Cervical Traction

One of the most effective ways of stretching out the spine, so as to separate the vertebrae in the neck, requires a practice called cervical traction. Its goal is to increase the space between the bones of your spine within your neck area to relieve pressure on delicate structures such as nerve roots, injured intervertebral discs, and irritated spinal joints within the neck. The need for neck traction is determined by a trained physiotherapist or sports medicine specialist that can determine the cause of your neck discomforts and decide if stretching the spine, either manually or mechanically, will encourage healing. To give you an understanding of how this works and whether it is safe for you, we will first give you an overview of the cervical spine and examine the indications and contraindications (reasons to use it and reasons not to use it) of this treatment option for achieving neck pain relief. After exploring the uses of cervical traction we will provide you with links to retailers selling high grade home traction units and you are welcome to sign up for a free ten day mini course about neck pain relief at the end of the article.


Your Cervical Spine in Relation to Cervical Traction

The area of your spine that runs inside your neck and holds your head up is called your cervical spine. There are seven cervical bones (or vertebrae) in this area labeled: C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, C6, and C7. Between these bones are intervertebral discs which act as shock absorbers and when healthy, they are strong but at the same time bendable so you can nod, twist, side bend, and extend your neck. When injury to the disc occurs it can bulge out and put pressure on a nerve within the spine. Cervical traction can take the pressure off of this injury and encourage the disc to retract and heal normally.

Joints of the Cervical Spine

Each bone has a spinous process that extends backwards and they have facet joints that hing into each other all along your spine to guide spinal movements. You can feel this part as you run your hand down the back of your neck. These joints are just like any joint in your body, such as, your knee joint or elbow joint. Osteoarthritis is a case where the joint is irritated and inflamed from too much pressure being put on it or overuse of the joint. When this happens in the cervical spine the neck can have a dull ache to a sharp pain. Cervical traction can relive this pain almost instantly as it stretches the neck out, it relieves the pressure on the injured joint(s).

Muscles, Tendons, Ligaments

The whole spinal structure from the base of your skull to the level of your buttocks is encased and protected by muscles, tendons, and ligaments for greater reinforcement and control of movements. Many layers of muscles are attached to the bones of the cervical spine, each with it’s own specific role in how to move the neck. The deepest later are postural muscles and the more outer layers have more control of moving your head and neck. Tendons and ligaments are then connective tissues that attach muscle to bones and attach bones to bones, acting as the glue that holds everything together. Muscle stiffness and spasm within the neck happens over time when the upper body is slumped over most of the day and too much stress and workload is being placed unevenly onto the back of the neck. Stretching out these muscles and connective tissue is the key to releasing this stiffness. Cervical traction can provide the deepest stretch that will release tension even at the deepest layer closest to your cervical spine.

Nerves and the Spinal Cord

Within your spine there is a hollow canal that runs its length between the vertebral bodies and the spinous processes. Here is where your spinal cord (where all our nerves come from) runs from your brain down to your body. Nerves exit the spinal cord through openings along the spine called foramen. For different reasons this opening can sometimes become narrowed, putting pressure on the nerve exiting the spine and in turn, causing pain or muscle spasm to the area that nerve supplies. This is where cervical traction can be useful to take pressure off of the pinched nerve by increasing that narrow space.

With this basic understanding we can begin to understand what types of neck injuries could benefit from cervical traction treatments when applied correctly. Investing in a clinical grade traction device like the Saunders Cervical Traction will be most likely recommended by your physiotherapist as this is the safest method of cervical traction.


Saunders Cervical Traction Unit

Designed by a physiotherapist that was desperate to help his patients with bulging disc injuries, the Saunders Cervical Traction device was designed to take pressure off of compressed and herniated discs within the cervical spine. Ever since, it has further demonstrated its benefits in taking pressure off joints and nerves, treating relentless pain from whiplash injury, and stretching out tight muscles and connective tissues of the neck. The type of neck pain relief people get from this unit is almost instant for some. To learn more about saunders cervical traction and find out how to purchase the product follow this link.


What to Expect From Cervical Traction and How its Applied

There is both manual and mechanical traction, both have the same goal of decompressing the spine. With manual cervical traction a health care provider that is trained in manual spinal manipulations will use their hands to pull your neck gently and rhythmically, applying pressure, then releasing intermittently. This is one of the most common ways of practicing this treatment as the therapist can turn your neck and do traction at different angles.

