Traction Therapy


What Is Traction Therapy?

A traction is a treatment option that is based on the application of a longitudinal force to the axis of the spinal column. In other words, parts of the spinal column are pulled in opposite directions to stabilize or change the position of damaged aspects of the spine. The force is usually applied to the skull through a series of weights or a fixation device and requires that the patient is either kept in bed or placed in a halo vest. Traction is a manual technique designed to reduce pressure on affected vertebral discs that are causing pain. Traction is a manual ‘stretching’ of the spine which reduces pressure on the discs and therefore reduces the individual’s pain.

Cervical traction is commonly performed using manual, mechanical, or motorized methods (with a head or chin sling) or with the use of a supine posterior distraction unit. Mechanical cervical traction can be applied in the supine position, which reduces the weight of the head but increases frictional resistance. This position also allows for better control of the head by the patient and is typically more comfortable.

Lumbar traction requires a significantly greater force to create a distraction of the vertebral segments than cervical traction. Common traction systems include a thoracic or chest belt with a pelvic belt, inversion, a split traction table, or an auto traction table. Split traction tables have a mobile half and a stationary half. Auto traction tables allow both segments of the table to move and are controlled by the patient. The patient assumes the most pain-free position and performs active traction by pulling on an overhead bar. The patient then uses his or her feet to activate a bar, which alternates compressive and distracting forces.

What Are The Different Types Of Traction Therapy?

Spinal traction therapy can be administered manually or mechanically, depending on your need.

1: Manual Traction: 
In manual spinal traction, a physical therapist uses their hands to put people in a state of traction. Then they use manual force on the joints and muscles to widen the spaces between vertebrae. The period of traction generally doesn’t last very long. Manual traction sounds quite scary however it is a safe treatment option that can be effective for certain conditions.

2: Mechanical Traction: 
The specialized treatment technique of mechanical traction uses devices that work by stretching the spinal vertebrae and muscle. Mechanical traction allows for continuous or intermittent stretching on a traction table while combining heat, vibration, and/or massage. These tables can use computer-based systems to apply exact amounts and/or variations of pressure. Mechanical traction is, however, not appropriate for patients with serious bone conditions such as osteoporosis, osteomyelitis, and bone cancer, or with heart disease and spinal cord diseases. It is also not appropriate for those with spinal fractures or arthritis. This type of treatment should only be considered following careful examination and diagnosis, and professionally supervised by a licensed physical therapist or doctor to ensure effectiveness and safety

How Does It Work?

A disc is a circular structure that sits between each vertebra in the spine. It has a tough outer layer surrounding soft inner tissue. When a disc is under pressure and damaged, the tough outer layer is damaged and the soft inside protrudes through the gap. This protrusion compresses nearby nerves causing pain. Traction pulls the vertebra away from the disc, releasing the pressure on the disc. This assists the soft part of the disc to return within the disc. This decompresses the nerve and reduces pain. This also helps to rehydrate the disc. Traction relieves pressure on the spine and alleviates pain. Cervical traction and lumbar traction are similar, but they have a couple of key differences: with cervical traction, a gentle force is used to stretch or pull the head away from the neck. With lumbar traction, a gentle force is used to gently gap the pelvis from the lower back. Both of these methods are useful in manipulating the spine and providing relief.

What Conditions Are Treated With Traction Therapy?

Traction is a technique used to stretch soft tissues and separate joint surfaces or bone fragments using a pulling force. The force applied must be of sufficient magnitude and duration in the proper direction while resisting movement of the body with an equal and opposite force. People with specific spinal conditions benefit from this therapy and is most commonly used to treat:
1: Slipped discs
2: Bone spurs
3: Degenerative disc disease
4: Herniated discs
5: Facet disease
6: Sciatica
7: Foramina stenosis
8: Pinched nerves
9: Cervical Spondylosis
10: Lumbar Spondylosis


Traction therapy is a treatment method used to relieve pressure on the spine or other parts of the musculoskeletal system. Here's a breakdown of what traction therapy feels like:

1: Stretching Sensation: Patients typically experience a gentle stretching sensation in the targeted area during traction therapy. This stretching helps to decompress the spine or joints, relieving pressure and promoting relaxation.

2: Relaxing: Many patients find traction therapy relaxing, as it can help alleviate muscle tension and promote blood flow to the affected area.

3: Mild Discomfort: While traction therapy is generally well-tolerated, some patients may experience mild discomfort or soreness during or after the treatment, particularly if the traction force is too strong or applied incorrectly.


The number of traction therapy sessions required varies depending on the patient's condition, severity of symptoms, and response to treatment. Typically, a course of traction therapy may involve several sessions spread out over weeks or months. Your physiotherapist will assess your progress and adjust the treatment plan accordingly.


While traction therapy is considered safe for most individuals, some potential side effects may include:

1: Muscle Spasms: In some cases, traction therapy may induce muscle spasms, especially if the traction force is too intense or applied improperly.
2: Soreness: Some patients may experience temporary soreness or discomfort in the treated area following traction therapy. This is usually mild and resolves on its own.
3: Nerve Irritation: Rarely, traction therapy may aggravate nerve symptoms in certain individuals, leading to increased pain or discomfort. Proper technique and monitoring can help minimize this risk.
4: Skin Irritation: There is a slight risk of skin irritation or redness at the contact points where the traction device is applied. Ensuring proper padding and adjustments can help prevent this.


Traction therapy may not be suitable for everyone. Contraindications may include:

1: Acute Injuries: Patients with acute spinal injuries, fractures, or severe musculoskeletal trauma may not be suitable candidates for traction therapy, as it could exacerbate their condition.
2: Pregnancy: Traction therapy is generally avoided during pregnancy, especially in the lumbar region, due to potential risks to the fetus.
3: Certain Medical Conditions: Patients with conditions such as osteoporosis, spinal cord compression, or severe osteoarthritis may not be suitable candidates for traction therapy. It's essential to consult with a healthcare provider to determine if traction therapy is appropriate for your specific condition.
4: Uncontrolled Hypertension: Traction therapy may temporarily increase blood pressure, so it's typically avoided in patients with uncontrolled hypertension or cardiovascular issues.

Before undergoing traction therapy or any other form of treatment, it's crucial to consult with a qualified physiotherapist to discuss your medical history, current symptoms, and treatment options. They can help determine if traction therapy is appropriate for you and develop a personalized treatment plan to address your needs.

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