Inversion Therapy: What Is It? How Does It Work? Is It Safe?

Although it has little to do with psychology and more to do with, perhaps, chiropractic or physical therapy, inversion therapy – which consists of hanging upside down for a few minutes to relieve back pain – has been around for a long, long time. That said, however, some claim that there are some psychological benefits to this practice, as we will see.

“Life activities like work, exercise, effects of aging can cause the degeneration of spinal discs,” writes author Shawn Tuttle in his book, “Inversion Therapy: For Neck and Back Pain.” Tuttle goes on: “[W]hen this happens, you begin to experience problems like back pain.”

It remains noting, too, that being physically uncomfortable or in pain may, indeed, cause psychological discomfort.

“What decompression therapy does is that it stretches the spinal column creating negative pressure within the spinal discs,” Tuttle writes. “[T]his causes the otherwise compressed discs to be decompressed.”

This is accomplished be a device where a person hangs upside down at different angles, such as at a 60- or 90-degree angle.

By the late 1970s and early 1980s, inversion tables had become all the rage. A large market began to develop for inversion tables, and lots of research was put into how (and if) they worked. To summarize, most research yielded positive results, although studies have shown that hanging upside down briefly increases blood pressure as well as pressure behind the eyes. According to Tuttle, research has yielded that inversion tables may treat:

  • Bulging, herniated, or degenerative discs
  • Sciatica
  • Neck, back, or radiating limb pain
  • Degenerative/arthritics spinal joints

People with high blood pressure or who have a history of strokes are advised not to try inversion therapy.

As mentioned above, the practice of hanging upside down to relieve back pain is an ancient one. Some African tribesmen would climb trees and hang upside down to abate back pain. Around 3,000 B.C.E., yogis have been recorded to practice forms of inversion therapy. And the father of western medicine, the Greek physician Hippocrates, had recommended suspension to his patients. Hippocrates devised a form of inversion therapy using ropes and ladders.

These days, inversion tables can range from very low, reasonable prices to expensive models. On the whole, however, inversion therapy appears to remain impactful in treating certain forms of back, neck, and spinal issues for certain individuals. Author Jim Johnson also cites research that shows that inverting can help the flow of nutrients to the spinal discs.

“Since your discs contain no blood vessels, and nutrients/waste products are being transported by the combination of two pathways,” Johnson writes, “diffusion and . . . daily fluid flow.” When you invert, you’re “. . . unloading the discs and giving them a chance to attract fluid and ‘pump up again’ – which all helps out the nutrition to your discs.”


Johnson, J. (2019). Getting the most out of your inversion table. Gatekeeper Press, Columbus, OH.

Tuttle, S. (2019). Inversion therapy: For neck and back pain.


Brooke Lamberti

Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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