With mechanical traction the patient is placed on a table with a harness holding their head so it can automatically pull it away from the torso, stretching and releasing the neck intermittently. When the patient is getting mechanical traction, typically they are lying down on their back on a flat surface to make sure they are comfortable and relaxed. This allows for a deeper stretch that will increase space between the vertebrae of the spine. This type of therapy has been used to help people avoid neck surgery for bulging discs in the neck, relieve pinched nerves, and give neck pain relief from osteoarthritis of the cervical spine.

Can I do Cervical Traction at Home?

Continuing to do treatment for your neck that closely resembles the cervical traction treatments received from your therapist requires a clinical grade device that tells you the amount of pressure you are applying to your neck. This way minimal mistakes can be made and you can continue encouraging the healing of your spinal structures without paying for visits to the clinic. A device that stays true to proper traction is the Saunders Cervical Traction unit that is portable, holds your neck at the best angle for traction, and is controlled by the user with a hand-held pump.


Indications for Cervical Traction

So just what conditions would benefit from the application of cervical traction?  There are actually a number of ailments that can be relieved with proper neck traction. These all tend to be grouped under 4 main issues:

  1. Herniated or compressed intervertebral disc in the cervical spine
  2. Radiculopathy
  3. Osteoarthritis
  4. Anytime it is favorable to stretch and mobilize the soft tissue

Intervertebral Disc Herniation and Narrowing

With the pull of gravity, wear and tear, or accidental injury the intervertebral disc spaces can become more narrowed making the range of motion of your neck decrease or cause one of the discs to deform and put pressure on a nerve leaving the spine. This in turn can cause neck and back pain or referred pain to one of your arms/hands. To oppose this narrowing of the intervertebral disc spaces a cervical traction device can be used to actually stretch apart the bones and ligaments in the neck.

As the cervical traction device stretches apart the bones, there is a sort of vacuum suction created between the vertebrae that will actually pull back in the bulging or pushed out intervertebral disc. This is a desirable effect when trying to repair a compressed or bulging disc tissue that is putting pressure on a nerve.

Cervical Traction for Radiculopathy

Radiculopathy is a mouthful to say, but it simply means the portion of your nerve exiting your spine (nerve root) is being irritated or compressed. This typically results in symptoms of referred pain, sensation, and/or numbness down your arm and into your fingers. Irritation to the nerve root can happen as a result of swelling of surrounding tissues, a herniated disc, a bone spur developing in the intervertebral foramen, or just narrowing of the foramen opening due to degeneration of the spine.

Cervical Traction for Stretching Soft Tissue

Any neck pain or headaches caused by tight muscles in your neck such as, the upper trapezius muscle or the suboccipital muscle can be stretched out slowly in a controlled manner with cervical traction.


Buy the Saunders Cervical Traction Device:

If you feel you are most likely to benefit from using the saunders cervical traction unit at home based on your known diagnosis and would like to know how to get one, then click on the following image to view different retailers:

buy cervical traction


How to use the Saunders Cervical Traction Unit

The basic rule of thumb is to start out slow and listen to your body. Starting with the lowest traction force and gradually increasing the strength each treatment session only to a point that is comfortable is the best way to go.  For herniated disc treatments you should work your way up to 5-10 minute sessions of 25-40lbs of force. For all other issues longer sessions can be done from 10-20 minutes. Soft tissue stretching such as muscle or tendons usually can be done with a lower force.

The beauty of the Saunders Cervical Traction unit allows you to lay down completely relaxed on your back while controlling the amount of pressure precisely to the amount your physiotherapist or clinician advised you. It makes treatments easy to do at home and it’s only 12lbs so you could carry it to work or with you when you travel. When you lie down you can completely relax your muscles in order to get the full treatment.

The other consideration with the Saunders Cervical Traction is that it will angle your neck at the optimal angle of 15 degrees while doing traction. However this angle can easily be adjusted if another is recommended by your specialist.


Contraindications for Using Cervical Traction

Cervical traction is completely safe when used gradually to a point of a comfortable stretch. There should be no exaggeration of pain or radiating symptoms while using the device. There may be minor amount of muscle soreness after a treatment. Cervical traction is not safe for spinal fracture, fresh injury or tear that has not had a chance to heal, or any type of spinal tumor. It is important to first make a clear diagnosis from a specialist before choosing cervical traction.


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Regina Rain (10 Posts)

Is driven to share her experience with overcoming debilitating and frustrating pain from poor posture habits. She works as a health care professional at her local hospital and seeing sickness and suffering in each patient drives her to promote prevention and natural remedies for better health and well-being.

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