Manual Cervical Traction


Neck pain and discomfort is the leading cause of headaches, gastrointestinal issues, migraine attacks, loss of concentration and lack of interest in surrounding that historically affects productivity and day to day life. Neck pain is caused by the hyperextension of neck muscles due to stress and strain posed by hypo-mobile joints.

Hypo-mobile joints may be seen in the setting of long standing inflammatory joint diseases or age related wear and tear changes that affect the secretion of synovial fluid (leading to thickening of synovial membranes) and in turn less efficient joints. The neck joints eventually develop limited mobility and range of motion (especially cervical vertebrae) in the presence of fully functional ligaments and muscles that may undergo stretching and extension while performing normal daily activities leading to characteristic pain and discomfort. Beside affecting range of motion of neck and shooting pain, hypo-mobile joints can inductive significant damage to cervical nerves resulting in nausea, vomiting, dizziness, vertigo and other pathological issues.

The indications of manual cervical traction include constant nagging pain at or around neck region that interferes with the neck movement, periodic or episodic headaches that are associated with altered level of consciousness (indicating a possible interference of blood supply to head and neck region), damage to ligaments and muscles due to tension and tender cervical joints, pain and discomfort in the upper limbs and due due to compression of cervical nerves, progressive or sudden loss of spinal motion and / or cervical disc herniation or vertebral compression fractures.

Cervical traction helps in increasing the space between cervical vertebrae that relieves the pressure from intervertebral discs. This helps in controlling pain and discomfort due to nerve damage and also improves the mobility and range of action of spinal joints. The manual cervical traction techniques aim at relaxing cervical muscles and improving the blood supply to head and neck region for speedy recovery and healing of spinal joints.

Although highly effective (with therapy induced symptomatic relief in over 90% cases, as evidenced by the research published in Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy), cervical traction is not safe in a few cases. This treatment should not be used with active rheumatoid arthritis (or other acute inflammatory conditions of the joints) due to the risk of severe pain and spinal dislocation. The long standing process of inflammation has a direct impact on the integrity and stability of spinal joints and ligaments that may lead to deleterious effects if any forceful manipulation is attempted. It is not recommended for cervical tumors or metastatic tumors from breast and brain that may invade spinal vertebrae, osteomyelitis of spinal or hyper-mobile conditions of spinal that increases the risk of dislocation and misalignment of joints if traction is performed in-experienced hands.

A number of techniques can be employed to perform manual cervical traction at home. Although, it is recommended that traction should be ideally performed by experts only, learning a few simple techniques can help you perform a transaction on your loved ones (who are not critical or who do not have any contraindications to the therapy).
Always make sure to choose a comfortable and stable chair that can fully support your back muscles. With your spine fully supported, the therapist can perform different tract techniques on your neck from behind.

With the neck full stretched and extended, perform lateral flexion / rotation of the neck towards the right side of the body and then slowly rotate your neck to reach maximum flex towards the left shoulder. To allow maximum cervical traction, the body can be rotated in the opposite direction to the rotation of head (this technique is best performed when the person is lying on a couch).

Anterio-posterior traction can be performed when the patient is lying flat on a couch or sitting on a comfortable chair. The therapist can stand behind the chair / couch and cups the chin of the patients from both hands. Gentle Traction is then applied by extending the face upwards until the point of maximum resistance is achieved, hold in position for 10 seconds and then return to the basal position (you can also interlock your fingers using both hands to support the chin while providing gentle transaction by thumbs (that are placed behind the ear) to flex the chin to touch the chest gently.

If an assistant or therapist is performing cervical traction, a towel can be used to allow gentle maximum traction (therapist may also use his hands but that may be a little difficult for the therapist to maintain sustained traction for longer periods). Moreover, make sure to be as gentle as possible and not to apply unnecessary or excess pressure or Traction on neck muscles. Learning manual cervical traction may be time consuming but it definitely helps in improving the procedure outcome in future. Your medical professional can provide the best advice and should always be consulted.