Tag Archives: Back pain

Pronex Traction Unit Review / How I’ve Learned to Use One

At the request of a follower, I’m doing a more in-depth post about the cervical (neck) traction unit made by Pronex:


If you’re having trouble visualizing how the unit works, this picture will help:

The dense foam rubber cradle is contoured to fit your neck in the proper (healthy posture) position. You inflate the rubber air bag in the center using the ball pump, and the device expands. It pushes against your shoulders and the base of your skull to decompress the vertebrae. This lets the spinal discs return to a normal shape and frees pinched nerves, etc… Kind of how the picture in picture is showing with the arrows.

The expensive spinal decompression treatment I’m currently undergoing with a “professional” is actually very similar in operational theory.


Yes, it does… HOWEVER, it’s absolutely critical that it’s used properly. Failure to do so can cause some pretty severe neck pain. I learned this the hard and painful way when I first got my unit.

The bad part is, I was actually following the manufacturer’s instructions.


This is one of those areas where I should put out a disclaimer that I’m not a medical professional. I’m a moderately well read layperson who has learn from trial and error as well.

If a neck injury is old, and/or re-aggravated via whatever means (sports, car accidents, etc…) there’s likely to be scar tissue formed below the skin, on the connective tissue and supporting muscles. Scar tissue is NOT very elastic and it tends to enflame any nerves it comes into contact with. You stretch it too much, too soon, it hurts.

There’s also the chance that a person’s neck or back may have other issues going on (deformities, bone chips, etc…) that would make traction a poor treatment option. That is something to discuss with a medical professional.


In my own case, I had several herniated discs, one previously ruptured and torn disc, bone spurs, pinched nerves and a good deal of deep scar tissue. The standard “pump it up for ten to fifteen minutes, and just let it do it’s thing” caused me an insane amount of pain. My educated guess as to what happened is that the scar tissue was tearing. That based on the type of pain, and having experienced it previously when the scar tissue on my knee cap tore and broke up. It’s a fairly distinct type of pain.

What worked for me, tested out over the last few days, has been using the Pronex to duplicate the traction patterns of the DT Hill machine that I’m being treated with at the chiropractor’s.

First, get comfortable on a firm surface. DO NOT use a bed or couch. Too soft and the device won’t move and will inflate only at the top. Use a floor, a yoga mat, etc…

Once you’re settled in, pump the Pronex up until you feel a light to moderate pull in your neck. Ignore the feeling of it pushing against your shoulders and skull, and focus on the feeling in your neck. That’s how to gauge how much inflation. When you get that feel of a light to moderate pull in your neck, stop and count to 20.

When you hit 20, deflate the traction unit, let your neck rest and count to 20 again. At the end of 20 seconds, pump it back up again until you get that same light to moderate pull feeling in your neck. Count 20 again, then deflate.

It’s a pretty simple pattern. It gives your neck muscles a chance to rest and adjust between stretches though. That significantly lessens the chances of a muscle pull or a drastic tear in any scar tissue that MAY be there.

Keep up the pattern for 15 minutes, then go put a cold pack on your neck. It may not hurt immediately after you do treatment, but it could shortly after. The cold pack will counter any swelling and inflammation. The best option is to have one in the refrigerator and put it directly on the skin. You get more cold to the muscles than if you used a frozen one wrapped up in towels.

My neck has been such a mess that I live with a cold pack on my neck the day I get treatments. The next day I feel great though.

If you didn’t guess, this is NOT a quick fix. There’s no such thing anyway. This is something you’ll have to do once or twice a day, every other day for an extended period of time. The longer your neck has been bad, the longer it’ll take to fix it. Even when you think you’re feeling better, keep it up. The reason physical therapy most often fails is that people quit too early. I’d say keep at it for a month to fully heal your neck. It may take even longer if your neck is in really bad shape.

Keep at it though. What’s the alternative? Continuing with pain? Destroying your liver and stomach with OTC pain killers? Opioid addiction? Surgery that costs more than a house and will only result in other problems later? A month will pass before you know it anyway.

The obvious, common sense exception here is that if you feel any increase in pain, (esp sharp pain) even if it’s at the first pump of a traction unit, STOP!

