top of page

Is There Evidence for Spinal Traction or Are You Just Pulling My Leg!!!

Literature Review:

Mechanical traction is a conservative treatment option for chronic radicular lumbar pain, aiming to relieve symptoms by decompressing the lumbar spine. It is often used in conjunction with other physical therapy modalities. The therapy involves the application of controlled force to stretch the spine, creating space between vertebral discs, which may alleviate pressure on nerves, reduce pain, and improve overall spinal function.

A review of the literature suggests that mechanical traction can be beneficial in the management of chronic radicular lumbar pain. Several studies have reported positive outcomes, though the exact mechanisms remain under investigation. Here are some key findings:

Efficacy: A study by Kim et al. (2016) published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Science showed that mechanical traction was effective in reducing pain and improving function in patients with chronic radicular lumbar pain. The study noted that traction led to a significant decrease in pain scores and improved physical performance.

  1. Disc Herniation Reduction: Mechanical traction has been reported to reduce disc herniation. A study by Fritz et al. (2014) published in Spine Journal found that traction helped in the retraction of herniated disc material, leading to pain relief and improved functional outcomes.

  2. Improved Nerve Function: Traction can alleviate pressure on the spinal nerves. A study by Moustafa and Diab (2015) in the European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine demonstrated that traction improved neural conduction, contributing to symptom relief.

  3. Satisfaction and Compliance: A study by Lee et al. (2015) in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science highlighted high patient satisfaction and compliance with mechanical traction. Many patients reported a reduction in pain and improved quality of life.

Case Study: Patient Profile:

  • A 45-year-old male office worker presented with a two-year history of chronic radicular lumbar pain, mainly on the left side.

  • He experienced sharp, shooting pain radiating from the lower back down his left leg, consistent with the L5-S1 radiculopathy.

  • The pain was aggravated by prolonged sitting and standing and was interfering with daily activities.

Treatment Plan:

  • The patient underwent a comprehensive assessment, including a physical examination, imaging (MRI), and electromyography (EMG) to confirm radiculopathy.

  • Based on the diagnosis, a conservative treatment plan was devised, which included physical therapy, including mechanical traction.

Mechanical Traction:

  • The patient underwent mechanical traction sessions as part of his treatment plan.

  • The traction was administered using a specialized traction table under the guidance of a licensed physical therapist.

  • The treatment plan included a series of sessions, gradually increasing in intensity and duration.


  • After several sessions of mechanical traction, the patient reported a significant reduction in pain and improvement in his ability to perform daily activities.

  • Follow-up MRI showed a reduction in disc herniation at the L5-S1 level.

  • The patient's radicular pain decreased from 8/10 on the pain scale to 2/10.

  • He experienced improved quality of life and increased participation in physical activities.

This case study demonstrates that mechanical traction, when used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, can be effective in managing chronic radicular lumbar pain. However, it is essential to tailor treatment to each patient's specific condition and monitor progress to achieve the best outcomes. It should be noted that mechanical traction is most effective when used in conjunction with other appropriate therapies and under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional. Dan Morwood

Physiotherapist, DPT, CAFCI, CGDNT

Peak Performance Physiotherapy & Sports Rehab

6 views0 comments


bottom of page