Do you have low back pain?
Is bad posture affecting your health?
Have you been told to stretch out your back, or hang upside down to open up the joints and stretch the muscles?
If so, you may be a good candidate for a backstretcher.
Before deciding to purchase one, it’s best to learn whether these types of products will benefit you. You may have heard about the healthmark inversion table, a stretchmate, or even the Posture Wizard System. We’ll dive into the differences between all these and more.
In my practice, I see many back and posture pain patients. Although a back strecher can be helpful, there are times that they may not be the best thing to use. For some, if you don’t have enough muscle strength and back stamina, back stretcher products may sometimes not be recommended. We’ll go over some of the reasons why you shouldn’t get one. However, we’ll also go through some of the reasons why they may be a great product fit for you. That’s why simply watching a ‘as seen on tv back stretcher’ should not be enough to get you to purchase one. I’ll also discuss some of the precautions on using these products, in addition to discussing what type of alternative options you may have.
What is an arched back stretcher device?
When someone refers to back stretchers, they may be referring to many different types of devices or products, everywhere from a wooden back stretcher to a plastic one. That’s why it’s important to know the different type of products out there so you can make the right decision. When we talk about a spine stretcher, we can be talking about any of the following items. This is just a short list. There are more comprehensive number of products that we’re going to reference soon:
P3 back stretcher: mostly used for general back traction and not posture correction.
Plastic back stretcher: these usually have 3 different curved angles, and some can even have small plastic knobs that are designed to apply acupressure points to the low back muscles.
NOTE: I’m going to provide some specific names and examples here, and this is not designed as an endorsement of one being the ‘best back stretcher’. The back stretcher reviews provided here will be more focused on which product is the right fit for YOU.
Orthopedic stretchmate: This is similar to the previous plastic product, except it has only one fixed angle curve. This orthopedic back stretcher promotes itself for being the right shape to conform to your spine.
The Posture Wizard System: This is a system that I created after having over 20 years of clinical experience seeing patients with back stiffness and bad posture. I took the best features of all products and added 2 more areas of concern that need to be addressed, thereby creating a full system. These include a back strengthening and a muscle knot relief component. To get more details on this, check out my back stretcher review video on the Posture Wizard:
These lumbar stretcher devices are designed to provide a gentle stretch, not only to the muscles, but also to help open up the joints. For some, you simply lie down on a portable back stretcher while arching your back. This can help stretch the muscles and joints. The position of the body is in more of an extension position. That’s because posture wise, most of us are in a constant state of forward flexion with our backs. We’re in that position from sitting all day or leaning forward while we stand. Using a stretcher to extend and stretch the back is an excellent way to offset this position.
There are other devices such as a hang up back stretcher, where you basically hang upside down. This type of spinal stretcher is most often referred to as inversion tables or chairs. The goal is to let gravity take over, which helps to stretch out the back. That’s why I mostly put them in the category of being a lower back stretcher rather than something that can also be used for the middle back. You can stay in this hanging back stretcher position for a few minutes a day. There are certain conditions that respond well to this. We’ll go over this in a later section.
Who can benefit from a back stretcher?
Whether it’s labelled as an orthopedic stretcher or portable stretcher, a back stretcher machine is designed for anyone with low back pain, or stiffness and discomfort associated with bad posture.
The majority of back stretcher equipment out there deal with the low back, and we’re not just talking about the inversion table types like the ironman back stretcher or the low back traction devices such as the lynx portable back stretcher. The Posture Wizard System, which I’ve been using with my patients for years, can be used both as a low back and an upper back stretcher. Let’s go through some of the benefits of these different devices and see if it’s something that you can use:
Low back pain:
There are many different ‘types’ of back pain. And they all may not respond the same to the different spine stretcher equipment out there. For stretching devices that you lie down on, you’re putting your back in a gentle extension position. If you have joint pain and primarily get low back pain when you lean back and extend your spine, then either a back stretcher may not be right for you, or you can start on a lower setting to work your way up.
Most of my patients ask me why I would put them in an extended position if that is how their pain is recreated. The answer is simple. For any joint pain, one of the most effective ways to relieve the discomfort is to gently ‘traction’ out the low back. That’s why these devices are known as an effective back pain relief machine. Although we are slightly extending the low back, we’re also tractioning it out. That’s why I always recommend that one start at the lowest level possible. If your device doesn’t have multiple angles and difficulty levels, like the stretch mate orthopedic back stretcher, then avoid purchasing that.
