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Understanding Lumbar Traction: A Solution for Back Pain


For individuals experiencing or managing low back pain and/or sciatica, can lumbar traction therapy help provide consistent relief?

Understanding Lumbar Traction: A Solution for Back Pain

Lumbar Traction

Lumbar traction therapy for lower back pain and sciatica could be a treatment option to help restore mobility and flexibility and safely support an individual’s return to an optimal level of activity. It is often combined with targeted therapeutic exercise. (Yu-Hsuan Cheng, et al., 2020) The technique stretches the space between the vertebrae in the lower spine, relieving lower back pain.

  • Lumbar or low back traction helps to separate the spaces between the vertebrae.
  • Separating the bones restores circulation and helps relieve the pressure on pinched nerves like the sciatic nerve, decreasing pain and improving mobility.


Researchers say lumbar traction with exercise did not improve individual outcomes compared to physical therapy exercises on their own (Anne Thackeray et al., 2016). The study examined 120 participants with back pain and nerve root impingement who were randomly selected to undergo lumbar traction with exercises or simple exercises for pain. Extension-based exercises focused on bending the spine backward. This movement is considered effective for individuals with back pain and pinched nerves. The results indicated that adding lumbar traction to physical therapy exercises did not offer significant benefits over extension-based exercise alone for back pain. (Anne Thackeray et al., 2016)

A 2022 study found that lumbar traction is helpful for individuals with lower back pain. The study investigated two different lumbar traction techniques and found that variable-force lumbar traction and high-force lumbar traction helped to relieve lower back pain. High-force lumbar traction was also found to reduce functional disability. (Zahra Masood et al., 2022) Another study found lumbar traction improves the range of motion in the straight leg raise test. The study examined different forces of traction on herniated discs. All the levels improved the individuals’ range of motion, but the one-half body-weight traction setting was associated with the most significant pain relief. (Anita Kumari et al., 2021)


For individuals with only low back pain, exercise, and postural correction may be all that is needed to provide relief. Research confirms physical therapy exercises can help decrease pain and improve mobility (Anita Slomski 2020). Another study revealed the importance of centralizing sciatic symptoms during repetitive movements. Centralization is moving the pain back to the spine, which is a positive sign that the nerves and discs are healing and occurs during therapeutic exercise. (Hanne B. Albert et al., 2012) A chiropractor and physical therapy team can educate patients on preventing back pain episodes. Chiropractors and physical therapists are body movement experts who can show which exercises are best for your condition. Starting an exercise program that centralizes symptoms can help individuals return to their normal lifestyle quickly and safely. Consult a healthcare provider before starting any exercise program for back pain.

Movement Medicine: Chiropractic


Cheng, Y. H., Hsu, C. Y., & Lin, Y. N. (2020). The effect of mechanical traction on low back pain in patients with herniated intervertebral disks: a systemic review and meta-analysis. Clinical rehabilitation, 34(1), 13–22. doi.org/10.1177/0269215519872528

Thackeray, A., Fritz, J. M., Childs, J. D., & Brennan, G. P. (2016). The Effectiveness of Mechanical Traction Among Subgroups of Patients With Low Back Pain and Leg Pain: A Randomized Trial. The Journal of orthopaedic and sports physical therapy, 46(3), 144–154. doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2016.6238

Masood, Z., Khan, A. A., Ayyub, A., & Shakeel, R. (2022). Effect of lumbar traction on discogenic low back pain using variable forces. JPMA. The Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association, 72(3), 483–486. doi.org/10.47391/JPMA.453

Kumari, A., Quddus, N., Meena, P. R., Alghadir, A. H., & Khan, M. (2021). Effects of One-Fifth, One-Third, and One-Half of the Bodyweight Lumbar Traction on the Straight Leg Raise Test and Pain in Prolapsed Intervertebral Disc Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial. BioMed research international, 2021, 2561502. doi.org/10.1155/2021/2561502

Slomski A. (2020). Early Physical Therapy Relieves Sciatica Disability and Pain. JAMA, 324(24), 2476. doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.24673

Albert, H. B., Hauge, E., & Manniche, C. (2012). Centralization in patients with sciatica: are pain responses to repeated movement and positioning associated with outcome or types of disc lesions?. European spine journal : official publication of the European Spine Society, the European Spinal Deformity Society, and the European Section of the Cervical Spine Research Society, 21(4), 630–636. doi.org/10.1007/s00586-011-2018-9

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The information herein on "Understanding Lumbar Traction: A Solution for Back Pain" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN*, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*

email: coach@elpasofunctionalmedicine.com

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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN* CIFM*, IFMCP*, ATN*, CCST
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