joked that if I can’t sleep at night, I’d use it to relax," he said.

The shallower the angle, the longer you can stay inverted, but there is no time limit. O’Donnell said she hangs between 15 and 30 minutes a days. Grinspoon and Swerdlow, who both bought inversion tables at Relax the Back, located in Chicago and Lincolnshire, generally use it less than 10 minutes a day, depending on how they feel.

But anecdotal claims aside, does it really work? There’s little evidence for depression, and only a few studies have examined back pain.

One small study of 20 healthy men concluded that hanging upside down "significantly increased spinal length and reduced the muscle pain." But that was published in 1978.

In 1985, a study showed 13 of 16 men with low back pain found improvement using inversion and declared it an effective means of achieving "pelvic traction" at home. But the study, published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, found side effects included persistent headaches, blurred vision and contact lens discomfort. The study also cautioned that it should be done under medical supervision.

Northern Illinois researchers, meanwhile, tested 19 men in 1988 and found that "gravity inversion should not be compared to or classified as an exercise" and found "no physiological adaptation occurred in any of the inverted positions as a result of the inversion training."

Still, actor Richard Gere made gravity boots hip in the 1980s when he dangled from them in the movie "American Gigolo." And aside from some bad publicity in 1983 when a study raised concerns that inversions could be dangerous-a conclusion that was later adjusted to say inversions were fine if participants were in good health-the market has been slowly expanding.

STL International Inc., which manufactures Teeter Hang Ups, said it has seen a 374 percent growth in sales since the late 1990s. And plenty of Internet competitors are offering inversion tables for as little as $129 as well as discounted gravity boots and chairs, something that concerns the Teeters, whose tables start at $299 and range up to $3,000 for a medical version.

The danger, said Riley Teeter, is that consumers get what they pay for. "I fear we’re heading toward a market collapse with all the cheap copies out there," she said. "With cheap equipment, you get catastrophic failure after just five months of use."

That can be unnerving, given that it takes a bit of bravery to swing from your ankles on even the most trustworthy equipment. But finding the courage to try inversions is one of the benefits, Kater said.

"The idea of going upside down can be scary, especially when using the gravity boots," Kater said. "But a person can gain confidence by doing something they aren’t used to doing. After hanging upside down, people seem to have a lighter mood and feel happier in general."

For Chicago’s Alan Wolf, a fitness consultant who hangs upside down every day at Lakeshore Athletic Club, Kater’s yoga studio or at his outdoor back-yard gym, the daily head-rush blends body, mind and spirit. He uses it to build core strength by doing inverted crunches and squats and to clear his head.

Like O’Donnell, he uses it as a mood enhancer. "There’s just no way you can go up there, come down and still feel depressed," he said. "It changes your world."

(Tribune photo by John Dziekan)

in Fitness | Permalink


Comments

I had a herniated disk in '96, and subsequent surgery. One of the good likelihoods is that I'll have other disks herniate before too long. I've had chronic back pain -- usually low grade and not debilitating, simply a nuisance mostly -- ever since.

My wife got me an inversion table for my birthday a few years ago, and I started using it every day. I'm now down to 2, 3 timesa weeks for a few minutes. In general, my back hurts less, and I can sustain more physical exertion than I used to before I get into the area of that nuisance back pain.

I don't that it's a cure-all, but it certainly helps.

Posted by: rwilymz | Apr 16, 2007 2:23:08 PM

 


Another great article Julie. I'd love to see an article on "cervical" disc compressions now. I don't believe the inversions help with the cervical (neck & upper back) disc compressions...

Posted by: Jamie Taerbaum | Apr 17, 2007 8:31:29 AM

 


What is that person hanging from in the picture??!! Not only does it look uncomfortable, but is it safe?

I couldn't agree with Riley Teeter more. As a retailer and user of fitness equipment, quality trumps price. If you skimp and purchace a low quality non-UL tested table, you're setting yourself up.

There are several articles if you are interested in inversion therapy here: http://www.betterhealthinnovations.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=118&Click=150

Posted by: Steve Samson | Apr 22, 2007 8:19:32 PM

 


I am using a teeter inversion table, but am afraid of damaging my 2 knee replacements!!!!! Do not know how to find out and knees feel funny after 20 degree inversion 1 at 10 min per day....I have stopped inverting for now help please

Posted by: owulff | Apr 30, 2007 2:00:36 PM

 


I am 48 and have had back pain for 25 yrs. I have graduated from chiropracters to orthopedic surgeons to neurosurgeins. I have a full foot drop from my sciatic nerve being so damaged from herniated disks. I have had 2 surgeries and still had some back pain, although it is no longer nerve pain but more of an arthritic pain.Bottom line is, when I started using an inversion table my life is pain free. Plus my mid-section is in the best shape in years. It works! It really works.

