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What is Cervical Traction?

Cervical traction is the light stretching of the neck. The neck is sometimes referred to as the cervical spine. There are seven vertebrae in the cervical spine and these vertebrae sometimes lose their natural curve due to injury from whiplash in car accident or from poor posture of day to day activities such as extended periods of time sitting down at work. The use of cervical traction can help restore the natural curve of the neck from these instances by decreasing the compression forces in the neck. It can also help open up the spaces where nerves exit the spinal canal, which can help relieve pressure off of a compressed nerve.

Cervical traction is the best medication free therapy to relieve cervical compression in an effective manner. It’s most beneficial purpose is to provide temporary pain relief due headaches, migraines, neck, and shoulder pain. A secondary benefit is that if may help in restoring natural cervical curvature.

Below are common health problems that may benefit from cervical traction. If you have any of these symptoms or conditions check with your doctor or physical therapist to see if cervical traction is right for you.

  • Migraines
  • Herniated or bulging discs in the neck
  • Neck arthritis
  • Cervical muscle spasms
  • Neck strains
  • Shoulder strains
  • Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJ)

unhealthy neck curve healthy neck curve


How is Cervical Traction Applied?

There are many ways to apply cervical traction to the neck. Cervical traction devices are therapeutic tools used to pull or separate the vertebrae of the cervical spine area. Here is a list of the following:

  • Assisted Cervical Traction– This type of cervical traction is typically performed by another person, usually a physical therapist. The PT will hole you neck and head in your hands and then gently pull on your neck to apply the a light stretch (traction). This is done multiple times (sets). A typical set would include 15 seconds of stretching followed by 15 seconds of rest (neutral neck position).
  • Cervical Traction Devices– These include specially designed devices that aide in the light stretching of your neck without outside assistance. One of most popular devices are wedge pillows that you use when you lie down flat on your back. The wedge pillow is place underneath your neck and you simply relax onto it. Your neck becomes the fulcrum point of your spine and allows gravity to pull your head down, which creates the light stretch required. Below, we have two options of varying levels of aggressiveness to aide in cervical traction

Beginner - Cervical Traction Wedge - The traction wedge is made of firm foam that provides gentle neck traction. The foam provides a soft base to rest your neck on and is perfect for beginners. 

Intermediate - Cervical Traction Block  - The traction block is made of extra firm EVA foam that provides aggressive neck traction. The adjustable heights allows for different placements along the cervical spine.

Most traction methods are relatively safe. Remember, changes as a result of cervical traction are slow so consistency of use is key. You may feel temporary soothing affects such as a reduction in headache or migraine pain, but the long lasting effects such as a noticeable improvement in restoring natural cervical curvature will take weeks or months.

Again, be sure to consult with your doctor or physical therapist to see if these methods are right for you.