Having multiple levels allows you start in a position that will put the minimal extension on your spine while allowing it to traction itself. Once your body gets used to this position, you can progress to more difficult levels. Over time, your spine will be able to withstand more extension with less pain and discomfort. Some of these stretchers may have small knobs on them, which are designed to address a knot in back muscles. Although it’s a useful thing to have, I rarely find it able to effectively treat knots in muscles, even though our own Posture Wizard System stretcher has one. And that’s why we’ve added more back pain equipment to compliment the stretcher.
Disc herniation and leg pain associated with low back pain:
If you have disc and leg pain, most pain sufferers will find relief with an extended position. The back stretching devices, including the gravity back stretcher devices known as inversion tables, will be of great benefit. The key is to start off slowly. You also need to be aware of any increase in leg numbness and pain. If this happens, you should stop immediately and see your physician. Traction and back stretching devices are highly effective in reducing pressure on the disc and offering relief.
NOTE: If numbness or tingling increases in the low back and legs, stop whatever exercise you are doing or whatever device you are using, and see your physician immediately. This is not something to shrug off. I have patients that think it’s okay to just put back pain cream on the area and then continue with using their devices. This often is the wrong approach. However, we’ll talk more about the benefits of inversion table products coming up in a separate section.
Chronic back pain and stiffness:
If you have had back pain for years, a back stretching machine will allow you to gradually stretch your muscles and open up your joints. However, don’t expect to see immediate results. In fact, with any back pain relief equipment, most of my patients with chronic back pain tend to feel MORE discomfort when they start. This is due to many different reasons. They may be highly motivated to find something that helps. Instead of sticking to my suggestion of 1 minute a day, they may decide to use it for 5 or even 10 minutes a day. The problem is that your back is not used to this type of stretch. It may initially feel good, but once you get off the stretcher, the pain may increase as your muscles shorten and your joints shrink back to the original position. Even with a lynx back stretcher or any other upside down body stretcher, the joints will open up when using it. This can reduce pressure on any nerves. But when you finish, the joints will, due to gravity, go back to normal, thereby leaving the potential of feeling more pain. The key to having an effective treatment is to start off slowly and strictly follow the instructions.
If you sit at work all day in a slouched position, then the back stratcher that you lie on will be of greater help than the inversion tables. Surprisingly, mid back posture correction is probably one of the most overlooked benefits of using a back stretcher table. It’s so important that I named our system the Back ‘Posture’ Wizard System. The middle back curve increases when we sit. That’s why learning to slightly extend the mid back for a few minutes a day can offset the wear and tear that a slouched posture can give you.
Osteoporosis is also a condition that can benefit from back pain relief devices. The spine tends to continue curving in the wrong direction. Using an incline back stretcher for stretching the low back and balancing out the posture for the middle back can have long term benefits. However, don’t rely solely on a back stretcher to help you. You will need to add more strengthening type of back exercises and weight bearing exercises to see any benefits. For example, doing extension exercises such as the Mckenzie back exercises can be of great benefit. However, the addition of a back stretcher will provide reinforcement to develop good posture habits.
Inversion tables: Do they work?
Although I’m focused on simple stretchers, having these tractioning devices in the conversation is also helpful. This type of back pain device is sometimes referred to as a ‘hang upside down back stretcher’ due to the vertical back stretcher position that you will find yourself in. There are several different types of these tables on the marketplace, with a wide variety of different pricing for each. Some can be found under $100 and can go up to several hundred dollars, depending on the quality of the product. In fact, a teeters inversion table for health professionals can run into several thousand dollars.
Inversion tables do work. There have been several research studies over the years that shows the benefits of using a back stretcher upside down. However, there are also contraindications and precautions that you have to be aware of. If you have scoliosis, back pain from a recent injury, high blood pressure and hypertension and dizziness, to name a few, its best to talk to your physician prior to starting any program with these gravity inversion products. In my experience, I’ve recommended inversion tables to quite a few patients over the years. However, I’d have to make sure that they would respond well to a table. I’ve also recommended that they engage in an overall spine program and not rely on one single product to base their results on. Adding an exercise program in addition to using an inversion table will produce better results over time. Using a heating pad for back pain prior to using a table can often help loosen up the muscles and joints, allowing one to get better and more comfortable results with their upside down spine stretcher. In most cases though, it’s simply to lock yourself into the back stretcher, hang upside down, and let gravity take control!