Posted by: BOB K | Jun 29, 2007 2:54:59 PM

 


Very useful info..


You may also find it useful to visit my website:
http://www.healthopts.com

Posted by: idoney | Jul 5, 2007 1:13:39 AM

 


If you have knee problems, you definately shouldn't start with gravity boots. Using a table can be a good gradual way as there will be less knee strain at lower inclines. You'd want to put on a safety strap (comes with most Teeters) to limit the degree of incline.

Even safer though is the DEX or DEX II. It's like one of those yogi slings (only more secure, though more expensive. Your weight rests on the top of your thighs and you're anchored by the back of your calves. This has much less knee strain by comparison.

It's also less of a dramatic inversion so it's good for beginners afraid of the effects. Your thighs are horizantal so blood will pool more in them than they would being wholly vertical. Plus you can do back extensions and crunches neatly.

Posted by: Tyciol | Jul 7, 2007 10:04:07 AM

 


Great Article. It is good to read some serious and informed comments at last. Firstly, most people, and especially anyone with ankle, knee or back or neck problems should use a forward bender and hang forwards from the thighs. Hanging from the ankles is for healthy people and even then can have unwanted strain on the lower back and groin. See my web site for the most beneficial position which is position two in Inversion Therapy ( the bodywork ). www.inversiontherapy.net .
Secondly, there is no real medical or pschology research into the anti-depressant effects of inversion. However, the yogis have thousands of years of experience and treat depression neurosis and phobias with inversion resulting in total cure in many cases. I can vouch for this. I have given over 13,000 treatments during the last 14 years and many of my clients have come off medication and now lead a happy life without drugs due to a combination of inversion and empowerment techniques such as meditation and visualisation as well as some reprogramming and release of old patterns. Inversion is also the only known cure for heart flutter. I have an article from a Swedish medical doctor on this. Good to hang out with you inversion enthusiasts. Blessings, Paul Terrell aka Batman.

Posted by: Paul Terrell | Jul 28, 2007 9:35:34 AM

 


Great Article. It is good to read some serious and informed comments at last. Firstly, most people, and especially anyone with ankle, knee or back or neck problems should use a forward bender and hang forwards from the thighs. Hanging from the ankles is for healthy people and even then can have unwanted strain on the lower back and groin. See my web site for the most beneficial position which is position two in Inversion Therapy ( the bodywork ). www.inversiontherapy.net .
Secondly, there is no real medical or pschology research into the anti-depressant effects of inversion. However, the yogis have thousands of years of experience and treat depression neurosis and phobias with inversion resulting in total cure in many cases. I can vouch for this. I have given over 13,000 treatments during the last 14 years and many of my clients have come off medication and now lead a happy life without drugs due to a combination of inversion and empowerment techniques such as meditation and visualisation as well as some reprogramming and release of old patterns. Inversion is also the only known cure for heart flutter. I have an article from a Swedish medical doctor on this. Good to hang out with you inversion enthusiasts. Blessings, Paul Terrell aka Batman.

Posted by: Paul Terrell | Jul 28, 2007 12:06:08 PM

 


I am wondering if the inversion therapy (slight, maybe 20-30 degrees) might help mild osteoarthritis of the knees. If the early onset has to do with compression of the cartilage, then it seems totally relieving it would help the blood flow to the cartilage, although i know cartilage has very little blood flow. any info on this?

Posted by: rita | Dec 6, 2007 7:47:59 PM

 


I have been hanging for a four or five months now. Teeter 8000. My latest physical came up with high blood glucose. No diabetes in my family. I am 44 and am wondering if this could cause this type of problem. Also I bought it for my herniated L4 and L5 disks. It has brought great relief to this problem incorporated with a few short streatching exercises. I hang at various angles for 2-5 minutes a day 2 times a day. Lately I have been going totally upside down and doing crunches and sit ups. I am now having knee pain and trouble standing up from a squat. I would say listen to your body and adjust your routine as I intend to alliveate my issues. It definitely has helped.

Posted by: ed | Feb 24, 2008 12:40:47 PM

 


Does anyone know where in Chicago (I live near Soldier Field) I could TRY an inversion table BEFORE buying?

Posted by: Candace Drimmer | May 19, 2008 10:37:32 AM

 



 
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