If you suffer from chronic neck pain, your doctor or physical therapist may have suggested integrating cervical traction therapy into your daily routine. This can be done in a manner of ways, ranging from in-office visits with a trained professional to guided use of a convenient, at-home cervical neck traction device.
Below, you will find information about what exactly cervical traction is, why your doctor or physical therapist may have recommended it, and how long you will need to incorporate it into your regimen to achieve long-lasting relief from neck and spinal pain.
What is Cervical Traction?
Cervical traction, known in the medical profession as traction of the spine, helps individuals avoid addictive pain medications and costly, invasive surgeries by gently pulling the head away from the neck for natural pain relief. The method expands the space between the head and the neck, opening up the joint to eliminate any pressure on the muscles. It may also relieve compression of spinal nerves that cause a person pain. In addition to prescribed physical therapy, cervical neck traction can be an incredibly effective method of treatment for neck pain. While at-home solutions should not replace regular visits to your doctor’s office, cervical traction devices may relieve your pain to such an extent that you can reduce the frequency and duration of your visits.
How Long Should I Use Cervical Traction?
It is difficult to determine on your own how long you should use a cervical traction device. Always keep in contact with your doctor or physical therapist, as misuse of a cervical traction device may lead to unwanted physical damage or side effects such as:
Frequency and Duration
The frequency of use and length of each individual session depends on the stamina and strength of the person as well as the severity of their medical issues. Further, each day comes with new obstacles, and every person's body responds differently to such stresses. Some days you may need more tension due to a poor night's sleep or a hard day at work. Other days you may not need pain relief at all because you went to yoga in the morning or had the entire day off to rest and relax. Adjust your traction therapy to what your body tells you it needs in the moment, and not what it may have needed before. Most medical professionals suggest starting at 10 minutes, gradually working your way up to 20 minutes as tolerated by the patient
Complementing your Current Routine
Cervical traction therapy provides an incredibly effective form of neck pain relief. Your doctor or physical therapist may recommend adding exercise with a cervical traction device to your current daily routine if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Clenched jaw
- Neck pain
- Poor sleep due to anxiety about pain
- Stiff neck
- Tension headaches
- Tight muscles
Using a device like an over-the-door traction unit or a sling-focused unit at home, along with regular visits to your physical therapist’s clinic, could accelerate your body’s natural healing process and significantly decrease your recovery time. Always listen to your body and don’t overwork yourself to the point of discomfort.
Consult your doctor or physical therapist about the next steps in your treatment if you no longer experience chronic neck pain.
Because cervical traction is a form of therapy, as you become more mobile, you may need to use the device less frequently. That said, some cervical traction devices, like the Neck Hammock, can be used every day to alleviate neck pain. After continued use, you should be able to feel a positive, noticeable difference in your daily life.
How Cervical Traction Helps
As mentioned previously, cervical traction methods of therapy work by delicately expanding the space between the head and the neck, thereby relieving pressure on the spinal cord, individual vertebrae, nerves, or even the neck muscles themselves.
Physical therapists prescribe cervical traction therapy to patients who suffer from neck pain, tension, and muscle tightness. Through the usage of a cervical traction device, a person can experience a significant reduction in pain and stiffness, relax the muscles in the neck and upper shoulders, and increase flexibility in the cervical area. It can also treat more serious spinal issues, such as bulging or herniated disks (vertebrae).
Beyond that, patients who suffer from swollen and inflamed joints, sprains, and spasms would also benefit from cervical traction therapy. In some cases, it provides pain relief for individuals with an injury to the neck area, cervical spondylosis, or pinched nerves.
- Spine – By pulling the head away from the neck and spine, the ligaments around the spine will relax and stretch. This creates a chain of reactions that will relax and stretch the spinal cord, too. Expanding the space in between the disks in your spine, called intervertebral space, increases circulation and blood flow to the area. Your neck may receive the vital nutrients it was deprived of while it was being compressed.
- Neck – The most immediate pain relief can be felt in the neck and base of the skull. Cervical traction will relieve pinched nerves, tension headaches, and cervical neck and muscle spasms. It will also increase the range of mobility of your head and shoulders and specifically improve movement in the neck.
- Blood flow – When the pressure in the neck is released, blood can flow freely and circulate throughout the body. Ligaments, tendons, muscles, and even nerves have access to more oxygen. This oxygenation leads to increased mobility and decreased pain. It may also speed up the repair process for damaged tissue.
Through stretching and relaxing neck muscles and the spinal cord, cervical traction devices can ease painful areas and increase mobility in both contracted muscles and compressed vertebrae.
