What is a Cervical Traction Device?

Posted by Lucy Jones on

 Cervical traction is an incredibly effective, fast-acting method of naturally relieving the neck of pain and stress. Such methods gently stretch the neck by pulling or separating the vertebrae at the top of the spinal cord, thus reducing inflammatory pressure on the spine. There are three forms of cervical traction: manual cervical traction, mechanical cervical traction, and over-the-door cervical traction.

Today, those who suffer from chronic neck pain can complement their prescribed physical and massage therapy with an at-home cervical traction device that can be used daily to help relieve pain and protect against further bodily damage. While many such devices exist on the market, most are difficult to use, bulky, unsightly, and potentially dangerous if misused. One cervical traction device, the Neck Hammock, achieves the beneficial effects of cervical traction in a simple, compact, and gentle way.

Cervical traction devices can be used in addition to physical therapy treatment to alleviate neck pain and associated neck conditions such as herniations of the spine, rheumatoid arthritis, or vertebrae bulges. Consult your doctor or physical therapist before incorporating a cervical traction device into your manual therapy regimen, seeing as every person is different and requires a routine tailored to their specific problems and pains.

What is Cervical Traction?

Referred to professionally as traction of the spine, cervical traction is a conventional treatment for general neck pain and related spinal injuries. This treatment method gradually pulls the head away from the neck, essentially re-opening the joint, creating expansion, and eliminating the compression that tends to cause chronic neck pain.

Cervical traction is an alternative method of treatment for neck pain. It helps individuals avoid turning to medication or surgeries, giving those who suffer a homeopathic way to relieve pain. It is unobtrusive, has no recovery time, and can even be utilized at home for physical therapy treatment or routine maintenance.

Before the normalization of modern at-home medical technology, individuals could only receive cervical traction treatments at a physical therapist’s office. These visits were inconvenient, time-consuming, and above all else, costly. Cervical traction helps to relieve neck pain for those who suffer from:

  • Arthritis
  • Bulging disks
  • Cervical muscle strains
  • Herniated disks
  • Spasms

Forms of Cervical Traction

While exercising your neck muscles with a cervical traction device, always pay attention to your body and never push yourself past your limit. Exceeding your body's comfort in terms of stretching and duration of your exercises could lead to serious injury. This method of pain relief should be just that – relieving pain rather than causing more of it. Overall, it is generally safe to incorporate cervical traction into your daily routine. However, keep in mind that each health plan and its results vary from person to person.

Manual Cervical Traction

This form of treatment is commonly performed by a licensed physical therapist or chiropractor. While in a horizontal position, the physical therapist will delicately pull the head away from the neck, holding the position for a while before releasing the neck and repeating the procedure. To get the best results, the physical therapist may adjust the patient’s exact positioning and continue the treatment as long as they see fit.

Mechanical Cervical Traction

This form of treatment is also performed by a medical professional but employs the use of a harness or machine to achieve a more calibrated treatment. A harness is placed around the head and neck as the patient lies on their back. The harness is then attached to a system of weights or weight machine that apply traction force, once again with the goal to pull the head away from the neck and spine to open up the joint and relieve pressure.

Over-the-Door Cervical Traction

This form of treatment is for an individual’s use in the comfort of their home or office. The entire device goes over a door and can be used lying down, sitting, or leaning back. Newer cervical traction devices don't have a use for the cumbersome pulley system used by mechanical devices and instead rely on a head sling to relax and stretch to relieve pain through the neck and spine.

Obtaining your Cervical Traction Device

Even if you’re performing an at-home treatment without a prescription, it’s still important to check in with your doctor or physical therapist. They know what exercises are best for your healing process and will make sure you’re doing the most beneficial treatment. They may also want to keep an eye on your progress and make amendments to your therapeutic routine as you go along.

In addition to maintaining regular office visits, your physical therapist may advise you to buy a cervical traction device to use at home. Some equipment may require a prescription to purchase. Fortunately, no doctor’s note is necessary for obtaining the Neck Hammock. However, before you use a Neck Hammock on your own, be sure to consult your physical therapist to avoid further damaging your neck and spine.

Proper Usage of a Cervical Traction Device

If you purchase a neck hammock, it is essential for your health that you use it the right way. If instructions are followed and the device is used correctly, a neck hammock is very beneficial and safe to use!

Follow Instructions

It is vital to your safety that you strictly adhere to any instructions or recommendations given to you by your doctor or listed in the Neck Hammock manual. Please perform the exercises correctly, pay particular attention to your body's response to the movements, and do not exceed the prescribed amount of tension.

Limit Usage

While the Neck Hammock can be used regularly, overuse of any cervical traction device for an extended period of time may overexert your muscles and cause additional pain. Stop immediately if your pain increases.

