The Role Of Lumbar Traction Devices In Lumbar Disc Herniation Treatment

By Danielle Krieger PT, DPT

What is lumbar traction equipment and what does it do?

Traditional lumbar traction equipment comes in many shapes and sizes. There are the classic segmented mechanical traction tables, the traction belts for manual lumbar traction, and the fancier new automated traction tables.

These decompression devices are familiar pieces of equipment in Physical Therapy clinics and Chiropractic offices worldwide.

Disregarding the sleek modern designs of the newer systems, what do all of these lumbar traction units have in common?

The common denominator is that they all administer traction therapy to the lumbar spine while the patient is in a sustained, static, supine position.

Who is a candidate for lumbar traction therapy?

Patients who suffer from low back disorders like sciatica, lumbar stenosis, and lumbar herniated discs are generally considered to be candidates for lumbar decompression therapy.

When the external pressure placed on a lumbar disc overcomes the internal pressure of the disc itself, the disc can bulge and even herniate.

This escaped fluid exerts pressure on the nerve roots that run along both sides of the vertebrae causing pain and dysfunction.

The herniated disc also becomes a structural weak point in the spine itself.

A healthy spine is composed of healthy discs “sandwiched” between two vertebrae. The primary role of these discs is to act as shock absorbers.

The herniation of even one disc can result in a loss of normal vertebral movement as well as the height between consecutive vertebrae, and affects the overall biomechanics in the lumbar spine.

The loss of typical movement in just one spinal segment will have a negative cascade effect on the healthy movement of the entire body.

How does traditional lumbar traction therapy work?

Lumbar traction is the traditional method of lumbar herniated disc treatment. It involves the application of a strong and continuous longitudinal force to the region of the lower spine in order to increase the intervertebral space and relieve the pressure on the individual discs and spine itself.

When applied correctly, the desired effect is reduction in pain and reuptake of fluid in the disc.

However, when administered in supine, the positive outcomes of lower back decompression are generally short lived.

This ambulatory traction unit is the only of its kind

The Vertetrac is a revolutionary lumbar traction device designed and manufactured by Meditrac, and it offers something novel: an ambulatory lumbar traction experience.

What is ambulatory lumbar traction? How is it different from standard lumbar spine traction?

Ambulatory traction is the revolutionary pairing of spinal decompression with physical activity.

Ambulatory lumbar decompression differs from standard lumbar spine traction, simply because it allows the patient to freely move around during treatment, while traditional lumbar traction therapy requires patients to remain in a static position, usually on their backs, for an extended period of time.

How does ambulatory traction work?

Instead of being strapped down to a table for 20-30 minutes, a patient undergoing lumbar decompression treatment with the Vertetrac will simply be fitted with the device while in a standing position.

The patient is then free to ambulate or lightly exercise for the duration of the 30-minute treatment, during which time the Vertetrac is applying a strong and consistent 3D decompression force.

Why is lumbar traction effective?

Traditional lumbar traction therapy results in an overall decompression of the lower spine which in turn, results in pain relief for the majority of patients who undergo this method of treatment.

Due to the fact that the pain and dysfunction from a herniated disc are generally exacerbated with movement, patients suffering from herniated discs display decreased overall activity levels.

Decreased physical activity leads to weakness and shortened muscles which lead to more pain. Pain leads to a further decrease in function and activity. This unforgiving sequence is what is commonly referred to as the pain cycle.

The main goal of any type of lumbar decompression therapy is to break the negative pain cycle and reintroduce movement.

When traction therapy is utilized as a form of lumbar herniated disc treatment, the negative pressure induced in the disc from the pull of the axial force also draws the escaped fluid back inside of the herniated disc, thus restoring the biomechanics of the lumbar spine and enabling pain free movement.

Ambulatory lumbar decompression is unique

The unique design of ambulatory decompression treatment with the Vertetrac allows the patient to simultaneously accomplish both pain relief and return to movement. These effects are long lasting with regular maintenance sessions, because the Vertetrac actually targets and treats the source of disc related pain and not just its symptoms.

There are 4 main elements inherent to the implementation of ambulatory lumbar traction when compared to traditional lumbar traction:

Ambulatory lumbar traction encourages mobility

First and foremost, modern medicine has been telling us for many years that bed rest and immobility should no longer be considered best practice when treating spinal pain.

In fact, preventing mobility in patients who are already experiencing spinal pain will compound their loss of function and quite probably increase their pain as well.

Ambulatory lumbar traction organically promotes healing

Second, activity and muscle contraction are naturally found to increase overall circulation and facilitate the delivery of healing factors to an affected area.

In this way, ambulatory lumbar traction not only treats pain, but also directly treats the source of pain so that its rate of recurrence is less.

Ambulatory lumbar traction restores confidence to mind and body

Third, encouraging the lumbar spine to safely practice moving while the vertebrae are in proper alignment and the biodynamics are restored lends increased confidence to the spine itself, and encourages the body’s overall return to typical movement and healthy movement patterns.

For example, many patients suffering from disc bulges and herniation will tilt to compensate for pain and muscle weakness. The Vertetrac allows these patients to stand upright and re-integrate upright posture during pain free movement.

And finally, encouraging dynamic activity while the patient is pain free due to concurrent decompression therapy will also give the patient themselves a boost of confidence, and will motivate them to continue working hard to regain their prior level of strength and mobility.

Lumbar decompression methods are not all created equal

Lumbar decompression devices are widely available and are clinically proven to provide effective treatments for herniated discs, among a variety of other lower back disorders.

Not all lumbar decompression devices are created equal though. The research supporting best practices in the use of lumbar decompression devices is available for the discerning provider or patient who is interested in implementing a truly effective low back pain treatment method.