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Traction

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

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

Does it work?

Probably not. There's no good evidence that having traction will help a slipped disc.

What is it?

Physiotherapists usually apply traction. The idea is to pull on the lower half of the body to gently stretch the spine.

If you have traction, you lie flat on your back. The physiotherapist holds onto your legs and pulls them to a stretched position for a few seconds at a time. Another way to do traction is with a system of weights and cables. They are attached with a harness and can apply traction for a longer period of time.

How can it help?

There's very little evidence that traction can help. Most of the research on traction has found that it doesn't help the symptoms of slipped disc. [48] [49]

How does it work?

The idea of traction is to pull on the lower half of the body to gently stretch the spine. This should increase the space between the vertebrae and make a little more room for the disc. That should relieve pressure on the nerve.

Can it be harmful?

The research we found did not report the side effects of traction. This treatment is unlikely to be harmful if done by a trained physiotherapist.

How good is the research on traction?

There has been quite a lot of research into the effects of traction in people with a slipped disc. Most of it has found that this treatment doesn't help.

We found one summary of the research (called a systematic review) and one other study that looked at traction compared with no treatment or pretend traction (when the physiotherapist would apply only a small fraction of the weight used in real treatment). [48] [49] They both found that real traction was no better than no treatment or pretend traction.

Many other studies have compared traction with other types of treatment for a slipped disc, such as spinal manipulation, exercise therapy, and massage. [34] [45] [50] But there is no convincing evidence that traction works either as well or better than any of them.

Glossary

physiotherapist

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

systematic reviews

A systematic review is a thorough look through published research on a particular topic. Only studies that have been carried out to a high standard are included. A systematic review may or may not include a meta-analysis, which is when the results from individual studies are put together.

For more terms related to Slipped disc

Citations

For references related to Slipped disc 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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