Mechanical Spinal Traction: Treatment for Neck and Back Pain

Mechanical spinal traction is the use of mechanical devices that exert a pulling force through a rope and various halters and straps. The tractive force results in a longitudinal separation and gliding apart of cervical (neck) or lumbar (back) spinal segments.

The main purpose of mechanical traction is to reduce symptoms of cervical (neck) or lumbar (back) spinal compression. This is accomplished by allowing increased space for spinal nerves, elongating muscle tissue, decreasing sensitivity and muscle guarding, decreasing intradiscal pressure and increasing blood supply to the disc. Decreasing the pressure of the disc may help retract the disc bulges.

Mechanical spinal traction may be appropriate as part of a treatment plan for spinal nerve impingement (also known as “pinched nerve”) due to the following problems:

Degenerative Disc Diseases (bulging, herniation, protrusion)
Traction helps create vertebral separation and therefore decreases disc pressure. It also tightens the outer “annular fibers” and a large supporting ligament called the “posterior longitudinal ligament” that can flatten a disc bulge and relieve pressure on the nerve.

Spinal Stenosis (narrowing of the vertebral foramen)
When traction is applied in a relative forward-bending direction, it increases the size of the intervertebral foramen and relieves pressure/impingement on the nerve.

Generalized Hypomobility (tightness and lack of normal spinal motion)
Longitudinal traction force provides a gliding separation of facets, general capsular stretch, and opening of the intervertebral foramen. This will promote increased mobility and movement of the spine.

Muscle Spasm
Gentle, intermittent traction assists in decreasing the muscle spasm for pain relief and improved mobility.

Mechanical spinal traction may help you if you are experiencing numbness, tingling, pain in your upper/lower extremities or neck/back pain and muscle spasms. If you are experiencing these symptoms consult your doctor for a physical therapy evaluation to see if spinal mechanical traction is right for you.