Oct 06, 2020
Traction is a technique that is done by certain certified chiropractors or physical therapists. Typically, you must have a very specific type of table that allows the patient to lay down and stretch the spine. There are two different ways to do that: One with cervical spine and one with lower back. Sometimes a therapist will do manual traction where they put hands on either side of the head and just gently stretch the neck.
The theory behind traction is that it allows less pressure on your disc and therefore on your nerves. A lot of times people have a pinched nerve caused by a herniated or bulging disc and traction can reduce that pressure by doing an upward stretch through the spine. The lower back or lumbar spine is a lot more difficult than the neck to stretch because there are many different muscles, it is a lot stronger from a spine standpoint because the bones and discs are larger. The traction for the lumbar spine will have a patient lay down on a special table with weights on either end that will literally stretch the spine and open to alleviate pressure on your disc.
This depends on where the problem is located. The cervical spine is a common and successful place to do traction. The lumbar spine is another location that traction will benefit. However, that location requires a lot more force to get pressure off the discs.
I use traction with certain types of pain. If a patient is having radiating pain down their arms or down their legs, such as from a pinched nerve from a bulging disc, that is when I order traction. If they are having normal neck stiffness/pain or back stiffness/pain we will do a trial of traction to see if that alleviates some pressure or pain the patient is feeling. Patients usually do not have any pain caused by traction. The process is a gentle controlled stretch but there are the exceptions. If the patient is in pain the physical therapist or chiropractor will stop traction immediately because it is abnormal.
Traction is not intended to cause any pain, but if it does, we will stop and move forward with advanced imaging, such as MRI or a CT scan. We will also discuss medications to see if there is anything going on with the images that might be not responding to traction.