A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Spinal traction: A complementary therapy for back pain

spinal traction for back painBack pain can be a frustrating and debilitating health issue for many people. In fact, back pain is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is one of the most common diagnoses treated with physical therapy. Physical therapy can be a great non-invasive treatment option for back pain. And if you see a physical therapist, he or she may recommend spinal traction for low back or neck pain.

What is spinal traction?

A physical therapist performs spinal traction by generating a pulling force, therefore reducing pressure on the spine. It is used to treat a variety of pain problems, including but not limited to: herniated disks, degenerative arthritis, and sciatica.

“Sometimes we will apply forces using mechanical means, such as with a traction unit,” said Stephanie Roth, D.P.T., Marshfield Clinic Health System physical therapist. “At other times, we can apply the force manually with our hands, or gravitationally by using an inversion table.”

Providers have several goals in mind:

  • Create movement of the spine
  • Reduce pressure in the disk space, nerves and spinal canal
  • Stretch muscles and ligaments

Is traction right for you?

A comprehensive physical therapy evaluation will help determine if spinal traction is an appropriate option for someone. That evaluation and response to treatment are the factors that will guide the frequency and intensity. After a few sessions, patients may notice a reduction in pain and improved function and mobility. A physical therapist also commonly uses this treatment option in conjunction with other physical therapy interventions.

“Physical therapists will prescribe home exercise programs, dry needling, neuromuscular re-education or manual therapy in collaboration with spinal traction to optimize a patient’s goals,” Roth said. “Each and every person’s treatment plan will be tailored to their specific needs.”

If you have any questions or concerns about back pain or spinal traction, talk to your primary care provider or learn more about our physical therapy resources.

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  1. Apr 23, 2022
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