Lumbar traction is one of the things you can do to manage low back pain yourself, and not have to spend $$ on the chiropractor or physical therapist.
It involves stretching the lumbar spine in the axial plane; i.e. length-wise; causing slight separation between the vertebral bodies and smaller facet joints. The traction force has to be strong enough to overcome the resistance from muscles and ligaments in order to derive benefit; otherwise it’s just a muscle stretch.
Why Your Height Changes Throughout the Day
Do you notice how you have to adjust your car’s rear-view mirror in the morning in order to align it properly with the rear window?
That’s because you are sitting higher in the morning, and are actually taller; perhaps a full centimeter.
When you stand or sit throughout the day, the force of gravity compresses the discs in your spine; mostly the thick ones in your low back (lumbar). At the end of the day, the discs are slightly thinner due to this constant pressure, and you are shorter. If you drive your car around this time, you probably don’t notice that you have to adjust your rear-view mirror downwards.
When you sleep, you are in a horizontal position and the effect of gravity on your discs is reduced. As you sleep, your discs slowly re-hydrate themselves, like a dry sponge soaking up water, and you become taller overnight!
Most of your upper body’s weight is supported by your lumbar spine, or low back. That’s why the lumbar vertebrae and discs are the thickest and strongest in the spine (compared to those in the neck and torso). The discs/vertebral bodies absorb 80% of the weight placed at that level; the two facet joints behind the vertebral body bear about 10% each.
As you age, your lumbar discs lose some of their ability to resorb fluids. That is one reason you tend to get shorter as you reach 60 and beyond. Like a car tire or other moving machinery part, its function degrades over time.
Factors that accelerate disc wear and tear are being overweight; having an occupation that requires prolonged sitting (desk job, truck driver, airline pilot, etc.); injury to your low back in sports or an accident; and having parents who had back problems.
If any of these describe you, then definitely try doing home lumbar traction periodically. If you currently have low back pain, traction can alleviate some of it by reducing pressure to your discs and facet joints, which do have nerve endings. If you don’t have low back pain, traction can be done to help prevent your discs from degenerating; or at least arrest the progression of disc degeneration. This can save you from major back problems in the future; perhaps even surgery.
What are your home traction options?
The most effective traction is done by the professional equipment used by chiropractors and physical therapists. Sometimes referred to as “non-surgical spinal decompression,” it basically involves lying prone or supine on a special table that has a movable lower section that glides on rails.
You are secured to the table by some contraption, and a harness is placed around your pelvis. A cable connects the harness to a special motor, which can be programmed to pull in different patterns.
For example, there can be settings for frequency of pulls per session; strength of pull; duration of hold time; and pull patterns (step up, step down, constant, variable). The machine must be able to overcome guarding (involuntary contraction) of the erector spinae muscles of the lumbar spine, which are quite strong by the way, so that the traction affects the spinal discs and joints which start to separate only after the back muscles let go.
Now, if you want to get this level of traction you have to find a center that offers this and make an appointment.
Consumer-level home traction devices are entirely different. Most of them leverage your own body’s weight to do the traction.
Watch this video, as I review four devices that can be used for lumbar traction: