What Is Inversion Exercise?

Inversion exercises include yoga poses like Shoulder Stand.
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Inversion exercise is any exercise or activity done upside down to stretch and lengthen the spine, providing relief from pain and stress from the back and neck. Used as early as 400 B.C. by Hippocrates, it now includes some yoga poses, Pilates moves and inversion therapy exercises performed with gravity-defying machines.

Theory and Research

    Chiropractor Dr. Robert Martin introduced inversion therapy to the United States in the 1960s, asserting that the constant force of gravity, combined with activities such as standing, sitting, running and jumping cause the spine to become compressed. Inversion exercises counteract this compression, increasing the space between individual vertebrae and lengthening the spine. A 1988 study published in "Ergonomics" found that inversion therapy does increase height slightly, indicating that it is lengthening the spine, but results were only temporary.


    In addition to increasing the space between the spine and relieving spinal pressure, practitioners believe that inversion therapy can improve circulation in the cardiovascular and lymphatic systems. Muscle relaxation and increased blood flow are thought to move metabolic waste such as lactic acid out of tissue more efficiently and increase blood flow to the brain. It might also help with postural problems and help correct curvature in the spine found in scoliosis and lordosis.

Types of Inversion Exercise

    Yoga and Pilates inversions include any movement where the legs are over the head or the head is pointing downward. These often rely on the practitioner moving into the correct form and can cause injury if done incorrectly. Yoga poses include Plow, Downward Facing Dog, and Head and Shoulder Stands. Pilates inversions include the roll over and various suspended exercises. Inversion therapy machines and devices allow you to hang upside down, while gently rocking back and forth to increase the effect. Inversion machines include gravity boots, tables, chairs and benches.


    Inversion exercises have been found to increase both blood pressure and pressure behind the eye in healthy people. Because of these findings, inversion therapy is not recommended for those with high blood pressure, glaucoma or spinal instability and patients taking anticoagulants or aspirin therapy. Inversion therapy is also not recommended for pregnant women, stroke patients, and those with detached retinas. Seek the advice of a qualified health professional before beginning any program involving inversion exercise.

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