When discussed in a medical context, traction therapy is defined as “the use of a pulling force to treat muscle and skeleton disorders.”
Depending on the area of the body, this may be to elongate the neck, spine, or other area which is causing pain or discomfort. And while devices used to accentuate this process are often debated regarding their effectiveness, they’ve actually been around for quite some time.
The history of traction therapy
The Burton Report explains that traction “is one of the most ancient (as well as one of the most modern) medical treatments known,” with appearances as far back as 3,000 B.C. This is when the Egyptians used them for a variety of skeletal conditions.
Even the more modern type of traction devices that most medical professionals are familiar with today have been around since the early 1930s which, according to The Burton Report, is “when W. Gayle Crutchfield (1900-1972) first introduced his cranial tongs for the purpose of cervical spine traction in order to restore normal vertebral alignment.”
Since then, traction devices have been used for a number of different musculoskeletal issues—both in-office and at home.
In-office traction use
Sol Cogan, DC, and founder of HealthQuest, says that, as far as in-office devices are concerned, he currently has eleven machines within seven offices, enabling him to provide traction-based services comfortably inside his practices, servicing patients who reside at various locations across Michigan.
One of the benefits of in-office traction use, according to Cogan is doctor focused. Specifically, Cogan says that it allows DCs to be more specific with treatment protocols, adding that it also enables them to isolate the anatomical area much better. Simply speaking it is “mechanical traction on steroids, no pun intended,” says Cogan.
There are patient benefits as well. The musculoskeletal conditions that Cogan says he commonly treats in-office with traction therapy include herniated discs, bulging discs, degenerative disc disease, and, less frequently, spinal stenosis.
While some studies have affirmed Cogan’s position that traction does help with certain conditions, one review published in the Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association points out that many pieces of research “do not allow clear conclusions due to the methodological flaws in their design and conduct.” Put simply, traction therapy may be an effective treatment option, however, because of poor studies, this cannot be ascertained for sure.
Regardless, Cogan advises that he’s used this therapy on thousands of patients to help them avoid spinal surgery when other treatments have failed. He’s even had many patients who were actually scheduled for surgery but, due to the progress they made with traction-based treatments such as spinal decompression, they were advised to continue with that therapy protocol in lieu of having the surgery.
Out-of-office traction device recommendations
Cogan says that he’s used traction devices in various other locations, such as in the Detroit Lions training facility, to name just one. This type of out-of-office treatment has also enabled Cogan to offer this particular remedy to a professional athlete who he says wouldn’t have played his last two seasons if it wasn’t for traction therapy.
Cogan adds that the NFL Hall of Famer Charlie Sanders went from a wheelchair to pain-free with this type of treatment. “The therapy just plain works on the right candidate,” he says.
Another option is to suggest traction devices for home use. Cogan says that he does do this occasionally, but generally just for supportive care. Furthermore, when he does suggest a patient use this type of treatment equipment at home, he only does so after the patient shows a clinical benefit in the office.