Traction, if done right and there aren’t hidden complications, should feel comfortable. Your neck MAY be sore afterwards, but that’s what the ice is for; reducing the inflammation in the stretched muscles.

Breaking up any scar tissue or adhesions will take time, but little by little, they will break up and you’ll regain movement and reduce pain.

Using this method, I’ve even been able to undo the pain caused by testing the piece of crap home traction unit my chiropractor gave me. Again, the big key is to take it slow and keep the neck stretch moderate. Overdo it and you’ll have pain on a level you won’t believe was possible.


The Pronex is a pricey piece of foam rubber at $300. IF you buy one, I’d recommend Amazon since they will let you return it for 30 days whereas the manufacturer will not take a return for ANY reason. If you’ve got a neck over 18 inches, make sure you get the large model also.

I’d further recommend Amazon because, per the bad reviews there, occasionally some do get out the factory door with dry rotted air bladders. This way you still have a return option in the event of a factory defect.


With a price tag like that, I’m sure some of you are asking if anything else similar would work. Here’s some other options and what my research and talking to a few different chiropractors has led me to believe.

Overhead Neck Traction Units:

Remind you of a game of Hangman? O_O

There’s quite a few variations on these. Some you pull a cord, some use water for resistance / counter weight, etc… My Sacramento chiropractor was adamantly against the use of these contraptions. Most aren’t designed to maintain good head posture while using them, and he said he’s seen too many injuries from pulling too hard, using too much water, etc… They just look like a booby trap for the “Here’s yer sign” crowd, don’t they?

Inflatable Neck Pillows Traction Units:

First, if you notice, her head is photoshopped on. Either that or she’s part giraffe, LOL.

These look like a good idea on the surface. They MIGHT work OK for minor neck issues and headaches too. The main reason my chiropractors don’t like them is that again there’s not enough in the design to assure proper neck posture / alignment before stretching.

Neck Hammocks and Foam Pillows:

These are both supposed to work fairly well, and only use gravity and your own body weight to help restore correct posture. Restoring the correct shape to your neck will naturally spread the vertebrae out a little and give some decompression.

My best educated guess is that these would work fine for milder neck issues or ongoing therapy after more major treatment like spinal decompression or a Pronex. Stage 2 spinal degeneration is more iffy and I wouldn’t hold my breath if you’re dealing with stage 3 degeneration.

Similar Traction Units:

Would probably work just as well as the Pronex. This one, by Comfortrac and sold on Amazon, is $80 more than the Pronex, but looks more solidly built. Coincidentally, the neck rest is adjustable, looks similar to the one on the chiropractor’s machine, and cradles the neck with proper support. The upward tilt via the ramp is also duplicated by the professional therapy machine.

All I can say is study the design to see if a machine looks well made and comfortable, and compare prices.

Inversion Tables:

I’m actually a believer in these, and currently own one by Innova:

You strap your ankles in, recline partly back anywhere from just beyond horizontal to completely upside down. From there, gravity stretches out your spine.

Me, I go completely inverted because my back doesn’t get a good stretch otherwise.

LOL, I couldn’t resist.

Here’s the thing though… In my experience, inversion tables are far more beneficial for lower back problems than they are neck issues. You’ve got the entire weight of your upper body pulling on your lower back after all (not that you want to overdo it). This is a Your Mileage May Vary kind of thing, since I had alot of scar tissue holding my neck tight.

Inversion tables have a few caveats also. If you have high blood pressure or glaucoma, you shouldn’t use them. The extra blood going to your head will get REALLY uncomfortable if you do have them. Likewise, if you are prone to acid reflux and have a weak stomach valve, being inverted can be problematic.

On and added personal experience note. Many tables are now coming with lumbar supports or massage units like the one strapped to the machine above. They’re useless. They’ll actually hold your back in place and work against the table. If you get an inversion table, get a no frills model that looks comfortable. That massage thing is off of ours and now is used for separate therapy.

Other Lumbar Traction Options:

I’m really not familiar with, so I’ll have to pass on offering any input. My inversion table has worked fine for helping my lower back pain so that’s all I’ve used.


