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Traction: Treatment, Procedure, Cost and Side Effects

Last Updated: Nov 25, 2023

What is the treatment?

Back pain that occurs because of certain disorders that affect the back or spine can be categorised as compressive and/or mechanical. A compressive pain is mainly because of a compressed nerve root like that in Sciatica and a mechanical pain roots from an injury affecting muscles, ligaments, discs and joints. Traction is the most common treatment for skeletal, muscle and spinal pain. It is the procedure of applying a typical force, manually or mechanically, to a particular spinal segment to relieve pressure on the neuro-musculoskeletal system and the spine. The procedure can be done also at home but prior to that, it must be practised in a safe and monitored environment like that of a physiotherapists’. The traction is mostly used to treat sciatica, pinched nerves, herniated discs, degenerative disc diseases and other spinal conditions. The manual or mechanical force can be chosen depending upon the force that would be required for a particular condition. Traction is helpful in reducing the persistent pressure on the skeleton and certain muscles on the back due to any injury or disease or even from daily activities. A mechanical traction is applied using a traction table and the procedure is called auto-traction. Every patient must be evaluated for the particular type of therapy that they require based on the severity of their pain. Based on the evaluation the therapist would decide the traction type to be applied, the weight of the distraction to be used and the treatment duration. As the severe back pain causes patient to be more sedentary and restricts his activities, the motive of traction must be to make the patient more functional, without, of course, causing any further pain or injury. So, the treatment is started initially with using light weight during the distraction which is increased gradually.

How is the treatment done?

The treatment actually involves stretching the spine that takes the pressure off from the compressed discs in case of spinal traction. Spinal traction also called cervical traction is relieves the pressure on the nerve roots of the spine. In manual traction, a gentle traction or tension and pressure is administered on the head and limbs of the patient to give a pull on the skeleton and muscles. Also, sometimes the patient’s own weight can be used to apply an additional traction called inversion therapy. A mechanical traction with the help of a traction table that consists of several tools and is controlled with computer is used to provide a complex spinal traction to the required patient. These traction tables administer intermittent and continuous tension with a combination of massage, heat and vibration. Mechanical traction has been proved beneficial in some cases over manual traction because it can be used at home also with appropriate traction equipment and proper training from the doctor. So, in this type of traction method, the patient is made to wear a harness that has two rings that supports the patient. In auto-traction, the patient himself applies a traction weight by either pushing with the feet or by pulling with the arms.

Who is eligible for the treatment? (When is the treatment done?)

The treatment can be given to patients with sciatica, slipped discs, degenerative disc diseases, pinched nerves, facet disease, herniated discs, bone spurs, bulged or protruded discs, spinal arthritis, spondylosis and foramina stenosis.

Who is not eligible for the treatment?

Patients who have certain complications like tumour in the spine, osteoporosis, cervical rheumatoid arthritis or an infection, or pregnant women, people with hernia and cardiovascular diseases are not eligible for the traction treatment.


Are there any side effects?

Although there aren’t any long term risks associated with spinal traction but certain short term side effects may occur like muscle spasms and pain which could be worse than the one before receiving traction. Some patients may experience a shooting pain down the limbs after a traction treatment. Everybody with a severe back ache cannot opt for traction treatment because of the side effects that are caused after the treatment. So, it is the physician who has to decide whether such a treatment is required by a patient or not. The stretch during the traction can cause these side effects and are normally expected by the physician.

What are the post-treatment guidelines?

Traction therapy significantly improves the patient’s movement and activities. Even then, after the therapy, it is advisable to carry on with light exercise and walking which should be continued throughout their life. There is normally no such restrictions in food intake since only includes the treatment of the structure. In cases where the patients acquire side effects like excess pain after or during the therapy must not panic as the pain subsides on its own or may be reduced with the help of a pain killer.

How long does it take to recover?

Patients may require just two sessions of therapy to be beneficial but in case the pain progresses, 6-10 sessions would be sufficient to heal it completely, but some patients may require therapy all through their life.

What is the price of the treatment in India?

The cost of traction therapy can start from somewhere around Rs. 300 and can go upto Rs. 2000 depending upon the severity of the pain and the price includes consultation and the therapy as well.

Are the results of the treatment permanent?

The results are permanent in a few cases but in other it may not be and the patient may require therapy throughout their life.

What are the alternatives to the treatment?

Usually there is no such alternative to the traction treatment because its severityis the factor that draws in treatment for the pain and other related conditions. but, in some cases it may be managed with regular exercises and yogasanas.

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Written ByDr. E. Logesh MSPT (Master of Physical Therapy),BPTh/BPTPhysiotherapy
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