Spinal Traction

Written by Heaven Stubblefield | Published on January 14, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on January 14, 2014

What Is Spinal Traction?

Spinal traction is a form of decompression therapy that relieves pressure on the spine. It can be performed manually or mechanically.

Spinal traction is used to treat herniated discs, sciatica, degenerative disc disease, pinched nerves, and many other back conditions.

What Does Spinal Traction Do?

Spinal traction stretches the spine to take pressure off compressed discs. This straightens the spine and improves the body's ability to heal itself.


Patients with spinal conditions benefit from this therapy because the traction reverses the force of gravity. It is most commonly used to treat slipped discs, bone spurs, degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, facet disease, sciatica, foraminal stenosis, and pinched nerves.

What Are the Side Effects of Spinal Traction?

Spinal traction can sometimes cause pain that is worse than the original condition. Patients with osteoporosis and certain types of cancer should not use traction therapy.

Spinal traction is known to cause muscle spasms. Most doctors are prepared for this to happen during or after therapy.

How Is Spinal Traction Administered?

Spinal traction therapy can be administered manually or mechanically, depending on a patient's needs.

Manual Spinal Traction

In manual spinal traction, a physical therapist uses his hands to put a patient in a state of traction. Then he or she uses manual force on the joints and muscles to widen the spaces between vertebrae.

Mechanical Spinal Traction

In mechanical spinal traction, a patient lies on a table that has special tools to stretch the spine. A physical therapist will attach a series of ropes, slings, and pulleys to the patient to mechanically relieve pressure.

What Are the Benefits of Spinal Traction?

Spinal traction is a non-surgical way to relieve pain and correct problems in the spine. While it does have some potential side effects, spinal traction offers consistent relief for most patients.

What Are the Risks of Spinal Traction?

There are no long-term risks of spinal traction. Some side effects may occur during or after treatment. Many patients experience muscle spasms after traction. Some have pain in the treated areas.

Spinal traction is not for everyone. A physician can determine if the risks are worth the potential rewards.

How Does a Patient Prepare for Spinal Traction?

Before undergoing spinal traction, a patient must speak with their doctor to create a total-management physical therapy plan. Spinal traction often works as an enhancement for other therapies.

A physician may recommend at-home exercises before spinal traction. This is usually not required.

What Is the Outlook After Spinal Traction?

With the help of other physical therapies, many patients find great success with spinal traction. Treatment reduces pain and the body is more capable of healing itself. Some patients only need spinal traction therapy for a short period of time. Others need it throughout their lives.

What Are the Results of Spinal Traction?

The results of spinal traction include pain relief, proper spinal alignment, and decompressed joints. Spinal traction stretches the muscles and bones in the back to combat the effects of gravity. Under the right circumstances, this could significantly improve the way a patient moves and feels throughout the day.

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