Have you ever suffered with upper back and neck pain? Do you get tension headaches? Or do you find you are always wanting to stretch out your neck and upper back?
Modern living tends to cause increased tension in the neck, upper back, shoulders and head. From long periods sitting at work, looking down at the phone and generally spending more time sitting than we know we should do. The stiffness, pain and headaches that often result can be helped with cervical traction, which is a gentle stretch to the spine.
What is Cervical Traction?
Cervical traction has been used by Doctors and Therapists for years to help reduce upper back and neck issues that result from a build up of tension in that area.
A gentle tension is applied at the head, using a devise or the practitioners hands. This gives a slow stretch to the muscles, fascia and ligaments that attach to the skull and along the length of the neck.
The purpose of this is to help reduce the tension in the soft tissues and thus create more space for the nerves and blood vessels and between the vertebrae themselves. It is a form of decompression aimed at improving mobility in the area and as a result, reducing any pain, headaches and reduced range of movement. The decompression also allows for better fluid flow to the area to bring healing nutrition to the muscles, ligaments and spine, and take toxins away which can prolong pain.
What Can Cervical Traction Help?
As an initial caveat, due to the multitude of issues and conditions that may be causing neck pain, please do check with your Doctor or Health Care Professional to ensure it is safe for you to use cervical traction. It is always safest to ensure there is nothing else causing your symptoms that the use of traction may make worse, or that needs to be resolved in a different way.
As a general rule, if you have pain or stiffness at the side or middle of the neck, tightness to the upper back and shoulders, or suffer with tension headaches, then a traction may be of benefit.
We don’t always get the symptoms where the issue is. If a nerve is getting trapped from tension around the spine in your neck, you may feel tingling, pins and needles or numbness in your hands. Releasing the issue at the neck creates more space for the nerve to move through and those symptoms will dissipate.
Other causes of neck muscle and joint pain include:
- Hernitated/bulging/ degenerated disc
- Arthritis / joint irritation
- Neck muscular strain
- Muscle spasm
- Poor posture
- Facet joint restrictions – where one vertebrae meets the next up or down the neck
- Repetitive/aggravating activities – Computer work, hand-held devices, weeding, cycling, painting and decorating when looking up…
Methods For Cervical Traction
There are two basic methods to receive cervical traction – manually from at qualified practitioner or mechanically using a device.
This is where you need to see a therapist qualified to perform neck/cervical traction. If you are seeing someone for neck or upper back pain, they may well perform a traction technique during a treatment session anyway.
The therapist uses their hands to hold your head as you are lying on the treatment couch. They will apply a gentle force to pull your head away from your shoulders, creating a stretch to the soft tissues. They may hold this for a little while or do lots of repeated stretches. Depending on the cause of the pain, they may also move your head or turn it slightly.
The principle is the same but this time a device is used to create the stretching force on the head and neck. The device used is often some kind of pulley system or sling with a weight attached.
Often this is done within a clinic where the amount of tension can be altered or changed during the session. There are devices that you can use at home. Most involve a head sling and a weight of some sort over a door.
We particularly like the Necksaviour, triple award winning and developed by UK physiotherapist Wesley Marshall. You position it between the top of the shoulder and base of the skull, the shape of the device creates a traction and gentle stretch. It’s very lightweight and portable so people find the Necksaviour useful to both use at home and take with them either when they are away or to use after exercise or at work.
Is Cervical Traction Safe?
Providing you have checked that your pain isn’t caused by an underlying issue, then yes. For general neck and upper back pain, tension headaches and general stiffness in the area, there are no long term negative side effects.
You may get some sensations during or just after use depending on the type of device and method use, but these should go quickly.
If you have any other health issues then we advise that you see your doctor to check it is still safe to use the traction method you are thinking of.
Remember to reflect and check if the problem could be caused by something you are doing every day/frequently and make any necessary changes to prevent recurring pain and tension.