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.