Ugh. I have a herniated disc.
No, I haven’t been recently injured. No, I’m not old (although to my kids I am). And yes, I exercise regularly.
So how did this happen?
Honestly, I can only guess that it’s due to all of the physical labor and exercising I do. During the spring and summer, I spend hours outside gardening on my hands and knees, landscaping our yard multiple times a week. During the winter, I make up for the lack of outside work in the gym – intensifying my workouts and visiting the gym more. But there’s also the day-to-day grind of laundry, cooking, cleaning, (plus sleeping on an older mattress), all of which add various spinal motions and positions that aren’t necessarily the greatest for the spine.
I’m the type of person that never sits still and rests. I’m always doing something. Now, this has finally caught up to me. (In full disclosure, I am a registered nurse (not currently working), so I do have a bit of medical knowledge.)
My diagnosis of a “probable” herniated disc is “probable” only because I had an x-ray done, not an MRI, which can conclusively diagnosis this; it may only be a bulging disc, but due to the amount of pain, it’s likely herniated. Of course, my injury is located in a common area for spinal pain, between my #5 lumbar vertebrate and my first sacral vertebrate.
I never truly realized how miserable herniated discs could be, until this pain occurred. For so long, I had thought my sacroiliac joint was out of whack and just needed to be put into place. The pain was always only on the right side (dominant side) of my lower back and the pain was always strongest in my glutes. After awhile, I thought it could be my piriformis muscle that was bothering me; the piriformis is a muscle deep in the buttocks that sits next to the sciatic nerve, the major nerve for the lower half of the body. Any inflammation or irritation of this muscle, can affect the nerve.
I did stretching, glute strengthening, yoga, massage, hot and cold therapy, and ample amount of research – looking for anything that might help with my pain.
However, as the months passed, the pain intensified and continued to bother me. I decided enough was enough and I finally visited a chiropractor.
In addition to diagnosing my problem, the chiropractor treated me with electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) while on a traction table. During EMS, electrodes were placed on my lower back, sending electrical signals to help reduce muscle spasms, inflammation and pain. The traction table I lied on is simply a table where you lie on your back while a system of rollers (that are hidden inside the table) move along your back to stretch and massage. After ten minutes of EMS and the traction table, I was adjusted by the doctor. I was instructed to do a few exercises at home, not to overexert myself, and to allow time to heal my damaged disc. That was it.
Well, when you are dealing with a damaged disc, time is not your friend. Hours can drag by while you try to adjust yourself to sit, stand, or lay without pain. No position is comfortable. Time just drags on as you find ways to cope.
After a couple of weeks with the chiropractor, I began to get better. My pain was greatly reduced and my mobility had increased. However, I still had lots of healing to do.
While still undergoing chiropractic treatment, my husband and I decided to invest in an inversion table (link to Amazon). Besides being something that my husband always wanted, we figured that due to my injury (and the chance of this happening again), now was the time to get one. Yes, this is one of those crazy contraptions that you lie on and it tips you upside down. For the cost of a few chiropractic appointments, I figured it was worth a try to get one; plus I could use it as often as needed, especially when the back pain is worse.
The science behind the inversion table is that by inverting you, your spine decompresses, which stretches and expands the joints in the back. Considering that I have a bulging or herniated disc, the inversion helps to take the pressure off the injury, likely shrinking the herniation/injury and decreasing pain. By stretching the vertebrate back into alignment, the injured disc experiences less pain and pressure, while healing properly.
Inversion tables have various degrees to which you can invert. Mine ranges from 15 degrees from horizontal to 90. At first, I couldn’t stay upside down for very long, but now I can easily be inverted for 15-20 minutes at 60 degrees from horizontal. I’ve played around with the various degrees of inversion and am happiest at 45 and 60 degrees. When I’m at 90 degrees, being fully upside down puts a lot of pressure on my ankles. I only hang completely inverted for about 2 minutes before needing a break. I usually need a podcast to listen to or a video to watch, helping to pass the time. Some people do it multiple times a day, but for me, what works is about 15-20 minutes once day.
Proponents of inversion therapy claim that in addition to decompressing the spine, inversion tables:
I can’t say for sure whether inversion tables actually do ANY of this. I have to think that the tables really do stretch and decompress the spine; I can feel myself elongate while inverted and feel taller afterwards (which is only temporary, due to gravity). All of the other claims are questionable. I’m just hoping it’s the treatment I need to feel better faster.
Not only can people buy inversion tables, but they can also buy inversion chairs, which are better for older people or people with more back and body problems. Inversion tables can be very hard on ones ankles; inversion chairs eliminate this. Others try inversion techniques by doing handstands, headstands, certain yoga poses, aerial yoga or trapeze. It’s important that those with high blood pressure, inner ear problems, glaucoma, heart problems, hernias, pregnant women, or those taking blood thinners avoid inversion. Being upside down places a lot of stress on the body. Check with your doctor first to see if you’re healthy enough to invert.
As the days passed, I continued the chiropractic treatment as well as the inversion therapy and improved. Eventually I stopped seeing the chiropractor because I wasn’t sure how much I was getting out of my 10 minutes with the EMS unit, traction table, and a 2 minute adjustment. (Plus, my insurance wasn’t covering it.) So now, I’m exclusively home care.
I recently had a setback which, as you can imagine, frustrated me beyond belief. Just when I was feeling better, i overexerted myself for a week and the pain returned, worse than before. I think I set myself back about a month, losing all that progress. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed in myself.
So, as I deal once again with constant back pain, I’ve decided that it’s time to take care of my back. Ice packs, shorter and easier workouts, less housework, and inversion are now my treatments of choice. I hope the inversion table helps; some people swear by them and for others, they do nothing. I’m hoping it does something for me. Unfortunately, it took me realizing the fragility of the spine, to take better care of mine. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
Have you tried inversion therapy? Did it work? Let me know in the comments.
