Spinal traction stretches muscles and ligaments and increases the space between the vertebrae.
Many chiropractors and physical therapists use lumbar traction in conjunction with other treatments to relieve chronic lower back pain, especially sciatica.
Lumbar traction can relieve pressure on compressed nerves, help muscles relax and reduce muscle spasms. Traction increases the space between vertebrae - reducing pressure on intervertebral discs and nerve root. The vertebral separation is temporary, but may last long enough to allow some patients to exercise without aggravating sciatica.
The therapist must decide the optimum amount of force to use and the length of time the force is sustained. Enough force must be used to cause vertebral separation. Though relatively safe, excessive force could increase pain or injury. Force is increased slowly to avoid overstretching or triggering muscle spasms. Traction should not cause pain although mild soreness is often felt the next day.
There are different techniques used in lumbar traction, both mechanical and manual. Inversion therapy is a form of traction that uses a person's own body weight and gravity to stretch the spine. Inversion therapy can be performed at home but should not be done without approval from a physician.
Spinal Decompression Therapy, also called Vertebral Axial Decompression (VAX-D), is a form of mechanical lumbar traction.
Before receiving traction, a person should get a proper diagnosis from a physician. Traction is contraindicated in people with certain medical conditions including osteoporosis, spinal fractures, spondylolisthesis, inflammatory arthritis of the spine, etc.
Despite the lack of scientific evidence that lumbar traction provides any long-term benefits for chronic lower back pain, many practitioners have found traction to be clinically effective for short-term pain relief. Spinal traction is a widely used and accepted treatment for chronic lower back pain, especially sciatica.
Cervical spinal traction is accepted as effective treatment for short-term relief of neck pain. It can relieve muscle spasm and nerve root compression by stretching soft tissues and increasing the spaces between cervical vertebrae.
Home cervical traction should not be done without approval from a physician, and preferably under the supervision of a physical therapist or other medical professional. Inexpensive over-the-door home cervical traction devices, which uses a pulley system with attached weights, provides up to 20 pounds of traction. There are pneumatic traction devices that can be used at home that employ up to 50 pounds of force such as Hometrac. These devices generally require a prescription and complete instruction on use by a physical therapist.
Always get properly diagnosed by and discuss treatment options with a qualified physician.