Traction as Therapy for Back Pain


Spinal traction is a therapeutic technique in which manual or mechanical forces are applied to the body in an attempt to stretch the spine. It is believed that traction also helps to temporarily reduce the effects of gravity on the spine. Therapeutic spinal traction is often used in conjunction with other conservative treatments, like anti-inflammatory medication, in an attempt to relieve back pain.

Therapeutic spinal traction is most often used to address compressive pain. Compressive pain means that there is pressure on one or more nerves in the spine. Examples of conditions that involve compressive pain include sciatica, herniated discs, degenerative disc disease and pinched nerves. The goal of traction is to reduce compression in the spinal column, release trapped nerves, and, in turn, relieve pain.

Techniques for therapeutic spinal traction

The two main forms of spinal traction are:

  • Manual – A physical therapist will use their hands to position a patient into a state of traction and use manual force on muscles and joints to widen the space between vertebrae.
  • Mechanical – This type of traction uses pulleys, ropes, and slings to stretch the spine, relieve muscle spasms, and decompress vertebrae and discs.

The ultimate goal of each of these types of traction is to decrease pain, tingling, weakness and other symptoms caused by compressive spinal conditions.

Is therapeutic spinal traction right for me?

Therapeutic spinal traction is believed to have a number of benefits. It is nonsurgical, non-invasive and can be effective in the short-term treatment of pain. Spinal traction also has been shown to effectively reduce the effects of bulging discs.

On the other hand, therapeutic spinal traction does have some known side effects. For instance, pain can get worse during the treatment. Traction can cause painful muscle spasms; in fact, physicians routinely prepare for the likelihood of muscle spasms both during and after traction sessions. Finally, people whose spines are structurally compromised due to certain types of cancer or osteoporosis should not use traction therapy.

Only a medical professional can help you decide if therapeutic spinal traction is a viable treatment option for your unique situation.
If you have neck or back pain due to conditions like foraminal stenosis, facet disease, slipped discs or bone spurs, and conservative treatments such as braces and biofeedback do not help, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive, outpatient procedures may help you reclaim spinal health.