Cervical traction therapy can also alleviate the adverse effects of the following problems:
- Bulged Disks
- Compressed Vertebrae
- Dowager’s Hump (upper back hump)
- Herniated Disks
- Muscle Tightness
- Physical and Mental Stress/Anxiety
- Poor Sleep
Cervical Traction Methods
There are three forms of cervical traction therapy: manual cervical traction, mechanical cervical traction, and at-home cervical traction. The first two are performed at the physical therapist’s office under the supervision of a licensed professional. The third can be performed at home for additional pain relief from spinal pressure and neck discomfort.
Manual Cervical Traction
Your doctor or physical therapist will perform this method of neck traction. It involves the doctor manually pulling your head away from your neck to reduce the pressure on your spine. The doctor or physical therapist will hold the position for a period of time before releasing the neck and repeating the motions to achieve the desired pain relief.
Mechanical Cervical Traction
Similar to manual cervical traction, mechanical cervical traction is performed by a doctor or a licensed physical therapist in their office. Instead of manually stretching the head from the neck, a harness or machine is attached to the head and neck. The system is then hooked up to a weight, like a sandbag, water bag, or traditional weights. The extra force helps expand the space between the head and neck, attaining the intended cervical traction.
At-Home Cervical Traction
There are a few options for at-home cervical traction. For those who find pain relief success with mechanical cervical traction at their physical therapy clinic, smaller, more manageable machines are available to purchase for use in the home.
Other options include over-the-door solutions that use a system of pulleys and ropes to suspend the head and relieve pressure. Finally, more portable methods exist that achieve the same desired effect without the heavy machinery associated with more traditional at-home cervical traction devices.
Personal Cervical Traction Devices
If you suffer from chronic neck pain, you do not have to run to your physical therapist’s office every time you experience an episode. You can complement your regularly prescribed physical and massage therapy with a cervical traction device that you can use at home or on-the-go to relieve chronic neck pain fast and protect your body against further damage. Personal neck traction devices can be found at your local medical supply store or online.
Figure out which method works best for your lifestyle and consult your physical therapist to see if incorporating cervical traction would benefit your therapeutic regimen.
Traditional Over-the-Door Traction Device
The most common form of at-home cervical traction therapy is the over-the-door traction unit. It involves a complex system of pulleys and weights to create the intended separation of the neck and head. To reiterate, an over-the-door cervical traction device utilizes a harness that envelopes the neck and head, gently separating the two through the force of 10 pounds to up to 50 pounds of force.
Now that medical professionals are more accepting of the use of at-home medical technology, cervical traction devices have evolved out of the cumbersome and outdated form of the traditional over-the-door device.
Sling-Focused Traction Device
The most innovative form of at-home cervical traction manual therapy is a sling-based device known as the Neck Hammock. It works similarly to mechanical cervical traction therapy in that it decreases spinal pressure and increases joint mobility but slashes the cost of effective at-home treatment of chronic neck pain.
The Neck Hammock is more of a maintenance tool than a replacement for regular clinical visits to your doctor or physical therapist. However, it can serve as a long-term solution for mild to moderate neck pain and tension headaches. In most cases, this sling-focused cervical traction device will deliver instant pain relief and can be made a part of your daily routine.
Using the Neck Hammock
The sling-focused cervical traction device looks similar to an over-the-door traction unit, but without the overwhelming system of weights and pulleys. Lying down flat on your back, place the Neck Hammock about two to four inches off the ground. If you desire a deeper stretch, simply raise the hanging height of the device. The Neck Hammock features an adjustable strap to quickly and easily change the hanging height as necessary.
As with any cervical traction device, be sure not to overexert yourself and stretch beyond your body’s capacity. If your body experiences any pain while using the device, lower the hanging height of the Neck Hammock to reduce the tension on your neck. Mechanical traction, such as that provided by a sling-focused device, can lead to more significant improvements than exercise alone when used properly and as prescribed by your physical therapist.
Cervical traction devices are an effective form of neck pain relief. The exercise stretches the spinal vertebrae and muscles between the head and neck, allowing for ample space within the joint to alleviate pressure and discomfort. In all methods of cervical traction therapy, force or tension is applied to elongate and stretch the head away from the neck.
Most neck pain is caused by compression of the vertebrae, muscles, or nerves within the applicable spinal column. Therefore, creating space between the disks relieves unwanted pressure and allows the neck to relax through lengthening or stretching the muscles and joints around the area. Improvement in neck pain may give you improved mobility, range of motion, and cervical stability, improving your overall standard of living.
Cervical traction, when coupled with check-ins or visits to your physical therapist’s clinic, can catalyze your rate of recovery and bring you relief from chronic neck pain faster than with exercise or therapy visits alone. Continue to use cervical traction devices in your daily routine as long as they benefit you and do not cause you added discomfort. Consult your doctor or physical therapist before discontinuing any prescribed use of a cervical traction device.