I decided to be fair and not just run on the assumption that it did put the adjustment pressure in too limited an area. Sure as hell, I was right. After a very conservative use, my neck was killing me. I had to use the Pronex to help alleviate the pain. I want to pummel the chiropractor with this turd.

The concept isn’t bad, and is similar to the shaped foam pillows above, but if you want to get one, for the love of humanity, GET THE 1400-D MODEL!

As you can see, this one offers much better, more even support. You’re far more likely to get an even stretch with this version.

When using anything inflatable like the Posture Pump, my advice would be to follow the same pattern and level of stretch that I recommended with the Pronex. That helps your neck get a good stretch with less risk of pulls or tears.


And that’s about all there is to tell. You now know almost everything I do about home treatment of neck and back issues after years of studying, questioning chiropractors, and just plain old trial and error.

Don’t forget other additional options like yoga, stretching, maintaining good posture and nutrition, drinking enough water, etc… They really do make a difference, particularly in avoiding future flair ups.

Remember, treatment will be an ongoing thing too. There are NO shortcuts to good health.

Spinal Decompression: Day 14

5 minute read

Time for a treatment update. Monday / Yesterday was treatment number 7. I’m now 25% through my battery of 24 treatments.

Yes, it still amuses me, LOL

Overall, I’m progressing nicely. My neck is feeling better, I have more energy, my mood has improved, and my body is actually wanting healthier food too.

On a related note, the machine that I linked the YouTube video to in my earlier post:

IS indeed the exact model of table I’m being treated with.

My only real complaint at this point is the doctor and his business practices.

My Annoying Chiropractor:

My first annoyance is that he’s still all but completely absent from my treatments. It’s his office assistants setting up and running the machine. Only one quick “how are you doing today?” from the ‘doctor’ in the last few treatments.

Second was that I was supposed to get some physical therapy exercises to do at home to help my progress. That was put off multiple times until I called the staff out regarding it, in front of multiple other clients. What do they give me? Four basic exercises pushing my head against my hand in order to build neck strength. 🙄😒

IF he had listened to me or even examined me closely, a weak neck is NOT an issue with me. My pinched nerves had my neck and traps clinched up tight as a rock literally for years. The first chiropractor I went to in Sacramento had a massage therapist on staff, and the therapist couldn’t even work my shoulders at all they were so tight. I’m not a mutant weight lifter, nor do I look like one, but trust me, I have a damned strong neck for a 51 year old.

Luckily, I still know some flexibility stretches from my martial arts training and my last chiropractor.

Third, I was supposed to be getting some sort of home traction unit, again to supplement my treatment while at home. I got a big song and dance about how it was soooo much better than the Pronex unit I told them hurt me before:

Well, I got billed $169 dollars for THIS:

Ok, so the theory is sound with the thing. Push your neck out (up) back into a proper S curve, correcting posture issues and spreading the vertebrae, allowing the discs to return to normal.

TWO problems though. The first anyone with a basic understanding of anatomy will spot: It’s putting the pressure on too narrow an area of the cervical spine. The pressure needs to be more evenly distributed to get the result they’re claiming. The manufacturer knows this too, because they came out with a newer model with two inflatable areas that distribute pressure along the entire neck. I got an older model that could potentially cause more harm than it fixes.

The second problem is the price. $169. I found it on Amazon for as low as $57.99, although many suppliers were over $100 (barely). I’m still not sure if I’m a much better shopper than he is, or he’s just marking junk up almost 300%

My last issue ties back to number one above: You try to ask this guy a question and despite having a love me wall to put most chiropractors to shame, he either can’t or won’t answer questions.

Most recently I caught him behind the front desk and asked about the treatment plan’s restrictions on carbonated soft drinks… Was there a reason that other sugary stuff like lemonade and sweet tea were not listed? He avoided a direct answer and gave me some line about just recommending what’s best and that an occasional soft drink wouldn’t kill me, it just wasn’t optimal for healing.

Here’s the proper answer:

ALL sugary drinks are highly acidic. Sugar itself is an acid. Drinking them causes inflammation, and keeps existing inflammation from healing. The acid level is also bad for your spine, and skeleton in general, because your body will leech calcium and magnesium from your bones to correct the PH level in your body.

