Just what is cervical traction? Basically it is a way to stretch out your neck to the point of actually separating the intervertebral spaces in your cervical spine. This is typically done with a device like the Saunders Cervical Traction unit. To give you an understanding of how this works and the proper application of cervical traction we will first give an overview of this area of your spine
YOUR CERIVCAL SPINE
The area of your spine that runs inside your neck and holds your head up is called your cervical spine. There are seven cervical bones (or vertebrae) in this area labeled: C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, C6, and C7. Between these bones are intervertebral discs which act as shock absorbers and when healthy, they are strong but at the same time bendable so you can nod your head. Each bone has a spinous process that extends backwards with gfacets (much like joints) that hing into each other all along your spine to guide spinal movements. You can feel this part as you run your hand down the back of your neck. This whole structure is further encased by muscle and tendons for greater reinforcement.
Within your spine there is a hollow canal that runs the length of your spine and it is between the vertebral bodies and the spinous processes. Here is where your spinal cord (where all our nerves come from) runs from you brain down to your body. Nerves exit the spinal cord through openings along the spine called foramen. For different reasons this opening can sometimes become narrowed, putting pressure on the nerve exiting the spine and in turn causing pain or muscle spasm to the area that nerve supplies.
With this basic understanding we can begin to understand what type of back injuries could benefit from cervical traction treatments when applied correctly.
INDICATIONS FOR CERVICAL TRACTION
So just what conditions would benefit from the application of cervical traction? There are actually a number of ailments that can be relieved with proper cervical traction. These all tend to be grouped under 3 main issues:
- Herniated or compressed intervertebral disc in the cervical spine
- Anytime it is favorable to stretch and mobilize the soft tissue
INTERVERTEBRAL DISC HERNIATION AND NARROWING
With the pull of gravity, wear and tear, or accidental injury the intervertebral disc spaces can become more narrowed making the range of motion of your neck decrease or cause one of the discs to deform and put pressure on a nerve leaving the spine. This in turn can cause neck and back pain or referred pain to one of your arms/hands. To oppose this narrowing of the intervertebral disc spaces a cervical traction device can be used to actually stretch apart the bones and ligaments in the neck.
As the cervical traction device stretches apart the bones, there is a sort of vacuum suction created between the vertebrae that will actually pull back in the bulging or pushed out intervertebral disc. This is a desirable effect when trying to repair a compressed or bulging disc tissue that is putting pressure on a nerve.
CERVICAL TRACTION FOR RADICULOPATHY
Radiculopathy is a mouthful to say, but it simply means the portion of your nerve exiting your spine (nerve root) is being irritated or compressed. This typically results in symptoms of referred pain, sensation, and/or numbness down your arm and into your fingers. Irritation to the nerve root can happen as a result of swelling of surrounding tissues, a herniated disc, a bone spur developing in the intervertebral foramen, or just narrowing of the foramen opening due to degeneration of the spine.
CERVICAL TRACTION FOR STRETCHING SOFT TISSUE
Any neck pain or headaches caused by tight muscles in your neck such as, the upper trapezius muscle or the suboccipital muscle can be stretched out slowly in a controlled manner with cervical traction.
CONTRAINDICATIONS FOR USING CERVICAL TRACTION
Cervical traction is completely safe when used gradually to a point of comfortable stretch. There should be no exacerbation of pain or radiating symptoms while using the device. There may be minor amount of muscle soreness after a treatment. Cervical traction is not safe for spinal fracture, fresh injury or tear that has not had a chance to heal, or any type of spinal tumor. It is important to first make a clear diagnosis from a specialist before choosing cervical traction.
HOW TO USE THE SAUNDERS CERVICAL TRACTION UNIT PROPERLY
The basic rule of thumb is to start out slow and listen to your body. Starting with the lowest traction force and gradually increasing the strength each treatment session only to a point that is comfortable is the best way to go. For herniated disc treatments you should work your way up to 5-10 minute sessions of 25-40lbs of force. For all other issues longer sessions can be done from 10-20 minutes. Soft tissue stretching such as muscle or tendons usually can be done with a lower force.
The beauty of the Saunders Cervical Traction unit allows you to lay down completely relaxed on your back while controlling the amount of pressure precisely to the amount your physiotherapist or clinician advised you. It makes treatments easy to do at home and it’s only 12lbs so you could carry it to work or with you when you travel. When you lie down you can completely relax your muscles in order to get the full treatment.
The other consideration with the Saunders Cervical Traction is that it will angle your neck at the optimal angle of 15 degrees while doing traction. However this angle can easily be adjusted if another is recommended by your specialist.
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