Traction has a long history of utilization for patients with neck and back pain dating to ancient times. A more contemporary use of this modality involves using traction to relieve pressure from symptomatic spinal joints, nerves, and soft tissues. In our experience, this treatment is best utilized in patients with symptoms including radiating arm or leg pain, numbness, pins and needles, as well as, signs of nerve root compression. These clinical findings have been confirmed by the research attempting to identify a group of patients with neck pain most appropriate for patients the treatment.
A recent review article on the available evidence for use of traction in patients with neck pain was conducted in the journal Spine (Yang et al. 2017). 7 randomized, controlled trials were included in the analysis. As we many trials on spinal pain there was a "wash out" effect on many of the results. The differences in subjects between studies, some showing benefit but other without benefit, prevented authors from making conclusions about the participants as a whole. In general, traction provided short term benefit to patients with neck pain but these effects were less or not significant at follow up. This study adds to our existing knowledge on traction by confirming our thoughts on a specific group of patients most appropriate for this treatment, as well as, its' use as temporary relief prior to transitioning to a long term exercise program.