Already knowing that answer, I asked him the question to see if he knew anything further about carbonation potentially causing other issues, etc… Instead I got BS’ed because he didn’t know the answer, or thought I was too dumb to appreciate it. 😡

The Actual Treatment Thus Far:

Progress continues to be good here. My pain level is higher after treatment, but after I’ve put cold packs on my neck and rested a little, my pain is now down to a consistent 2 or 3. The treatments are now up to 30 minutes long also. Yesterday, I timed the machine to see it’s pattern. It started at 15 seconds of tension and 15 seconds of relaxing the pull, and slowly worked up to about 30 seconds of tension followed by 20 to 25 seconds of release.

Overall, I’m pretty optimistic about this working. Any remaining doubts and fears center around it working long term. Time, what I’ve learned the last week, and my extra work will combine to tell the tale there.

So What Have I Learned About My Neck and Treatment?

Primarily that my neck does still have quite a bit of internal scar tissue. 27 years of popping and grinding, and tension induced compression will do that. How do I know? The type of pain and the sensation when I feel the area.

Years ago, I used to have scar tissue on my knee. If you’ve ever had a similar patch (vs a thin line of it), you know the feeling. It’s like poking a gel ice pack in terms of resistance, and there’s a burning, pulsating pain when you bump it too hard (or it starts to tear).

The left side of my neck in particular has that feel from my ear all the way down to my shoulder. So if I want to get my life back, I have to break that scar tissue down.

I’ve also learned that Magnesium is a good deal more important a nutrient for muscle and nerve health than I previously gave it credit for. It’s part of my supplement routine from the chiropractor. Once a day, and it really helps with muscle tension.

The Battle Plan:

The scar tissue realization and the timing of the machine were important insights. They helped me realize that the reason the Pronex was causing pain is that I was using it the wrong way; too long with tension, not frequent nor long enough enough relaxation between tensions. I was tearing up the scar tissue too quickly, and maybe pulling some actual muscles with scar tissue adhesions also. I need a slower, less rigorous use of the device to get proper results.

That’s my theory anyway, and I’m going to be testing it out later. If I follow the machine’s pattern and still get excessive pain, then I’ll just discard the thing. If it works, I’ll keep it up.

I’ll also make use of my inversion table, particularly in an effort to work on my lower back issues. I’ve gotten hold of a few yoga programs specifically for neck and back issue treatment, and will be making use of those as well. Those along with stretching, taking the supplements I got and lots of water. I’ll probably throw in some meditation and Tai Chi as well.

All in all, I believe this is going to work, but it will take doing ALL 24 treatments, (maybe a few more), and doing all the homework and more thanks to having an apathetic chiropractor.

Treatment, Days 1 & 2

For those who read my recent “Decompressing” post, we opted to go ahead and do the spinal decompression treatments.

Yes, it went something like that, LOL.

That’s the purpose of the post today; to let those who were curious actually know what’s involved. I’ll post updates as I progress through treatment and let readers know if this actually IS effective, or just another scam.

Let’s backtrack a bit though, so as to give readers the full picture.

How We Decided I Should Do It:

We put a great deal of debate and research into the decision. I have to say that we went with it in spite of the doctor also, not because of him. Quite honestly, he comes across as knowing his stuff, but completely devoid of any empathy. Kind of like Dr Strange before his car crash and trip to Nepal.

I only mention it because deciding if you feel comfortable with the doctor IS something you have to weigh when considering any sort of treatment.

At any rate, I’ve tried just about every other non-surgical option. Conventional chiropractic treatment helps, but is only holding the line at this point. Acupuncture was doing great things for the pain, but apparently not much for actual healing. The way things were progressing, it was either this or wait for surgery at some point in the future. Surgery, even laser surgery, has some ugly long term issues that I do not want to deal with.

