Updated: August 2018
People who have never lived with constant neck pain find it hard to grasp what a difference it makes in the quality of life. As someone who does suffer with cervical pain due to a chronic condition or a recent accident, you realize that nothing you try to do is not covered by the pain in some way.
Fortunately, there are ways to manage the pain and provide some amount of respite. One of the more effective non-invasive approaches is the use of home cervical neck traction devices. Here is what you need to know about what to expect from this strategy, and how varying approaches can provide the relief that you seek.
Understanding Neck Traction
Your pain may be the result of a condition like cervical foraminal stenosis or it could be the result of being injured in some type of accident. In many cases, the muscles and nerves in your neck, shoulders, and back are left sore, stiff, and tensed. The nerves may be pinched because one or more of the neck vertebrae are now out of line. Your doctor has given you something for the pain, and it does help to some extent.
The thing is that you don’t want to spend the rest of your life having to take painkillers. Surgery is not on the table right now, and you’d rather not deal with that option until it becomes absolutely necessary. This is where the idea of using cervical traction comes into the picture.
Traction is intended to release the tension that is present in your neck. This is managed by using a device that provides support to the neck muscles without triggering additional nerve pain. Many devices work by stretching and moving the neck into a natural position. The immediate result is that you will feel some of the pressure subside.
Over a longer period, the right type of traction will move the vertebrae back in line and ease the pressure on those pinched nerves in your neck. That paves the way for the nerves to heal and the inflammation in the neck muscles to disappear.
What Role Does Home Cervical Traction Play?
Whatever the underlying cause of your neck pain, you know that seeing your doctor and/or chiropractor regularly is part of the treatment plan. The condition may also require that you work with a physical therapist at least once a week. In between, using a device for neck decompression at home will help in a number of ways.
Your pain is not limited to just the neck muscles. That constant stress may also trigger severe migraines at times. By choosing to use the right type of traction device for neck pain, you’re reducing the possibility of having those headaches. Imagine what it would be like to get through an entire day and not have your head start pounding a single time. If the traction device accomplished nothing more than rid you of this one complication, it would be worth every penny.
There are times when neck pain is exacerbated due to poor posture, but there is also the chance that the presence of the pain is causing you to pull inward and downward a little. That’s only natural as you try to find any position that seems to be less painful. Unfortunately, slumping shoulders will not help the situation in the long run. Even as the device is easing stress on the neck, it’s also helping you resist the urge to slump. That will go a long way toward easing tension on your shoulders and upper back.
Increasing Your Range of Motion
You might think that home traction minimizes the ability to turn your head to the left or the right. Depending on the type of device you are using for neck traction at home, that may be true for a time. Many devices for neck pain are designed to only be worn for a certain amount of time each day. For example, you may wear the device for 20 minutes in the morning, and another 20 in the afternoon. In between, the device eases the discomfort to the point that you can actually turn your neck without having to swivel your entire upper body.
Improving Your Mood
It’s difficult to be the life of the party when you are in pain. In fact, it’s hard to do anything and be in pain. When your neck is killing you, trying to be witty, engaging, and cheerful is nothing short of agony, even for people who are normally even tempered. By finding the right device and using it responsibly, your mood will improve as the discomfort decreases. Since you are in less pain, it’ll be easier to get out of the house, spend time with others, and enjoy yourself instead of feeling as if you must get through some sort of ordeal.
Trying to sleep when the neck feels like it’s about to break in two is impossible. The right type of device calms the distressed nerve endings and allows you to find a comfortable position. Keep in mind there are inflatable neck traction devices designed to be worn while you sleep. Between the support and the way the device keeps the neck in proper alignment, the odds of waking up feeling refreshed are much higher.
Is Home Neck Traction Right for You?
The fact that you have neck pain does not automatically make you a candidate for some type of home neck traction therapy. There’s a few points that need to be settled before you head out the door and start comparing different devices. Before you buy anything, take the time to:
Consider that surgery you had awhile back. If you’ve had any type of invasive procedure that’s supposed to ease neck pain, don’t start using a home device until you clear it with your doctor.
Identify exactly what’s going on. The reasons for neck pain can vary, and the last thing you need is to use a device that makes things worse. Knowing why you have neck pain makes it easier to find a device designed to provide relief without causing more problems.
What Type of Cervical Traction Device Should You Consider?
It won’t take long for you to see that there are plenty of different kinds of devices used for neck traction. You do need to be open to evaluating several different kinds of neck traction devices along the way, since one of them is likely to be better for you than the rest. Some of the options you’ll see along the way include:
Over the Door Devices
Many people do find relief by using over the door neck traction devices. As the name implies, this type of solution does involve the use of a door. Fortunately, it can be one of the doors in your house, like a bedroom or bathroom door. Keep in mind devices of this type normally require some type of assembly before they can be used.
Don’t worry if you are not the mechanically inclined type. The assembly required is not difficult, and may not even require using anything more complicated than a screwdriver or a pair of pliers.
