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Traction for long-term back pain

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have long-term back pain. It tells you about traction, a treatment used for long-term back pain. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

We don't know. There hasn't been any good research on whether traction helps people with long-term (chronic) back pain. We need more research on this treatment.

What is it?

If you are put in traction, you'll lie in bed and your spine will be gently stretched by weights. The traction can be done by hand by a physiotherapist or by a machine that uses a motor to move the weights.

How can it help?

We don't know whether traction can help. There's no research looking at whether traction can help people with long-term back pain. [78]

How does it work?

The idea is that stretching your back will create space between the small bones (vertebrae) that make up your spine. The theory is that this will relieve the pressure on the discs that fit between these bones, release any trapped nerves, and relieve tension in your muscles. Doctors think that the force needed to stretch your spine enough for the treatment to help must be more than a quarter of your weight.

Some doctors and physiotherapists have pointed out that if your pain is caused by a torn muscle, a pulled ligament, or a leaking disc, then stretching your back won't ease the pain. The problem with back pain is that it's often difficult to work out what's causing the pain.

Can it be harmful?

Traction can weaken your body. Lying in bed can make your muscles lose their tone and get flabby and weak. It can also weaken your bones because you're not walking around. Traction may also lead to a serious condition called thrombophlebitis ( inflammation related to blood clots in your veins). [75]

How good is the research on traction for long-term back pain?

There is no evidence that traction helps people with long-term back pain.

There haven't been any good studies in this group of people. [151] More research is needed before we can say whether this treatment works.


blood clot

A blood clot forms when the cells in blood clump together. Sometimes this happens to stop you from bleeding if you've had an injury. But it can also happen on the inside of your blood vessels, even when you haven't had an injury. A blood clot inside a blood vessel is called a thrombus.


Inflammation is when your skin or some other part of your body becomes red, swollen, hot, and sore. Inflammation happens because your body is trying to protect you from germs, from something that's in your body and could harm you (like a splinter) or from things that cause allergies (these things are called allergens). Inflammation is one of the ways in which your body heals an infection or an injury.


A physiotherapist is a health professional who is trained to use physical activity and exercises to help people's bodies heal.

For more terms related to Back pain


For references related to Back pain click here.
Last Updated: August 15, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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