What Does Lumbar Traction Do For You?

What Does Lumbar Traction Do For You?

I went across the street to an antique bookstore the other day, and I grabbed myself a copy of Hippocrates’ works from about 2,500 years ago. There’s a chapter called articulation where Hippocrates talks about joints, articulations and spinal traction. So we’ve been using this for a long, long time. The father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, used traction to help his patients. Some of the devices he used to apply his traction are very scary as you can see in this illustration!

But it’s fantastic to know that we’ve been using traction for a long time.  We use cervical traction and lumbar traction here in our Downtown Orlando chiropractic office. We use traction because when we are dealing with a patient with a disc herniation, you’ve got your vertebrae with the discs in between. You have that disc that skips backward, which is a disc herniation. We’re trying to pull that spine apart so the disc herniation returns toward the midline. We use it for radicular pain, patients who have tingling in their arms, hands, and fingers. We use it for patients with osteoarthritis that narrows the spinal canal, to relieve stenosis of the spine.

But until this point, we have yet to have any real solid rules about who, how, and why we should be applying this traction. We’ve never actually had a great study that has shown us:”these are the patients that are going to get the best results from this traction”. That is until now. Recently, some researchers, took a collection of patients, and they were trying to figure out who is going to get benefit from lumbar traction. There’s a variety of lumbar traction companies, and lumbar traction devices out there now are much better than Hippocrates’ lumbar traction. But we have yet to determine what what patients would respond the best.

The study found that 50% of people got results from traction if they met these five criteria that we’re going to share here.

Who can benefit from lumbar traction:

  1. If you have limited lumbar extension and trouble leaning backward without pain, that is one of the reasons that you should be looking to do some traction.
  2. If you want to get back to work and are trying to get better, traction can be a help to you.
  3. If you have no segmental hypomobility in your spine, traction can help you. You might not be able to know that unless you go to see a chiropractor or your medical doctor who palpates and touches your spine, but if your spine moves freely, that probably means there’s no hypomobility. So that also puts you into that camp of somebody who would respond well to traction.
  4. Short duration of symptoms. The longer you’ve had your symptoms, the less likely you are to benefit from traction.
  5. Sudden onset of symptoms. So if your symptoms happen, like lifting a box, and then you have sudden pain that radiates down your legs, you’re much more likely to get benefit than somebody who had a slow role of chronic pain that built up over a series of weeks or months or years.

So these are the five predictors we know now will get patients better results if they do traction. So, another study that came out recently looked at whether traction works better than chiropractic. What they found is that traction and chiropractic together worked the best rather than either of the two separately. This is why we combine the two when treating patients in our office. If you wanted to follow up on Hippocrates’ works from 2,500 years ago, have at it. If you know somebody who’s suffering from pain radiating pain into arms, legs, hands or feet, maybe steer them to this video so that they can see some of those rules and see if they apply to them before they shell out a whole bunch of dollars on traction.

About Dr. Merrill

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Dr. Andrew Merrill is a passionate active clinician and owner of Nightlight Chiropractic Orlando where him and his team treat hundreds of patients each month. With a strong background in exercise science from Stetson University, clinical skills from Palmer College of Chiropractic, and continued postdoctoral training in spinal disc injuries and clinical nutrition, Dr. Merrill is very well versed in the healthcare landscape. With topics ranging from "what to do for common ailments" to "why the medical system is failing you" Dr. Merrill and this blog in particular aim to keep readers up to date on what the research shows and how you can put it into practice NOW to keep yourself healthy for a lifetime.