Who Shouldn’t Use a Back Stretcher?
Although many people may benefit from using one, I’ve found, through years of experience, that certain types of patients may not benefit from using one. There’s a lot of confusion about whether they are helpful. It’s sometimes as confusing as all the information out there contradicting whether back pain belts are helpful. In most cases, a belt for back pain is helpful to certain people, in certain times, and in certain environments. Same goes for pain patches for back pain, or even using a heat pad for back pain. There are times they can be helpful, and other times not. Here is a short list and description of who shouldn’t use an inverter back stretcher:
Severe osteoporosis: When we say severe, we are talking about anyone that has had a recent fracture, or the curves in their spines are quickly increasing. The best person to ask for advice will be your physician. They will be the ONLY person that will know whether the act of slightly extending your mid back, or stretching your low back, will be of any benefit or a risk. Instead of using a device, they may recommend that you strengthen lower back muscles.
Recent surgery: If you’ve had recent back surgery, it’s best to let the bones and tissues heal before attempting to stretch out the muscles, joints and ligaments. After surgery, there will be some exercise recommendations from your physician or surgeon. The key is to always follow those instructions and not to deviate from them. There will be a time that your physician or surgeon will give you the go ahead to go back to regular daily activities. It’s at this time that you can inquire whether a back stretcher may be of benefit. I always tell my patients not to jump the gun right away, looking for an inversion table sale or going right into yoga back stretcher classes!
Certain arthritis conditions such as psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis result in a gradual stiffening of the spine. Since new bone forms in the spine to increase stiffness, the issue is more structural in nature. This means that attempting to improve flexibility in the spine may be limited in these conditions, and any traction through a back stretcher inversion table should be strictly prohibited until you are cleared by your physician.
I’ve seen some patients of mine that have seen benefits with a back stretcher, but only in combination with using a resistance band to strengthen the back and a trigger point to take care of muscle knots. Although I’ve seen improvements, I would recommend that one consult their physician or therapist prior to using any back stretching device, particularly a back upside down stretcher.
Recent injury: If you’ve had a recent injury, addressing this through proper rest and back pain relievers will be of greater benefit. Majority of the people that use a back stretcher device every day have had a long standing discomfort and stiffness, whether it’s left side back pain, right side, or midline. With a recent injury, controlling inflammation and reducing pain through regular therapy should be the first priority. Then progression to similar back exercises for women and men is recommended. After that, using stretchers can be helpful.
What are the different types of back stretchers ?
When searching for a product for your back, you’ll notice that there are several different types of products out there. In essence, the majority of them are similar in nature. Let’s take a look at some of the popular ones on the market and what they can provide for you:
One size fits all stretchers: These stretchers are either made of foam or plastic. They have one curve or angle only. The benefit of the foam back supports is that they are more comfortable than one that is purely made of plastic. Some customers will complain of the plastic ones being too stiff, while the foam ones are more comfortable. However, the foam ones also come in one size, which limits it’s use. Most people with longstanding back stiffness may need to start off at a lesser angle or curve so their back can get used to this new stretching position. Over time, you should be able to increase that curve. With these types of stretchers, that is not possible.
Upside down back stretchers: These are what we primarily call inversion tables. We’ve gone through them in more detail in previous sections. As I already mentioned, using these is like using a back pain belt. It’s not for everyone. It won’t fit everyone, but when it does, its highly effective as seen from research that appears to back up the claims behind inversion tables. These are also primarily useful for the low back, and using heat therapy for back pain that is long-standing may be a great combination when using these products. As back pain aids, an inverted back stretcher should be used carefully and not overused. Since it provides immediate relief to most people, there is a tendency for some to overuse it, which can actually lead to more pain. To summarize, use an inversion back stretcher if you are only targeting the low back, have no issue hanging upside down, no history of dizziness or nausea from being in this position and have no history of recent injury, surgery or if your back hurts from a fused spine.