So, I spent half a day trying to wade through the cesspool of misinformation that is the internet. Everyone out there has their own opinion on treatment, and all others are scam artists. Here’s what I was able to piece together though:

If you cut out all the crap with big pharma supported doctors and sites saying it’s voodoo, and people doing the treatments saying they’re a miracle cure… You’ll find out that the treatments seem to work for 80 to 90 percent of patients. What I could not find is how the treatments hold up long term.

I imagine long term viability would be a difficult study anyway, given that you’d have to see who was taking care of their back afterwards and who was abusing it.

Long story made short; most of the unbiased sites said the odds were good it would help, and it’s far, far cheaper than surgery.

The Actual Process:

Keeping it simple, the idea is to physically stretch the spine, allowing herniated discs to return to their normal shape, and pinched nerves to heal. So, while that picture of the rack at the start of the post was a joke, it’s not TOO far fetched.

The technology today is computer controlled and loaded with resistance sensors also. When the table detects added resistance from your muscles tensing, it backs off briefly and then begins again. As far as what the tables look like now, I found one video on YouTube. It’s an ad, but it’s good in terms of explaining how the table works and showing what it looks like. If you want to see the neck area part of the video, jump to 6:30. They start with lumbar (lower back) first.

This actually looks very similar to the table I’m getting treated on, and I think may be the model before the one I’m getting treated on.

Treatment plans can go anywhere from 20 to 30 sessions. They start out at 20 minutes, and after the first few times, increase to 30 minutes.

It’s pain free also, during the session. My neck was sore afterwards today though. It was the kind of pain like when scar tissue tears and starts to break up. For those who have never experienced that joy, it’s a cross between the feeling of overdoing it at the gym, and pulling muscle. It was muscular though. The constant stabbing pain of the pinched nerves in my neck has diminished substantially. So, overall, it’s a promising start.

The Homework:

Yes, there’s homework. Most of it is simple stuff though. Drink LOTS of water to rehydrate treated areas. Keep ice packs on it to reduce swelling and inflammation also. Five times a day minimum. I was also given some nutritional supplements to help promote healing and nourish the area. I’m also supposed to be getting a set of exercises (most likely basic stretches) to help rehab my neck and some sort of home traction gizmo as well. Hope THAT works better than the Pronex did… Why I haven’t gotten the exercises yet is beyond me also. If I don’t get them soon, I found a yoga program specifically for neck rehab that I’ll be using anyway.

I’m also supposed to stay away from sugary drinks and caffeine. Given that the average can of Coke has more than enough sugar to cause inflammation, I’m reluctantly cooperating there, LOL. I’m taking this seriously because it is expensive and may be my last best shot at getting healthy again.

A classic Henny Youngman joke

The Cost:

No I didn’t forget. I was keeping you reading. 😀

Everything all total, for 24 treatment sessions for the neck and a half dozen adjustments for my lower back, came out to a grand total of $3800 (roughly). Yes, we pressured the doctor down some there also. Crazy expensive, but surgery can run upwards of $150,000.

My Opinion Thus Far:

Overall, so far so good. My only real issue thus far is that the doctor won’t listen to a damned thing he’s told. My back and neck were pretty badly out of adjustment when I started treatment. I think that accounts for some of my soreness also.

After 17 years of martial arts, I’ve amazed every past chiropractor by being able to tell them exactly what’s out, where and by how much. I know my own body.

If nothing else, you’d THINK that part of the procedure would be to do an adjustment before hand so that everything moves more freely. That in turn would logically give the machine better results.

So there you have it; the full scoop thus far… from the rack to the Rock. I’ll just have to hope for the best, work through the rehab and raise hell if the doc doesn’t start listening.

My Life as a Voodoo Doll

I had my first appointment in a second round of acupuncture today… well yesterday now (it’s after midnight here). My first go around was 3 years ago. Given my utter hatred of needles, the only reason I’m doing this again is that it works!

Last go around took my cervicogenic headache pain from a 50 on a scale of 1 to 10 down to a level where I’m normally functional, albeit not at a normal level. It’s been permanent too, with the exception of 1 or 2 instances. Cervicogenic headaches are ones caused by pinched nerves by the way, typically in the neck, but elsewhere in the spine is not uncommon also.

