What is cervical traction?

Traction of the spine, known as cervical traction, is a popular treatment for neck pain and related injuries. Essentially, cervical traction pulls your head away from your neck to create expansion and eliminate compression. It’s considered to be an alternative treatment for neck pain, helping people avoid the need for medication or surgeries. It can be used as part of a physical therapy treatment or on your own at home.

Cervical traction devices lightly stretch the neck to reduce pressure on the spine by pulling or separating the vertebrae. It’s said to be both highly effective and fast-acting. Read on to learn more about this technique and how it can be of benefit to you.

Benefits of cervical traction

Cervical traction devices treat different types and causes of neck pain, tension, and tightness. Cervical traction helps to relax the muscles, which can significantly relieve pain and stiffness while increasing flexibility. It’s also used to treat and flatten bulging or herniated disks. It can alleviate pain from joints, sprains, and spasms. It’s also used to treat neck injuries, pinched nerves, and cervical spondylosis.

Cervical traction devices work by stretching the spinal vertebrae and muscles to relieve pressure and pain. Force or tension is used to stretch or pull the head away from the neck. Creating space between the vertebrae relieves compression and allows the muscles to relax. This lengthens or stretches the muscles and joints around the neck.

These improvements may lead to improved mobility, range of motion, and alignment. This will allow you to go about your daily activities with greater ease.

A 2017 meta-analysis of studies analyzed the effectiveness of cervical traction in relieving neck pain. This report found that the treatment significantly reduced neck pain immediately following treatment. Pain scores were also reduced in the follow-up period. More in-depth, high-quality studies are needed to learn more about the long-term effects of this treatment.

A 2014 study found that mechanical traction was effective in treating people with pinched nerves and neck pain. Mechanical traction was more effective than exercising alone or exercising in addition to using over-door traction.

How it’s done

There are several ways to do cervical traction, either with a physical therapist or on your own at home. Your physical therapist can help you to decide upon the best method to suit your needs.

Your physical therapist may recommend that you buy cervical traction equipment to use at home. Certain devices may require you to have a prescription. Cervical traction devices are available online and in medical supply stores. Your physical therapist should show you how to use the device properly before you use it on your own.

It’s important that you check in with your physical therapist even if you’re doing a home treatment. They’ll make sure you’re doing the best treatment, measure your progress, and adjust your therapy as necessary.

Manual cervical traction

Manual cervical traction is done by a physical therapist. While you’re lying down, they’ll gently pull your head away from your neck. They’ll hold this position for a period of time before releasing and repeating. Your physical therapist will make adjustments to your exact positioning in order to get the best results.

Mechanical cervical traction

Mechanical cervical traction is done by a physical therapist. A harness is attached to your head and neck as you’re lying flat on your back. The harness hooks up to a machine or system of weights that apply traction force to pull your head away from your neck and spine.

Over-the-door cervical traction

An over-the-door traction device is for home use. You attach your head and neck to a harness. This is connected to a rope that’s part of a weighted pulley system that goes over a door. This can be done while sitting, leaning back, or lying down.

Side effects and warnings

Generally, it’s safe to perform cervical traction, but remember that results are different for everyone. The treatment should be totally pain-free.

It’s possible that you can experience side effects such as headache, dizziness, and nausea upon adjusting your body in this manner. This may even lead to fainting. Stop if you experience any of these side effects, and discuss them with your doctor or physical therapist.

It’s possible for you to injure your tissue, neck, or spine. You should avoid cervical traction if you have:

It’s important that you follow any safety instructions and recommendations provided by your doctor or by the manufacturer. Make sure you’re performing the movements correctly and using the appropriate amount of weight. Don’t overexert yourself by doing cervical traction for too long. Discontinue use if you experience any pain or irritation or if your symptoms get worse.

Cervical traction exercises

There are several exercises that can be done using cervical traction devices. Make sure to listen to your body and go to your own edge or threshold in terms of stretching and the duration of your exercises.

To use an air neck traction device, place it around your neck and adjust the straps as necessary. Then, pump it up and wear it for about 20–30 minutes. Do this a few times throughout the day. You can wear the device while doing activities where you tend to slouch.

To use an over-the-door neck traction device, you’ll usually you’ll start with about 10–20 pounds of pulling force, which can be increased as you gain strength. Your physical therapist can recommend the right amount of weight for you to use. Pull and hold the weight for 10–20 seconds and then slowly release. Continue this for 15–30 minutes at a time. You can do this a few times throughout the day.

A Posture Pump is used while you’re lying down. Do a warm-up before using this device. Slowly turn the head side-to-side, then forward and backward, and then lean the neck from side-to-side. Do each exercise 10 times. Then, attach the portable device to your head and increase the pressure so it tightens around your forehead. Once it’s pumped, wait 10 seconds before releasing the air. Do this 15 times. Then inflate the unit and relax in a comfortable position for up to 15 minutes. Make sure you’re not pumping it too much, especially in the beginning. Once you release yourself from the pump, keep your head in line with your spine as you come into a standing position. Repeat the warm-up routine.

You may also wish to incorporate stretching into your daily routine. You can use accessories such as exercise balls or resistance bands. Yoga is another great tool to relieve neck pain, and there are plenty of cervical traction exercises your physical therapist may be able to recommend that don’t require any equipment aside from a bed or table.

The takeaway

Cervical traction may be a safe, wonderfully effective way for you to resolve neck pain. It may provide you with numerous improvements to your body, inspiring you to do it often. Ideally it will be effective in relieving neck pain and enhancing your overall function.

Always talk to your doctor or physical therapist before beginning any treatment. Touch base with them throughout your therapy to discuss your improvements as well as any side effects. They can also help you to set up a treatment plan that addresses exactly what you need to correct.