Hanging upside down strapped by your feet might seem like torture. But, then again, so is recurring back pain. Enter: inversion tables.
Advocates of inversion tables and inversion therapy swear by their pain-relieving benefits. Some people may feel better, with fewer aches and pains, after regularly strapping into an inversion table for only a few minutes a week.
Inversion table benefits
Hanging in an inverted position takes gravitational pressure away from your spine, which can relieve nerves, bones, joints, and discs along your back. People with sciatica, herniated discs, spinal stenosis, muscle spasms or everyday back pain might benefit from the way inversion therapy reduces pressure on the spine. Inversion tables can also help with inflammation and promote blood circulation to injured areas. Some people even use it as a way to relieve stress and relax.
Technically, using an inversion table isn’t the only method for inversion therapy. There are many ways to decompress your spine, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Hanging your upper body from the edge of the bed can relieve some lower back pain, for example. Alternative methods of inversion therapy include certain advanced yoga poses such as handstands or headstands. Inversion tables, however, guarantee proper form and safety, since being in this position carries some risk.
Hanging from an inversion table might seem scary at first. Many people worry about falling on their heads. However, a well-made inversion table with a durable ankle support system will hold your legs in place securely and prevent falls as well as unnecessary strain on your leg muscles. It is recommended to have someone with you when you use your inversion table since there's a possibility that you cannot get back up without some help.
There are other risks associated with inversion therapy, though. Inverted positions can cause blood pressure to spike and provoke changes in heart rate that can be dangerous for people with heart disease. People with glaucoma should also be cautious since inverted positions and changes in blood pressure may result in increased pressure within the eyes. Using an inversion table will have you partially or completely hanging upside down, causing an increment in blood flow and pressure to the head and eyes. So it's important to consult a doctor before purchasing and using an inversion table.
Also, be aware that the benefits of inversion therapy may not be long lasting, especially for more serious injuries like ruptured disks. Some experts consider spinal decompression beneficial only alongside additional comprehensive treatments.
Inversion table buying guide
Inversion tables are designed so that users can securely strap their ankles and rotate backwards to the angle of their preference (usually between 15° to 90°, or full inversion).
Inversion table prices generally range from $120 to $600. While all inversion tables have the same basic functionality, they vary in terms of ankle support, inversion control, and backrest padding. Some even offer different add-ons, such as adjustable headrest or lumbar supports, and massage and heating pad capabilities. Your main consideration should always be safety, followed by comfort and ease of use.
Here are some of the specifics to consider while shopping for an inversion table:
• Ankle lock system. The ankle lock system is perhaps the most important factor since it's the only component stopping you from falling (especially when doing a full 90° inversion). Comfort in ankle lock systems can vary, too.
Some inversion tables have foam rollers that lock the ankles in place while cushioning the area. However, foam rollers might not clamp down enough to provide optimum support for everyone, and the foam can wear out more quickly than other materials.
Other inversion tables have U-shaped holders made of plastic or metal that contour to the ankles when locked into place. These usually include additional padding to prevent the holders from digging into your skin.
The lock system is controlled by a lever. The length of the lever is important since it determines how much the user needs to bend over to lock and release the ankles. A short lever could prove difficult for people with severe back problems to use.
• Inversion control. Hanging upside down at 90° is not necessary to obtain the full benefits of inversion therapy. As long as your spine is elongated, other angles of inversion can also provide pain relief.
The variety of angles available on an inversion table and how you change between them differ across brands.
Traditional inversion tables have a tether strap located below the backrest. This system gives users maximum control, allowing for adjustments in gradual increments, rather than a limited number of preset angles. However, this system requires you step off from the table whenever you’d like to make adjustments. This may be a hassle, especially for those who prefer switching between inversion angles during a single session.
Newer models feature a pin system that’s located next to the handlebars, making it easy to adjust while still locked into the table. Simply slide a pin into the angle slot of preference. Just be aware that this system usually has only four or five presets, so the angle can’t be gradually increased or decreased as with a tether strap.
• Backrest. Most inversion tables have padded backrests that are at least 1” thick. Some even have memory foam. Although a cushy backrest may sound alluring for an agonizing back, there’s an ongoing debate as to whether padding actually benefits or hinders inversion therapy.
Some physical therapists recommend that inversion tables have a flat, non-padded backrest that allows your body to fully slide downwards as you invert.
They believe that when the body sinks slightly into a padded backrest, the spine can’t decompress appropriately. However, some people like the comfort of a contoured and padded backrest, so this is really a matter of preference.
• Size and weight. Inversion tables take up space — a lot of it. They’re usually around 60” tall or more (up to 80” when in use) and 50” long. Although most are foldable, their dimensions don't change drastically when folded. They’re also fairly heavy (around 50 lbs or more). If you live in a smaller space, take note of its folded dimensions, weight, and whether it has built-in transport wheels.