Three level plastic stretchers: These are the most common back pain reliever stretchers out there. Having three different angles allows you to progress slowly from the easiest position to the most challenging. Most people will begin to feel better on these back pain devices at the easiest angle, and will want to progress to more difficult angles as they improve. These stretchers, unlike an inversion bed, allows them to accomplish this. Some of these back pain machine devices also have small knobs over the entire curved area. These are used as acupressure points, designed to relieve any knots in the back. Although it’s better to have one that has these knobs than one that doesn’t, feedback is mixed on their effectiveness. The knobs are not large enough to apply any fair amount of pressure into the spinal muscle knots. The main drawback of having a plastic stretcher is that it may be too stiff and uncomfortable for some.
The Posture Wizard System: The Posture Wizard System is something I created to help overcome some of the limitations of current products in the marketplace. The system includes a plastic, 3 level stretcher. However, it also comes with a cushion that you can insert on top of the product. This allows one to use a 3 level product while having the option of using a cushion for anyone that feels uncomfortable using a pure plastic stretcher. The system also takes into consideration the other 2 main areas of concern that someone that requires a product that improves flexibility and mobility of the spine. One area is the need for strengthening of the back posture muscles. We can accomplish that through the addition of a resistance elastic band. Exercises are provided in step-by-step videos that can be performed by themselves, or right on the posture wizard stretcher itself. This saves time and kills ‘2 birds with one stone’. The final area of concern is the presence of painful muscle knots in muscles. These develop over time due to sitting in a bad posture position. These pesky muscle knots can result in keeping muscle tight and painful, no matter how much you stretch. The Posture Wizard System comes with muscle knot ball that can help find and reduce these muscle knots. By using a complete system, you’ll be able to address all the factors that will lead to long term relief and wellness.
In this article, we looked at the different types of back stretchers in the market, including discussions about inversion tables for back pain. No matter what, all of these can fit into one of several categories that we just went through. Each one has it’s strengths, and also it’s weaknesses. One-size-fits-all plastic or foam stretchers are on the low end price point. However, you’re sacrificing versatility for price. There’s no way to increase and improve on your stretch as your body adapts to the position. Then there are the 3 level plastic ones. They offer versatility, but also can lead to discomfort from lying on a hard, plastic product. Most of these stretchers only address the stretching component of an overall spine health program. With the Posture Wizard System, we addressed this by also addressing low back strengthening and reducing muscle knots. Instead of just relying on an ergonomic chair for back pain, or only doing exercises to strengthen lower back muscles, the Posture Wizard can help with both.
We also addressed who can use back stretchers. These aren’t back pain patches, where all you simply do is put it on and expect immediate relief. There are certain health conditions that respond favourably to these back pain machines, while others should be cautious of using one. If you have any doubts, advice from your physician or other health professional is highly recommended. With some of the more serious health conditions, they may recommend back braces for back pain, physical therapy, or chiropractic care. Whether the you have right or left back pain, or require treatment for sciatica, your doctor may recommend a back stretcher or lower back strengthening exercises. Some may even recommend yoga or pilates for low back pain. The conclusion is that our backs are all very different. Some respond well to one thing, while others may not.
We also discussed inversion traction tables, since they are often referred to as back stretchers. They have a fair amount of research to back them up, especially on how to stop back pain. However, they mostly address lower back stiffness and tend to overlook any mid back issues. Precautions also need to be taken when using them. Price points are generally considerably higher than a floor level stretching device or even a back brace or pain patches for back pain. I recommend finding a product that allows you to test before you buy. I’ve had patients that had significant back spasm relief with some of these products, while others found that it increased their pain and discomfort. Not everyone is going to see the same results. Just like the best chair for back pain can be expensive, so can inversion traction tables.
Overall, a back stretcher is something that is effective in improving spine flexibility and mobility in a sore back, in addition to helping out with the issue of poor posture and slouching. We also discussed why a recent injury may not be require a back stretching device as the first option. A back pain patch, ice, physical therapy or chiropractic care should be the first option in any acute back pain issue.
However, if you’re looking for something that can help improve spine flexibility, mobility, and helps maintain proper spine health from bad posture and slouching all day, then looking into a back stretcher as a cheap alternative tool to expensive therapy sessions is highly recommended.
- April 25, 2016
- Dr. Jasper