Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

May 26, 2017
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Hang time

No doctor needs to be told that back pain is endemic in Canada. Estimates have it that as many as eight out of 10 people suffer from lower back pain at some point in their lives. Muscle strain, sciatica, herniated discs, compression fractures and spinal stenosis, the list goes on and on — and so does the pain.

Sufferers will go to almost any length for relief. Massage, acupuncture, cortisone, spinal fusion — or learn to ignore it. Dr Jerome Groopman, a Harvard cancer specialist, did the latter and found that after hurting for 30 years, he was virtually pain free. (Go to npr.org and search “Groopman” to read more in a recent January 2014 article).

Or you can try inversion therapy. Hanging upside down takes pressure off the discs in your spine and your nerve roots, decompresses the joints and provides quick, if sometimes only temporary, relief.

But it’s not for everybody. “Inversion therapy involves hanging upside down, and the head-down position could be risky for anyone with high blood pressure, heart disease or glaucoma,” writes the Mayo Clinic’s Dr Edward Laskowski.

That said, legions of back sufferers swear by it. Google it and you’ll find hundreds of positive reviews. After a month using an inversion table, I’m ready to write one myself.

I’m one of the lucky people who has never experienced back pain. A friend, an athletic guy who runs a gym, developed sciatica and bought a machine. When he told me it quickly became his favourite piece of equipment, I had to try it.

Presto; love at first hang. There’s something exhilarating about being suspended by your ankles for a few minutes. Things that age and that gravity has caused to descend, slip back up into their rightful place and you feel young(er) again. I’ve been hanging twice a day for a couple of weeks and my wife tells me I’m standing up straighter for it.

There are dozens of machines on offer. I’ve tried a few and, hype not withstanding, the Hang Ups by Teeter (teeter-inversion.com) really are the best. I assembled and then tested the EP-560, which sells for $379 on amazon.ca. The instructions were clear — it took about an hour to put together — and the included video on how to use it was helpful. Another unit, the Exerpeutic 5503, offers one of the lowest prices at just US$104 on amazon.com and it’s quite adequate. Both do the job, but it’s akin to differences between a Cadillac and a Chevy.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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