Is Cervical Traction Beneficial?

Cervical traction is so popular these days, it’s practically mandatory when going to a physical therapist or chiropractor for neck pain or disc issues. Spinal and orthopedic surgeons even recommend it if their patient is not appropriate for spinal surgery. 

Most people with musculoskeletal dysfunction affecting the neck will present with a “straight neck” or “reversed curve” when looked at on an x-ray. The cervical spine should have a slight lordosis, or curved inward/arched/extended position, when appropriately aligned. Because of the shape of our vertebral bodies (the individual bones making up our spinal column) in the area, this curvature allows for the least amount of disc compression and the largest spaces in the foramina (holes in the columns) through which our nerves leave the spinal column. When we lose this natural lordosis or even reverse it, our discs and nerves are compressed. Therefore, at first glance, it makes perfect sense to decompress the neck using a cervical traction unit. However, our bodies are not that simple. 

Whether the patient using a machine in a clinic or an over-the-door device in their homes, the idea is have the device pull the patient’s head straight up or slightly forward and up. This does decompress the spine some, but it pulls it out of its natural lordosis. This reinforces bad pastural habits, does not fully decompress the target area, and is temporary in nature. Not only that, but the over-the-door units typically have a strap that covers the chin. This compresses the jaw joint and can complicate, or even create, TMJ dysfunction! 

In order to restore a natural lordosis (and correct poor spinal alignment which decompresses the neck, its discs and nerves) we must take the ribcage and thoracic spine (midback) into account. If the supporting structures of the neck are in the wrong position and/or too rigid, the neck must compensate by changing its position and/or moving too much. Postural Restoration Institute physical therapy is unique in its approach in that we treat the cervical spine by treating the ribcage. How do we do this? By promoting diaphragmatic breathing!

When the diaphragm is utilized as intended, the ribcage is mobilized and normal thoracic kyphosis (rounded position of the spine) is preserved. It also reduces compensatory breathing patterns that overutilize the neck muscles. This promotes natural restoration of the cervical curve, reduces cervical muscle tone, and reduces compression of the neck’s structures. All without the inconvenience, expense, and discomfort that come along with a cervical traction unit. 

Ready to get rid of yours? Call us today at 314-733-5000. We are the only PRI certified clinic in the greater St. Louis region. All of our therapists are certified. 


Written by Lesley Callaham, MPT, PRC April 11, 2018