Mechanical Cervical Traction

Cervical traction may be used for neck pain caused by arthritic joints or bulging discs.. © Brett Sears, 2011

 If you have neck pain, you may benefit from physical therapy to manage your symptoms. Your physical therapist will likely prescribe exercises and postural correction strategies to help you decrease the pain and improve your overall mobility and neck range of motion (ROM).  Your physical therapist may also use various treatments and modalities during your physical therapy sessions.

Cervical traction is one such treatment that can help during your rehabilitation for neck pain.

 It can help to stretch muscles and separate the joints in your neck.  This separation can help to take pressure off of your spinal discs and the nerves that travel down your arm.

Methods to Provide Neck Traction

There are various methods that your physical therapist can use to provide traction to your neck.  These include:

Mechanical cervical traction involves using a machine to help provide the traction force to your neck.  There is a harness on the machine which attaches to your head and neck.  The harness can then be used to gently pull on your neck to provide the traction.

How is Mechanical Traction Applied?

If your physical therapist elects to use mechanical traction, he or she should explain to you the procedure for applying traction, the risks and benefits associated with using traction, and what you should expect to feel when using the mechanical traction.

To use mechanical traction, you will lie on a table with the traction harness.  Your head and neck will be attached to the harness with Velcro straps, and a small rope will be attached from the harness to a machine.

Your physical therapist will turn on the traction machine and dial in settings to control the amount of force that is used during your treatment.

 Your physical therapist may choose to use static or intermittent traction during your treatment.  He or she should explain to you what you will feel during your treatment session.

What Does Mechanical Traction Feel Like?

While you are using mechanical traction, you will feel a gentle pulling sensation in your neck.   You may be surprised that the pulling is quite subtle.

While on the mechanical traction, monitor any changes in your symptoms.  Centralization of pain, or movement of shoulder or arm pain to your spine, is a good sign.  Pain that increases in your arm is a sign that your condition may be worsening.  If that happens, notify your physical therapist right away.

If you benefit from mechanical traction in the clinic, there are small, home mechanical traction units that your physical therapist can help you obtain.  Instead of an electronic control panel, a handheld pneumatic pump is used to provide the traction force.  Your physical therapist can teach you how to use the home traction unit.

Remember that mechanical traction, or any other form of cervical traction, should be used to augment your overall physical therapy program for neck pain.  Your physical therapist should teach you exercise, postural correction, and strategies to help you prevent future episodes of neck pain.  He or she should also teach you what to do if acute neck pain strikes in the future.

Mechanical cervical traction is one treatment that your physical therapist may use to help you treat your neck pain.  When used properly, it can help decrease pressure on nerves and other structures, and it can help improve your overall neck mobility and function.

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