Hanging out as an aid for bad back pain
SO THERE I was, lying upside down on my back, my feet tightly secured at the ankles, and my head pointing towards the floor and eyes gazing out of a big bay window, when I spotted a wide-eyed bergie at the front gate watching me with a bemused expression on his face.
He was soon joined by a second bergie and I blushed as they chatted animatedly, clearly discussing what this crazy person hanging upside down could be up to.
Having suffered for years with lower back pain and agonising bouts of sciatica, which often woke me in the middle of the night, this was just my latest attempt in a long search to find a way to alleviate the pain without resorting to painkillers or an extra-strong muscle relaxant.
You name it, I’ve tried it: physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage (sports, Chinese, Thai, Swedish) Alexander Technique, Touch Therapy and reflexology, to name just a few.
Now I was trying out Teeter Hang Ups – a slick, modern version of an inversion table – to relieve the pain that often left me feeling tired and fuzzy in the morning after a long night of interrupted sleep. Simply put, it works by removing pressure and helps decompress the spine, according to US engineer Roger Teeter, the founder of Teeter Hang Ups.
Now in his seventies, Teeter suffered from serious back pain in his forties when he was a waterski designer and competitor, and was forced to wear a reinforced steel back brace when he competed.
A friend introduced him to inversion – which Hippocrates used to treat patients in 400BCE – and for the first time in years he was free of pain, he says. This spurred him to design a device that people could use in the privacy of their homes.
But it’s not just the ancient Greek physician and Teeter who believe it’s good for you: several medical studies over the years have also shown that inversion helps relieve backache. For example, a randomised study at the Neuro- science Centre at the Newcastle General Hospital in Britain in 2007 found that inversion therapy decreased the need for surgery for sciatica, due to a bulged disc, to 23 percent among patients who underwent inversion, compared with 78 percent who didn’t.
Another study, Adaption of the Tilt Table for Lumbar Traction, conducted by F Sheffield in 1964, found that 155 patients out of 175 who were unable to work because of backache, were able to return to their jobs after just eight inversions.
All this sounded too good to be true, but I had nothing to lose and decided to give it a try – albeit with much scepticism – after I was introduced to Michele Shenker, of Backswing for Health, a Cape Town agent for the product.
But after two days of using the equipment a few times a day for short spells, my back felt better, and for the first time in ages I am now sleeping through an entire night without having to take painkillers.
“Activities like running and weight-training intensify pressure on discs,” says Shenker, adding that many of her clients are sports enthusiasts. “The repeated asymmetrical ( uneven) spinal motion of sports can lead to lower back pain. Inversion gives the discs a chance to regenerate..”
Explaining how it works, Teeter says: “Gravity is the most powerful force affecting your body, and it pulls in one direction. Inversion is simply a way of shifting your body into a head- down position with ankles secured, which allows gravity to decompress the discs of your spine.”
During the day you can lose up to 2cm in height as gravity squeezes moisture from your spine, although this process is reversed when you sleep at night, he says.
“But over the years there is a more permanent height loss, affecting body shape, flexibility and ease of movement, which can be countered by inversion”.
This is what I tried to explain in simple terms to one of the bergies who’d spotted me through the window.
But the look of scepticism on his face as he walked off said it all.