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Traction is used in our clinics to provide decompression of the cervical or lumbar spine.  A distracting force is applied to the targeted region of the spine, and set per the patient’s tolerance, evidence-based values and the therapist’s clinical judgement.  This can be performed manually by a clinician or on a specific medical device designed for the treatment.

How Does Traction Work?

This new space decreases the compression of bulging or herniated discs and it also decreases compression of the cervical nerve roots. This decompression decreases pain and radicular symptoms which may travel down a patient’s arm.  Mechanical Traction also relaxes the muscles surrounding the spine which can relieve neck pain due to whiplash, concussion and other injuries.

What Are the Different Types of Traction?

  • Manual Traction – Manual traction is performed by a physical therapist using their hands to place the selected joint(s) in a state of traction or decompression. The manual force they generate is used to elongate soft tissue, and create a gapping between the vertebrae.  Manual traction is usually intermittent, and brief in nature.  It is often combined with other soft tissue mobilizations, and treatments to maximize the therapeutic benefit to the patient.
  • Mechanical Traction – This is a treatment technique that uses a device that is graded to perform traction under specific parameters. Mechanical traction can be performed continuously or intermittently,  and is often combined with moist heat, vibration, or electrical stimulation.  The force of the traction is determined based of evidence based percentages of the patient’s body weight.  This type of treatment should only be considered after examination by a licensed physical therapist or physician who determines it to be effective and safe.

What Conditions Can Benefit from Traction?

The application of traction should be determined to be a clinically relevant and safe intervention for each patient before use. Some conditions that are commonly benefited from the use of traction are:

  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Herniated discs
  • Facet Disease
  • Sciatica
  • Nerve impingement
  • Cervical spondylosis
  • Lumbar spondylosis


  • Osteoporosis
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Active bone cancer
  • Surgical fusions
  • Fractures
  • Acute traumas

For further information regarding any of these Modalities and to find out if this treatment is appropriate for you, please reach out to one of our physical therapists who will be happy to discuss this option with you.

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