The good thing about an over the door device is that you can adjust the height to suit yourself. Most come with chin straps that are comfortable, so you place a chair against the door, adjust the straps, and be fairly comfortable while the device helps to stretch your neck and ease the pressure on those vertebrae.
Don’t be frustrated if it takes a little while to figure out how much tension you need to get the best result. Start with a little less than you think you need, and adjust the tension a little at a time.
One drawback that you should keep in mind is that over the door traction equipment is not exactly portable. If the plan is to have something you can take along when you go on a trip, checking one of the other options is a good idea.
Inflatable Neck Stretchers
Even if you use over the door neck traction devices at home, it never hurts to have something that you can wear at other times. After all, sometimes you would rather be in the living room visiting with friends instead of hanging on the bedroom door. This is where an inflatable cervical traction device will come in handy.
Devices of this type typically come with a set of rings that are inflated with the use of some type of hand pump. Using the controls, you can choose from a range of settings. Each setting exerts a certain amount of pressure on your neck. The goal is to find the one that gently helps bring the vertebrae back into alignment and eases the pressure on the nerves. Many people who like these devices find that they begin to ease the pain in a matter of minutes.
An inflatable neck stretcher does allow you to be more mobile than any and over the door design. Once you find the right setting and notice the discomfort it easing, it’s okay to get up and answer the phone or go into the kitchen and make something to drink. Some of these devices are so comfortable that you can take a nap if you like.
Another perk of this type of neck traction device is that it places zero pressure on your jaws and chin. The fact that many of them come with carrying cases that are easy to take along makes them great for campouts and outings.
One thing that you need to be on the lookout for is inflatable devices that have a reputation of losing air after a few months of use. Like any other product, some are made with high-quality materials and will last for years. Others will fail in a matter of months. You will have to spend more for a device that lasts, but the investment will be worth every penny.
If you are looking for something that the professionals use, a posture pump is a great investment. They are more expensive than other devices but in our opinion, well worth the cost. Like the inflatable products, posture pumps include controls that allow you to adjust the pressure.
What is a little different is the overall design. You may hear this type of device referred to as a cervical posture pump or simply by the two leading devices: the Saunders Cervical Traction Device and ComforTrac Cervical Traction Unit.
In order to adjust them properly, most manufacturers will recommend that you lay on a flat surface. That makes it easier to adjust the head pads and straps for comfort. Once you get in the swing of adjusting the settings, it won’t take long to know how much pressure you need to feel better.
One thing that may put you off is the fact that this type of home cervical traction unit is a little larger than other options. The fact that the home pump is similar to devices used in clinics and is also lighter than the other options doesn’t hurt. Like the inflatable devices, expect for the pump to come with a handy carrying case.
The construction of the pump makes it less susceptible to leakage, so you can depend on it lasting for a longer period of time than other products. Depending on the brand and model (we recommend sticking with the Saunders or ComforTrac units), you could easily get several years of use out of the pump before you need to replace it.
Remember that unlike the inflatable solutions, a pump is intended to be used while in a prone position. Consider it a great opportunity to put your feet up and listen to some music or watch television while the cervical traction device does its thing.
Neck Traction Pillows
You may find that your neck pain is eased with the use of a neck traction pillow. The right type of pillow for neck pain helps ease the pressure on the neck discs and helps bring the neck back into a natural alignment. People who do not have the slight curve to their necks that is generally considered normal often find that a pillow works great for sleeping at night or taking a nap in the afternoon.
The pillows support the neck along the back and the sides. If you find that your neck pain causes headaches, the relief that comes from resting your head and neck on a traction pillow made with memory foam will help a lot.
Along with reducing your pain, neck pillows are considered more portable than the typical neck decompression device. You can take them along for use while you are on a plane, riding in a car, or watching a movie. You’ll also find that that can be used in rotation with other devices.
For example, if you like to use a Saunders cervical traction unit for a couple of treatments during the day, it’s easy enough to use the pillow at night.
A cervical collar, also referred to as a neck brace, is one of the simplest solutions on the market. It’s often the first line of defense for people recovering from an accident. The cervical traction collar is by a medical professional and adjusted to ensure the device keeps the patient from turning the head during the recovery period.
Some claim that the main benefit is preventing pain caused by movement and is not really great for reducing discomfort. Others disagree, citing the prevention of pain as being important to the healing process.
The padding can often be removed for laundering, and will fit back in place with ease. That’s important, since you will need to wear it for longer periods of time.
Confused? Your Medical Professional Can Help
Since there are so many options available today, it’s easy to become confused by all the facts, figures, and descriptions. Your best bet is to talk with your doctor or physical therapist and find out which solutions are right for you. One might be great for stretching while another will allow you to sleep better at night.
Remember that as you improve, there may be the need to move from one kind of cervical traction unit to another type. Your medical team can help you decide when you need to let go of that older cervical traction device and check into what a neck traction device will do accomplish. As long as the traction device for neck pain is helping you feel better and helping your body to heal, it’s worth the time and money it takes to make the switch.
Need spinal decompression instead? Be sure to check out our back traction device reviews page.