At the request of a follower, I’m doing a more in-depth post about the cervical (neck) traction unit made by Pronex:
THE THEORY BEHIND IT:
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.
BUT DOES IT WORK???
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.
WHERE YOU CAN GO WRONG:
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.
WHAT’S WORKED FOR ME:
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.
HOW TO BUY:
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:
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.
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.
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.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: Posture Pump 1100-SX
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.