Cervical traction is a quick, easy treatment for neck pain caused by lots of conditions. Your healthcare provider or physical therapist can perform it during an office visit, but you can also do it at home. Talk to your healthcare provider before using an at-home cervical traction device.
Cervical traction is a treatment for neck pain that involves lightly pulling on your head to create space between the bones in your neck (your cervical vertebrae). You might see it referred to as spinal traction.
Cervical traction can be done either by your healthcare provider or by yourself at home. It can be done manually (by hand) or with a cervical traction device. No matter how it’s applied, cervical traction creates additional space between the vertebrae in your neck to reduce pressure and tension. It’s used to relieve symptoms like pain from a variety of conditions and issues.
Your spine is divided into three main sections:
Cervical traction gently pulls apart the vertebrae in your cervical spine.
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Cervical traction is used to treat lots of conditions that cause neck and back pain. In addition to treating conditions that affect your vertebrae, it can treat issues with nerves and muscles around your spine, too.
Cervical traction can be used to treat temporary conditions, including:
Your healthcare provider might use cervical traction to treat longer-term issues that develop over time, including:
Your healthcare provider will diagnose an issue or condition cervical traction can treat before they recommend it. You might need it after a specific injury (like a fractured spine), or it could help with the pain of a longer-term spinal issue like cervical stenosis. Before you receive cervical traction, they’ll perform a physical exam to make sure you’re a good candidate for it.
No matter why you need cervical traction, there’s nothing you need to do beforehand. You’ll either receive it at your healthcare provider’s office, as part of a physical therapy session or you’ll do it to yourself at home.
There are two types of cervical traction:
Cervical traction is easy to perform, and — if it works for you — can deliver quick symptom relief. People who benefit from cervical traction often have an instant improvement in their neck pain after a few treatments. Some of the most common benefits include:
Some studies have found that in addition to stretches and other physical therapy exercises, cervical traction can improve your range of motion (how far you can move your neck). However, this might not be true for everyone.
Cervical traction has very few risks. No matter which kind of traction you use, you shouldn’t put enough pressure on your neck to hurt it.
Some people shouldn’t receive cervical traction, including people who are:
Any health condition that weakens your bones or that can affect your spinal cord might make cervical traction unsafe for you, including:
Talk to your healthcare provider about any risk factors you have before starting cervical traction. Follow all the instructions and read all the safety warnings before using an at-home cervical traction device for the first time.
There haven’t been many studies on cervical traction’s long-term benefits. This means that even if it improves your pain and other symptoms, there’s a chance they might come back in the future, or that the symptom relief may only be temporary.
Talk to your healthcare provider before using a cervical traction device at home. Visit them if you notice any of the following symptoms:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Cervical traction is a quick, easy way to treat neck pain. It might not work for everyone, but if it does improve your symptoms, you can do it at home as often as your healthcare provider suggests.
Never start cervical traction or any other treatment on your head, neck, or spine without first talking to your healthcare provider. They’ll recommend a technique that fits your unique needs and suggest which type of cervical traction device you should buy. Usually, a trial under physical therapy supervision is done first.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/19/2022.
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