Hanging upside down can be a fun activity. It may even make you feel like a kid again, especially if you try it out on the monkey bars. But some adults today are practicing hanging upside down for another reason.
Inversion therapy is a form of physical therapy that may help with back pain. The goal is to hang upside down and stretch out the spine. Many people swear by it. But scientific research is mixed on the efficacy of hanging upside down to relieve pain.
More studies are needed to confirm if hanging upside down offers any true health benefits.
The goal of inversion therapy is to reverse the compression of gravity on the spine. It’s usually done on an inversion table. These tables have ankle holders and can be adjusted to different positions tilting you backward, including one where you’re completely upside down.
This may stretch out the spine and decrease pressure on the discs and nerve roots. It may also increase the space between the vertebrae. Potential benefits of hanging upside down during inversion therapy include:
- short-term relief from back pain, sciatica, and scoliosis
- improved spinal health
- increased flexibility
- reduced need for back surgery
But keep in mind, there’s little proof to back up the efficacy of these benefits. Studies also haven’t confirmed the benefits of hanging upside down yet. Most of the studies done so far have been small scale.
Inversion therapy is not safe for everyone. While hanging upside down for more than a few minutes, your blood pressure increases. Your heartbeat also slows down. There’s also increased pressure on your eye. Avoid inversion therapy if you have:
Hanging upside down also isn’t safe if you are obese, overweight, or pregnant. Always check with a doctor before trying inversion therapy.
Sleeping upside down isn’t safe. You shouldn’t remain upside down, including on an inversion table, for more than a few minutes at a time. Even if it is comfortable for your back, falling asleep in this position could result in a danger to your health and even death.
It’s OK to relax upside down, especially if it helps with your back pain. But make sure you have a professional or friend nearby to make sure you don’t fall asleep in this position.
It can be dangerous, and even deadly, to hang upside down for too long as blood pools to the head. Start hanging in a moderate position for 30 seconds to 1 minute at a time. Then increase the time by 2 to 3 minutes.
Listen to your body and return to an upright position if you don’t feel well. You may be able to work up to using the inversion table for 10 to 20 minutes at a time.
Of course, a tree branch or other hanging implement doesn’t have the same levels of support as an inversion table.
It is possible to die from hanging upside down for too long. It’s rare, but blood can pool to the head, which can be extremely dangerous for the body.
If you’re interested in trying inversion therapy or another form of hanging upside down, always do so supervised by a professional, like a physical therapist. Or have a friend nearby in case you need to return and can’t get upright.
In the news: One 74-year-old rock climber in Utah was found dead after hanging upside down overnight in his harness. Another hunter in Oregon was in a medically induced coma after getting caught in his harness and hanging upside down for two days.
Authorities believe his heart stopped beating during the rescue attempt because blood flow cut off to his lower body was suddenly restored. He was revived and airlifted to a local hospital.
Some people enjoy hanging upside down. They swear by it as a way to relieve back pain. If you’re interested in trying it out, try inversion therapy on a table. But make sure to have a professional, physical therapist, or a friend on hand to help you get back upright.
You can also try other ways to hang upside down, such as aerial yoga. Make sure you give your body time to adjust by first seeing how you react to it. Never hang upside down for more than a few minutes at a time.
Hanging upside down is not safe if you have high blood pressure, a heart condition, or another medical condition. Always speak with a doctor first.