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Should I get a home traction machine to treat a pinched nerve in my neck?

Physical Therapy in Northern Virginia for Upper Back and Neck

Q: I've had a pinched nerve off and on in my neck for several years. I'm trying to avoid having surgery, so I've been seeing a Physical Therapist. It seems to be helping. I really like the traction treatments. That seems to help the most. Since this is an ongoing problem, should I look into getting a traction machine for myself at home?

A: You wouldn't really be able to purchase a traction machine for home use like you use in the Physical Therapist's clinic. But home traction units with a head harness or halter that hang over the door are available and seem to help some people manage their symptoms.

Ask your therapist about the possibility of getting a home traction device. They usually take a small amount of effort to set up at home and most people can do it themselves. It is also very important to improve the strength and coordination in the neck and shoulder blade muscles. Make sure you carry out these exercises daily.

Your therapist can also evaluate your workstation or the way you use your body when you do your activities and suggest changes to avoid further problems. Postural alignment is a key ingredient to successful management of cervical radiculopathy (pinched nerve).

The way the vertebral bones, discs, and spinal joints line up can make a big difference. When everything is where it's supposed to be, the opening for the nerve as it leaves the spinal cord and travels down the arm is wide open. The more space available for the nerve, the less chance it will get pinched or compressed. Traction combined with good posture can help in taking pressure off the nerve, breaking the pain-spasm cycle of neck and shoulder muscles.

Reference: Ian S. Young, PT, MS, OCS, SCS, Cert MDT, et al. Manual Therapy, Exercise, and Traction for Patients with Cervical Radiculopathy: A Randomized Clinical Trial. In Physical Therapy. July 2009. Vol. 89. No. 7. Pp. 632-642.

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