How to Relieve Back Pain Through Traction Therapy

By Lori Newell

If you are one of the millions who suffer with chronic back pain you may be trying every known treatment option to relieve your symptoms. Physical therapy, gentle exercise, heat, ice and alternative treatments can in some cases provide relief. Depending on what is causing your back pain, you may also want to try traction therapy. Traction works by gently stretching the back. If your back pain is due to tight muscles or pressure on a nerve, this lengthening will help to relieve the pressure. The type of traction you use depends on your condition and what part of the spine is affected.

  1. See your physical therapist or massage therapist for gentle manual traction. You will lie on a flat table and allow your body to relax. If the pain is in the low back, the therapist will hold your ankles and /or heels and very gently pull. This will help to stretch the muscles and relieve pressure on nerves and disks. If the pain is in the upper back, the therapist will hold your neck and head and very gently lift and pull. The more you can relax and let go of tension you may be holding, the better the results.

  2. Ask your physical therapist or chiropractor about using a traction table. There are many varieties of tables like the one seen here from (see Resources). You will be positioned on a specialized table and secured into the machine. Machines vary in how you are positioned and your injury location will determine the set up. As you lie on the table the machine will slowly and gently apply the traction to stretch and release tension and pain. Your therapist may have you remain on the machine for 20 to 30 minutes.

  3. Purchase an inversion table to use at home. They look like the one here from (see Resources). With these devices you strap yourself onto the table, then use the handles on the side to invert yourself. You remain in an inverted position for 15 to 20 minutes or to comfort. With inversion tables, gravity provides the traction. Talk to your doctor first. Inverting the body can raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels and can cause other health problems.

Tips and Warnings

  • Check with your physician before trying any new type of therapy. There are many medical conditions where traction is contraindicated. According to studies by John Hopkins Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health, traction was not helpful for long-term relief. Some patients had temporary relief during the treatment and sometimes for a brief period afterward. In some cases, patients reported feeling worse after traction. See Resources below for the Center for the Advancement of Health and the "Spine Journal" for more information.
  • Do not use an inversion table if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, circulatory problems if you are pregnant. Stop immediately if you feel dizzy, faint,lightheaded or your back pain becomes worse.

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