Best inversion tables
1. Best overall: Teeter FitSpine X3 Inversion Table
Weight Capacity: 300 lbs | User Height: 4’8” - 6’6” | Size: 60.5"H x 28.8"W x 58"L | Table Weight: 65 lbs
Teeter inversion products have been around since the 1980s, and the brand’s tables are the only ones in the market that have received FDA clearance as devices suitable for the relief of sciatica, herniated discs, and other back-related pains. They've also been certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), an independent product safety organization.
The FitSpine X3 isn't Teeter’s most advanced inversion table (that would be the LX9), but it boasts the same impressive pain-relief features such as the “Acupressure Nodes.” These are designed to help release muscle knots and spasms. The nodes can be moved up and down the backrest where needed, or removed altogether. A removable lumbar bridge is also included for extra lower back support.
Instead of having a padded backrest like most inversion tables, the X3’s is made purely of plastic. This may sound uncomfortable, but it can actually help you achieve spinal decompression more effectively.
Some believe that padded backrests don't allow the spine to fully decompress since the body sinks into the backrest and may not entirely slide while you invert. A plastic backrest, on the other hand, allows your body to slide downwards smoothly thus allowing a deeper stretch. Also, although the X3’s backrest is firm, it's flexible enough to move and contour to your back as you position yourself and perform additional stretches.
To adjust the inversion angle, there's a tether strap underneath the machine. It has preset markings for quick adjustments, but you can also set the tether at any angle you want — even 90 degrees (full inversion). Keep in mind that this tethering system requires that the user step off the machine each time the inversion angle is adjusted.
The main difference between the FitSpine X3 ($449) and the more expensive LX9 ($549) is that the LX9 has a non-slip boarding platform for added safety when getting on and off the table. The LX9 also has a storage caddy that can hold a smartphone or a water bottle.
2. Editor’s pick: Innova ITX9600 Inversion Table
Weight Capacity: 300 lbs | User Height: 4’10” - 6’6” | Size: 63"H x 28"W x 46"L | Table Weight: 55 lbs
The Innova ITX9600 is a solid machine for anyone who wants to try out inversion therapy without breaking the bank. For around $120, this inversion table features an adjustable headrest and a padded backrest for an effective pain-relief session. But what really sets the ITX9600 apart from other inversion tables in its price range is its angle adjustment pin system.
The ITX9600 simplifies how users switch between inversion angles with a pin system on the right handlebar. It allows you to determine how far the table inverts by inserting a pin into the angle slot of preference (15°, 30°, 45°, 60°, 85°) without having to step off the table.
The ankle lock system on the ITX9600 is reversible, for added comfort and customization. In the standard mode, U-shaped holders grip the front part of your ankles and foam rollers support the backside. If you prefer, you can change the setup so the foam rollers lie on top of your ankles and the U-shaped holder on the rear.
Some reviewers point out that the lever used by the ITX9600 to strap the ankles in place is a bit shorter than other models. If you’re worried about having to bend too much to reach it, check out the Innova ITX9688 ($141), which has a longer lever.
3. Best with heat and massage therapy: Innova ITM5900 Advanced Heat and Massage Inversion Therapy Table
Weight Capacity: 300 lbs | User Height: 4’10” - 6’6” | Size: 61"H x 28"W x 46"L | Table WeightL 67 lbs
It’s well-known that heat can help relieve pain and tension, as well as promote blood circulation to shorten muscle recovery time. The Innova ITM5900 integrates these benefits to the inversion experience with a heated lumbar pad that targets the lower back. To increase its pain-relief benefits further, the ITM5900 features a massage pad with multiple vibrations settings.
The ITM5900 uses a pin system on the right handlebar for controlling inversion angles. This means you can set the pin in the angle slot of preference (15°, 30°, 45°, 60°, 85°) while you’re still on the table.
4. Best for low prices: Body Vision IT9825 Premium Inversion Table
Weight Capacity: 250 lbs | User Height: 5’1” - 6’6” | Size: 58"H x 27"W x 46"L | Table Weight: 47 lbs
Don't let its affordable price ($99) fool you. The Body Vision IT9825 can be just as effective and comfortable as more expensive inversion tables.
It has four preset inversion angles (20°,40°, 60°, 90°). Most models have five or more, but four angles should be enough — especially for those who are not planning on using it daily. The angles are controlled with a side pin system that allows for quick selection without needing to get off the machine.
The ankle lock system is made of adjustable foam leg rollers designed to provide support without pinching or digging into your skin like some plastic or metal ankle holders.
The IT9825 includes a removable headrest and an adjustable lumbar support pad that targets everything from the lower back up to the shoulders and neck. The lumbar support pad is removable as well, so it can be used while sitting on a chair or in bed.
The dimensions of many inversion tables don’t decrease that much when they are folded. They still take up a lot of space and usually weigh 50 lbs or more. But the IT9825 is lighter and easier to move around than most models. It weighs just 47 lbs, compared to over 70 lbs for some inversion tables, and has built-in wheels for easy movement and storage.