Inversion therapy in patients with pure single level lumbar discogenic disease: a pilot randomized trial

Disabil Rehabil. 2012;34(17):1473-80. doi: 10.3109/09638288.2011.647231. Epub 2012 Jan 23.


Purpose: Backache and sciatica due to protuberant disc disease is a major cause of lost working days and health expenditure. Surgery is a well-established option in the management flowchart. There is no strong evidence proving that traction for sciatica is effective. We report a pilot prospective randomized controlled trial comparing inversion traction and physiotherapy with standard physiotherapy alone in patients awaiting lumbar disc surgery. This study sought to study the feasibility of a randomized controlled trial on the effect of inversion therapy in patients with single level lumbar discogenic disease, who had been listed for surgery.

Methods: This was a single centre prospective randomized controlled trial undertaken at the Regional Neurosciences Centre, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. It was a prospective randomized controlled trial where patients awaiting surgery for pure lumbar discogenic disease within the ambit of the prestated inclusion/exclusion criteria were allocated to either physiotherapy or physiotherapy and intermittent traction with an inversion device. Post-treatment assessment made by blinded observers at 6 weeks for various outcome measures included the Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire (RMDQ) Score, Short Form 36 (SF 36), Oswestry Disability Index (ODI), Visual Analogue Pain Score (VAS), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) appearance and the need for surgery. Avoidance of surgery was considered a treatment success.

Results: Twenty-six patients were enrolled and 24 were randomized [13 to inversion + physiotherapy and 11 to physiotherapy alone (control)]. Surgery was avoided in 10 patients (76.9%) in the inversion group, whereas it was averted in only two patients (22.2%) in the control group. Cancellation of the proposed operation was a clinical decision based on the same criteria by which the patient was listed for surgery initially. There were no significant differences in the RMDQ, SF 36, ODI, VAS or MRI results between the two groups.

Conclusion: Intermittent traction with an inversion device resulted in a significant reduction in the need for surgery. A larger multicentre prospective randomized controlled trial is justified in patients with sciatica due to single level lumbar disc protrusions. [

Implications for rehabilitation: • Resolution of impairment and diasability due to radiculopathy is the aim of any intervention.• Avoidance of surgery meant satisfactory resolution of impairment and disability due to radiculopathy. This happened more often in the inversion group to the extent of reaching statistical significance.• The 12-point improvement in disability by the Oswestry Disability Index in the inversion group suggests a role for this intervention in disability reduction.• Inversion may form part of the conservative rehabilitation of patients with single level unilateral lumbar disc protrusion alongside other forms of physiotherapy.• There is a potential secondary impact in the reduction of rehabilitation following surgery.]

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Female
  • Head-Down Tilt
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / pathology
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / physiopathology
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / therapy*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / pathology
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / physiopathology
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / therapy*
  • Low Back Pain / diagnosis
  • Low Back Pain / therapy
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / pathology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiopathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sciatica / etiology*
  • Sciatica / therapy
  • Traction / instrumentation
  • Traction / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United Kingdom

Supplementary concepts

  • Intervertebral disc disease