Problematic Pre-existing Conditions

Do not use a cervical traction device without the explicit recommendation of a doctor or physical therapist if you have any of the following pre-existing conditions:

  • A tumor, cancerous or benign, in the neck area
  • An infection in the bones
  • Bone fracture in the neck area
  • Cervical instability
  • Osteoporosis
  • Post-surgery hardware (ex. pins in the neck, screws in the spine)
  • Prolonged injury in the neck area
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Benefits of a Cervical Traction Device

Cervical traction has helped many people overcome neck pain, and a cervical traction device can be used for a myriad of health issues. One of the benefits of a traction device is that it can relieve pressure from the spine by expanding the space between the spinal bones, or vertebrae, in the neck. This, in turn, decreases the compressive forces in the neck that may cause someone pain.

That said, it does not only relieve pressure on the bones that connect the neck to the head; by expanding the space between the vertebrae, cervical traction devices also ease pressure on the pinched nerves that exit the spinal canal. Both of these actions reduce pain caused by a compressed or pinched nerve.

Finally, a cervical traction device can simply stretch and relax the joints around the neck and relieve muscle pain associated with anything from heavy lifting to a poor night’s sleep. This is one of the many ways that neck traction can help.

At-Home Relief

For convenient pain relief, most people turn to an at-home cervical traction device. A few different methods exist, like an over-the-door traction unit attached to a system of weights and pulleys, an air neck traction device, or a sling that relies on the weight of a person’s head to achieve the desired traction result.

Over-the-Door Traction Unit

If you find that the mechanical cervical traction therapy you receive from your doctor at the physical therapy clinic most benefits your neck pain, you can purchase a smaller traction device to use at home. These smaller machines perform the same therapy as the ones your physical therapist uses. While they are less clunky than most door-mounted devices, they are still quite expensive and cumbersome.

Traditional units involve multiple parts and complicated set-ups. It involves attaching a harness to the head and neck while an individual is seated in a chair. The harness is then hooked up to a rope that is strung through a system of pulleys over the door. Using a water bag, a sandbag, or generic weights attached to the opposite end of the rope, traction force is applied to the head and neck.  

Air Traction Unit

Place the air neck traction device around the neck. Adjust the straps so that the device sits comfortably between the base of the head and the top of the shoulders. Pump the device up with air until it is at the desired size and wear it for 20 to 30 minutes. This action can be repeated multiple times per day, as necessary for pain relief.

It is especially useful during activities where a person tends to bend the neck and slouch, like while reading in bed or working on the computer.

Sling Traction Unit

The only reputable sling-based cervical traction device on the market today is the Neck Hammock. The unit is simple to use, transportable and does not cause injury or distress to the skin. It gives the patient pain relief and allows them to relax into a deep stretch throughout the neck and spine.  

This unit will not replace your current physical therapy routine, but it will compliment your regimen and provide added relief should you experience discomfort at home or in the office.

Benefits of a Sling

A sling-based cervical traction device is portable and conveniently sized, meaning you can take it with you for instant relief wherever you go. Like an over-the-door traction unit, the sling uses a door to create traction and expand the space between the neck and head.

It will relieve pain from pinched or compressed nerves, muscle spasms, or any general neck pain caused by stress, both mental and physical. This is the only home cervical traction device that provides instant, on-the-go or at-home relief.

Side Effects of Cervical Traction

Some side effects of cervical traction do exist. Please stop exercising or adjust your posture if you experience any of the following:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Fainting

Adjusting your neck and head in such a manner may trigger unwanted physical harm, like those listed above, or even cause further injury to your muscles, neck, or spine. Please discuss any pain or discomfort you that you feel may be associated with the use of a cervical traction device with your doctor or physical therapist.

Alternative Techniques for Pain Relief

A couple of at-home neck pain relief techniques exist for those who cannot afford an expensive mechanical cervical traction device or do not have time to go to the physical therapist’s office as often as they are in pain.

Neck Hammock Exercises

To exercise with an over-the-door neck traction device:

  • Begin with 10-20 pounds of pulling force.
  • Pull and hold for between 10 and 20 seconds.
  • Slowly release the tension.
  • Continue exercise for between 15 and 30 minutes at a time.
  • Repeat as necessary.

The intensity of the pulling force can be increased as your neck muscles gain strength, allowing for a deeper more beneficial stretch. Instances of pulling forces up to 50 pounds have proven advantageous to some extreme cases. As always, consult your physical therapist to determine what amount of weight is best for your circumstance.


Incorporate yoga into your daily routine. Accessories such as exercise balls, resistance bands, and foam blocks can elevate your stretch and prove to be a wonderful pain-relieving tool. Your physical therapist may be able to shed light on some cervical traction exercises that don’t require any equipment aside from a sturdy piece of furniture, like a bed or a table.


Many types of cervical traction therapy exist, like manual cervical traction, mechanical cervical traction, and a variety of over-the-door and at-home cervical traction methods. The most effective at-home treatment is the sling-based traction device by Neck Hammock, which combines the relief of an over-the-door device with the convenience of portability for discreet, transportable, pain relief.

It is unwise to allow someone who is not adequately trained to perform cervical traction on your neck or to use their traction device on your neck. Regardless of the method of cervical traction you choose, please consult with your doctor or physical therapist before purchasing a cervical traction device.