Back pain can be debilitating and life-altering. The lingering ache can even become overwhelming, affecting you in more ways than the sensation of pain and the discomfort it rings in. And it could also flare up unexpectedly, the very fear that kept playing in your mind becoming a reality.
The pain could be caused due to various reasons. The treatment, too, varies accordingly.
Modalities such as simple stretches and exercises for back pain and oil massages are often used. Another commonly practiced treatment for some of the less complicated back pains is spine traction.
Traction and spine traction
Traction is a non-surgical therapeutic treatment that involves application of a pulling force on a dislocated or fractured part of the body.
“Traction creates decompression or distraction of two joints,” says Palak Dengla, chief physiotherapist, Aster RV Hospital, Bangalore. “It enhances the space between the joints which assists in tissue growth and healing.”
The decompression of the spine in spine traction aims at alleviating pain and increasing mobility.
“Spinal traction is commonly used in the treatment of issues in the lumbar spine and cervical spine,” says Dr Siddharth M Shah, consultant, orthopaedics, and joint replacement surgeon at SL Raheja Hospital (A Fortis Associate), Mahim, Mumbai. “Cervical traction is used at the cervical or the neck region and lumbar traction is used at the lumbar spine or the lower-back region.”
Manual and mechanical spine traction
The two types of spine traction — manual and mechanical — differ in how the pulling force is applied.
“In manual traction, a doctor, a clinician or a physiotherapist will apply the force and pull using their hands,” says Dr Shah.
Mechanical traction requires a traction table and a traction unit. “Mechanical traction is calibrated precisely according to the person’s weight,” says Dengla. “A specific traction is applied at a specific angle and for a particular duration — unlike in a manual traction, which is more humanly controlled and is subjective in nature.”
How spine traction relieves pain
“Spine traction, which brings about muscle relaxation and reduces muscle tension, is usually conducted for a period of 20 to 30 minutes,” says Dr Ananya Puttaraju, a senior consultant and robotic joint replacement and foot ankle surgeon at Hosmat Hospital, Bangalore. “More than two sessions are normally not recommended.”
The decompression of the spine that happens when spinal traction is applied plays a major role in pain relief. It relieves severe muscle spasms that come with acute pain.
“Decompression will reduce pressure and facilitate healing of the inflamed or the damaged part,” says Dr Shah. “The conditions commonly treated are disc prolapse, sciatica or pinched nerve and spondylosis, which is the wear and tear of the spine.”
Dengla adds: “Pain is sometimes associated with a pinch on any kind of sensory nerve in the body. Once the pinch over the nerve is removed, through spine traction, it becomes pain-free.”
Efficiency of spine traction
Spine traction promotes a good range of motion and helps improve flexibility and mobility. This, in turn, relaxes the muscles and relieves stiffness and pain.
“Mechanical traction is also extremely effective in the case of neck or lower back pain and in treating herniated discs or slipped discs, arthritis of spine, spinal stenosis, radiculopathy and many other back conditions,” says Dengla, who uses both manual and mechanical spinal traction.
Dr Puttaraju says spine traction is advised along with other physiotherapy modalities for better pain relief.
Sometimes spine traction itself can cause spasms — for which the person will have to be given medications.
“Depending on the issue in the spine, people are advised spine traction with other medications and bed rest,” says Dr Shah. “There is no strong evidence to prove that the relief one feels is a result of traction and not bed rest.”
When not use spinal traction
Spine traction has many positive effects in providing pain relief but there are some contraindications to it.
“It can have adverse effects on people with a high BMI, soft bones, osteoporosis (reduced bone density), unstable vertebrae or those who have had a previous spinal injury,” says Dr Puttaraju. “It’s better to use it for treating simple mechanical back pain rather than severe back pain.”
Dr Palak adds: “People with cancer, ligament instability, extreme muscular weakness, neurological conditions and vascular insufficiencies are supposed to refrain from undergoing traction therapy.”
- Spine traction is a process in which the spine is decompressed to increase the space between the vertebrae. This aids in tissue growth and healing.
- Decompression reduces pressure and facilitates healing of the inflamed or damaged part of the tissue and joints.
- The conditions commonly treated are simple back pain, disc prolapse or slipped disc, sciatica or pinched nerve and spondylosis (wear and tear of the spine).
- People with bone health issues, cancer, ligament instability, extreme muscular weakness, neurological conditions and vascular insufficiencies shouldn’t choose spine traction as a treatment modality.