Mechanical traction as a medical technique can be traced to 3000BC from ancient Egyptian writings. More recently, its use for back pain was emphasized by the Sister Kenny Institute in the 1970’s. Despite varying reports on effectiveness of the technique in pain relief, there has been no recorded real time visualization of spinal morphologic changes during the application of technique. Development of a traction device that was compatible with MR investigation (Chung et al., 2015) allowed monitoring of such changes, thus helping to further explain efficacy of traction with spinal pain.

Medical researchers at Yonsei University in Korea investigated 48 adults (22-64yrs) with demonstrable lumbar disc herniation at varying levels – L3, 4, 5. They were treated with a special nonmagnetic traction device for up to 30 minutes that allowed simultaneous MR investigation of the patients. The continuous traction force was up to 30 kg for patients. Significant changes caused by the traction included vertebral column elongation and most importantly significant reduction of the disc herniation volume with alteration in disc shape, separation of disc and adjoining nerve root as well as widening of the facet joints. Most positive results were observed in patients with a higher ratio of traction force to body weight as well as those having traction up to 20 minutes.

The clinical implications for the demonstrated changes with traction should further confirm its importance as a therapeutic tool. However these effects can be combined with other aspects of mechanical spinal therapy such as the Mc Kenzie method that are being constantly researched as medically appropriate techniques that are highly cost effective and non-invasive.

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About Hercules Grant

Hercules Grant, Phd Rehabilitation Science, Physiotherapist at Rejuvenation Health Services. Hercules completed his training with a Bachelor of Physical Therapy at the University of Alberta in 1984 and also completed a Masters in Educational Psychology at the same university. He provides mentor-ship to physical therapy students and physical therapy managers and has lectured on the spine and chronic pain. Hercules is also a past president of the College of Physical Therapists of Alberta and has an abiding interest in professional growth in rehabilitation in general. He holds a PhD in Rehabilitation Science from the University of Alberta. His interest is in the area of the impact of chronic diseases, with an emphasis on hypertension.