Is traction for low back pain treatment helpful for those suffering from back pain? Can traction help reduce pain and improve function for this group? Let’s see what the scientific literature has to say about traction for the lower back and whether it has merit.
In a 2018 systematic review, researchers analyzed data from previous studies regarding the use of traction on the lumbar spine. They identified 37 randomized clinical trials that reported on five different types of traction: mechanical, auto-traction, manual, gravitational, and aquatic.
The research team observed great variability in the types of traction used. Also, they saw differences with respect to the amount of force, rhythm, session duration, and treatment frequency. Another variable is that patient characteristics often included a mixture of conditions. For example, acute, subacute, and chronic low back pain patients. There were also patients with or without sciatica and without consistency in the clinical diagnoses.
Which Type Of Traction For Low Back Pain Treatment Was Included In The Research Study?
So many varieties of low back traction were being used on patients with a large mix of diagnoses. Again, some were in the acute, sub-acute, and chronic stages of their condition. The review was unable to make an overall determination about the effectiveness of traction. However, some of the studies that included well-defined patient populations did show promise.
For example, the authors discussed a small pilot study that utilized inversion traction. This form of traction is unique because patients usually use it at home. This makes it more cost-effective and practical. The participants in this study all had a single herniated disc in their lower back with sciatica. Sciatica is a symptom of pain radiating down the leg following the course of the pinched sciatic nerve.
The methods of the study were straightforward. A group of patients awaiting surgery for their herniated disc were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group was getting physical therapy ONLY. The other group was getting physical therapy plus inversion traction. The research team tracked improvement using a variety of criteria. If a patient cancels their surgery, this was their ultimate definition of success.
What Did The Results Of The Research Study Reveal?
The results CLEARLY showed that the group receiving physical therapy alone did worse. Only 22.2% avoided surgery. The physical therapy and inversion traction group did much better. Some 76.9% of patients in this group avoided surgery. The authors concluded that inversion traction resulted in a significant reduction in the need for surgery. To further validate their results, they recommended a larger study. So, for some patients, traction for low back pain can be helpful.
For some patients, traction may be useful in the management of low back pain, depending on their unique case. Doctors of chiropractic often treat patients with low back pain using a combination of treatments. For example, spinal manipulation, mobilization, nutritional advice, exercise recommendations, and more. Some chiropractors include in-office or at-home traction treatments, if warranted.