I’ll be back with an update. (Click here for my update on inversion therapy!)
For a 2020 update on my degenerative disc disease, click here for the article.
sources: spine-heath.com, wikipedia.org, sunflower-press.com, michaelgleibermd.com, health central.com
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Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Information provided on this web site is for general information purposes only.
Scott | 31st Aug 17
I was recently diagnosed with a herniated c6-7 disk, I have pain all down my left arm.
I am getting a cortisone shot in a couple of days but was wondering if the inversion table had been working.
I am concerned with my issue being in my neck of there would be enough weight pulling on my neck to stretch me back out.
Julie | 1st Sep 17
You’re best bet would be to ask your doctor about it. Cervical vertebrae are serious business and you may be right in assuming an inversion table would cause too much pressure on your neck. The inversion table helped with my L5-S1 disc pain, but it did not alleviate all pain and symptoms. Best of luck to you and thanks for reading! 🙂
Susan | 25th Oct 18
I have that same issue along with sciatica Scott. i am borrowing my friend’s table and will try it – i imagine just go as far down as feels comfortable.
Julie | 25th Oct 18
Yes! It’s recommended to work your way up to full inversion and only do short increments of time at first. It will take some time getting used to being upside down. Best of luck with the inversion therapy!
Suzanne | 5th May 19
Inversion didn’t help my cervical herniations but works great on my lower back. I suffered for 5 years with severe cervical pain. Recently had a 2 level titanium disc replacement. Best decision I ever made. Would do it again tomorrow.
Augusto | 26th Mar 18
Hey Julie I end up in your post after a search, I was just wondering how are you a year after deciding to treat yourself with the inversion table. I hope you found a real fix to your issue (same as mine).
Julie | 26th Mar 18
Hi, thanks for reaching out! Well I was eventually diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease and did not have a herniated disc (just a slow progression of thinning discs due to age). That being said, there really was nothing I could do except surgery to fix it, so I just changed my ways by doing less activity, lifting less, and doing more yoga. Truthfully, I use the inversion table only about once a week now since I have been so busy. Whenever I start to feel sore again, I use the inversion table for 10 minutes. I don’t feel a huge difference but it’s really nice to feel that big spinal stretch. So, to answer your question (finally!), I’m about the same. It’s definitely not for a quick fix, but I think an inversion table is a good thing to have for people with spinal problems. Hope that helps! 🙂
Cheri Nielsen | 6th Oct 18
I have been diagnosed with an L5-S1 herniated disk and a mild bulge in my L4 disk. I started using the inversion table long before this after helping my husband lift a freezer to the basement. I work at a second hand furniture store and lifting is very difficult to avoid. I haven’t seen a specialist yet, but hoping that I can alleviate the pain and numbness with the inversion table. I find it does help a bit. Thank you for sharing your experience.
Julie | 7th Oct 18
Good luck! I hope you find some relief!
Don | 27th Nov 18
I had the same pain in the same area you described and being retired military I knew I was diagnosed with bulging discs in same area. X-ray showed nothing but through the VA I had an MRI. To my surprise the discs showed no herniation only bulging……however, there was an annular tear in the disc. This was the source of the pain starting in lower back but going into buttocks. Usually right side but would go to left occasionally. I workout heavily…..bodybuilding, and I was told the year would heal on its own however the activity needed to be toned way back. I also purchased an inversion table, helped but no cure. Time is what it takes. I suffered with it for nearly 2 years and once I found out what it was I started feeling better in about 2 months. Still not fully recovered but working out again and just being careful. Good luck
Julie | 27th Nov 18
Glad you were able to get the MRI to get a full picture of your problem. The inversion table is no magic cure but it can help some people. Thanks for sharing your story. Best of luck and here’s wishing you pain free days! 🙂
Samuel Woodhams | 30th Nov 18
Myself and you sound very similar with what we’ve experienced. I’ve scared myself by reading how people have this issue for life, as ‘discs don’t go back in’, supposedly. I’m 26, and want to throw myself into everything life has to offer in future, so I need to know that I can get back to optimal fitness and not live in fear. I can’t see myself ever doing deadlifts or heavy squats again. I’m curious if you have exercised your lower body or core yet? My legs have become so weak!
I’d love to know any tips you have.
Julie | 30th Nov 18
Sam, I am also a weight lifter, albeit a more casual one, and I’ve found that even sometimes using the weight machines hurts my back (seated leg curls and leg press). Yes, my legs are weaker than they were before the injury, but I’ve found a lot of body weight exercises or lifts with less weight to be beneficial. I’m definitely not happy about using less weight, but as it is my spine, I don’t want to screw it up! I also do a lot of P90X routines that work the core, and planks help as well. It’s incredibly upsetting to be sidelined from what you love due to an injury, but altering your fitness routine to save your spine and stay strong can be done. Best of luck! 🙂
Mike | 24th Oct 19
Hi, I have 3 different discus hernia, can’t live without inversion table, the best if you know how you use properly.
In my home country we have a specialist who teach me how. Don’t use backward like in the pictures above, use in this way:
face to the table, put a pillow under your hip (between your hip and the table), step into the leg holder, ask somebody to close the leg holder and lay done in your stomach. I am hanging in this way and my pain is gone, but of course this doesn’t heel the cause, but help to relieve the daily pain.
Julie | 24th Oct 19
Interesting, that you invert on your stomach. Never thought about doing it that way. I suppose if it’s working for you, don’t change it! Thanks for sharing your suggestion. I may have to try it! 🙂
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