Hang­ing out as an aid for bad back pain

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - RAY­MOND JOSEPH

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.

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