Do you have achy lower back pain? Does it feel like your lower back just needs to stretched out? Well look no further as we have the solution for you!
A spinal traction unit that you can purchase for home use!
April fools (yes I realize I am a day late on this)! While I am selling you that I also have a bracelet to improve your balance, abdominal electric belt to get that 6 pack and an amazing new time share that you would love!
Every so often I see a patient with a referral for mechanical lumbar or cervical traction. I will leave cervical traction alone for today.
The theory behind mechanical traction makes sense on the surface. If you are getting pain from a pinched nerve or compressed structure in the spine then decompress those areas. A mechanical traction unit does just that by lengthening the patient’s spine as they are strapped into it and lying on his/her back.
Some patients will get temporary relief from these devices, however at what cost? When the spine is lengthened for an extended period of time, tissues are stretched that are not meant to be which creates tendons and ligaments that resemble a 20 year old elastic band.
The purpose of these structures is to keep your spine intact throughout movement and once they become excessively lengthened there is not much that can be done to stiffen them up again. The spine will now be more unstable, increasing the likelihood of injury to the discs, nerves and bony structure itself. This also increases the possibility of experiencing spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal that results in impingement of the spinal cord and painful referred symptoms.
The possible short term relief from mechanical traction is suddenly not so appealing after all.
Now wouldn’t it be nice if we had some sort of device like this that was built into our bodies? This way we could decompress the achy structures of our spine without having some contraption do it for us and create more problems in the process.
The good news is that we do and Mom gave it to us!
This device is called the diaphragm which is a large dome shaped muscle that separates our thoracic cavity from our abdominal cavity. This muscle is our primary muscle of respiration, descending or flattening during inhalation to create room for air to come into our lungs, and ascending or rising to push air out during exhalation.
However this is not all it does. The diaphragm is a versatile dude, as it is also a valuable stabilizer of the spine due to its attachments onto the spine. The muscle will contract during inhalation and pull from the attachment points on the lumbar spine which creates a lengthening (aka traction) effect.
For this lengthening to occur, the diaphragm must be working from an optimal position. For reasons discussed in my previous blog posts, we often get stuck in extension which positions the anterior portion of the diaphragm upwards. This creates a dysfunctional position for it to function from. In this position the diaphragm is pulling from an awkward angle and will create an undesired effect onto the lumbar spine and possibly make the compression worse.
The trick is to get the lumbar spine to flex and then breath!
I often teach optimal breathing patterns in the 90-90 position which places the hips and knees at 90 degrees while supported on an object or the wall. When in this position simply flatten the entire lower back onto the floor and lift the tailbone off the floor to flex the spine. Next take a relaxed breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. A full exhalation must be achieved each time followed by a 5 second pause before breathing in again. After performing 4 cycles of this activity you should have found your abs and if you struggled to keep your back from arching then you should know what you need to work on!
If you can perform this activity, feeling your abs the entire time without arching your lower back off the floor then you found that traction you were searching for without a crazy mid-evil looking contraption!
I don’t think medical supply companies are going to be very happy with me after this post…