Getting back on track… My back and neck have been acting up again the last month. Being freshly married, I want to be able to contribute to the household as much as possible also. Getting further back on my feet, by any degree will be a blessing. So, here I go again. Did I mention I hate needles??

For those who have ever wondered, acupuncture really is pain free. Most of the time anyway. Last go around, the specialist hit the wrong spot a couple of times and made me screech. 3 or so bad pokes isn’t bad considering how many needles I had in me during that battery of sessions. Usually what’s felt is more like a faint hint of a poke. No bleeding either; the needles don’t go in deep enough.

Results: My middle back no longer feels like I’ve got a telephone pole laying across it. I actually felt three vertebrae pop into place during the half hour I laid there with the needles in me. My neck is hurting again, but I don’t view that as a bad thing. It’s typically hurting, and the mid back issues were simply bad enough to mask the neck ones. We’ve undone one part of the mess, next we clean up part two, I hope.

I experience a couple of interesting things during these treatments. I’m not sure if it’s normal, or due to my exceptional awareness of my body due to my two decades of martial arts training, or a combination of both.

The first one is kind of unnerving (all pun intended). I’d say about half of the needles, I can feel them in me, but no pain to go along with it. I could best describe it as a sensation similar to just having something light resting on you, but I can feel it beneath the surface of the skin too. Either way, it’s kind of freaky.

Second is the sensations I sometimes feel in a ‘needled’ area. Yesterday for example, over the course of the half hour, my right foot went from normal to tingly to warm, to warm with a slight throbbing sensation, then a little under a minute of mild pain, then it felt better than it did when I came in for my appointment. If I were to apply the traditional explanation to this, I’d say it was probably a chi blockage being broken up and released. In a way it did feel like a ghostly copy of a body part waking up after it was “asleep” due to lack of circulation.

Acupuncture theory:

For those who don’t know, I figured it would be fun to spend a moment or two giving a quick overview of the theory behind acupuncture and accupressure. I’m going to try to keep this as simple as possible, so if I ‘err’ on something, it wasn’t intentional, just over-simplification.

Accupuncture, accupressure, and many martial arts ‘vital spot’ attacks are based on the idea of chi or qi meridians:

The chart here shows the 12 main meridians, as well as color coding them according to the Taoist theory of five elements. To put it in Western terms, think of meridians as a second nervous system that carries our spiritual energy throughout our bodies.

Interestingly enough, science has begun to find some evidence to support the existence of meridians, but not their function. I have a personal theory that the little super thin silvery hairs sometimes seen poking out of fibromyalgia victims MAY indeed be meridians. They match the ancient descriptions of meridians. Fibro pain often occurs at key meridian locations also. Just a theory however.

Continuing on… Blocked chi flow means energy trapped on the wrong side of the blockage stagnates and manifests as all kinds of possible physical ailments. It would probably be more accurate to say that physical injuries often cause meridian blockages. Either way, traditional medicine believes if you use acupuncture to free up the blocked energy and restore the flow, that your body will be aided in it’s recovery.

Some of you may be thinking “OK but you have spinal issue and said you had needles in your ankles”. The answer there is that working elsewhere along the same meridian as a blockage can still free it up. In fact it’s often beneficial to “attack indirectly” as it’s gentler on the body than directly “blowing up the dam”.

The previously mentioned 5 elements theory comes into play here also. The short version of the theory is that these five elements are similar to ancient Greek theory of the classical four elements. The spiritual energy of these elements combined in different ways make up everything in the universe. It’s also a big Rock Paper Scissors game, with each element being fed by one and weakened by another. So if you have a “wood blockage” or imbalance, it can be weakened by promoting fire energy.

I’m not saying I buy the whole five elements theory aspect of this. I think that part is simply a framework created by human minds to understand the processes they were seeing.

What I can tell you is that acupuncture works. Before my first round of treatments, I spent an average of one day a week completely bedridden and in horrible pain. That is rare anymore. I’m still frequently in a good deal of pain, but I’m more functional now than I was before.

Being smaller, I took an early interest in chi meridian attacks and other forms of vital spot attacks during my martial arts training. I can tell you they work also, even if not to the same degree as some of the more wild martial arts movies out there show.