Cervical Traction for Managing Neck Pain: A Survey of Physical Therapists in the United States

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2017 Mar;47(3):200-208. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2017.6914.


Study Design Cross-sectional survey. Objective To examine the use of traction by physical therapists for patients with neck pain, including how and when traction is used, the delivery modes and parameters, supplemental interventions, and influence of professional demographics on usage. Background Systematic reviews provide little support for traction in managing neck pain. While traction usage among physical therapists in other countries has been described, usage in the United States has not been examined. Methods A random sample of 4000 Orthopaedic Section members of the American Physical Therapy Association were surveyed. Associations among respondents' professional demographics and survey responses were explored with chi-square analyses (α = .05). Results The response rate was 25.5% (n = 1001); 76.6% (n = 767) of respondents reported using traction, and 93.1% reported that they would use traction for a patient presenting with signs of nerve root compression. Common delivery modes included manual methods (92.3%) and mechanical traction tables (88.3%). Using traction is often supplemented with other interventions (exercise, postural education, joint mobilization). A higher proportion of physical therapists with American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties orthopaedic certification reported using traction (88.6%) than did those without specialty certification (73.0%). Conclusion Most respondents reported that their use of cervical traction was consistent with proposed criteria that identify patients who are likely to benefit. They use various traction delivery modes/parameters within comprehensive plans of care incorporating multiple interventions. Professional demographics (clinical specialist credentialing) were associated with traction usage. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2017;47(3):200-208. Epub 30 Oct 2016. doi:10.2519/jospt.2017.6914.

Keywords: cross-sectional study; intervention modalities; neck pain; physical therapy practice survey.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physical Therapy Specialty / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Traction / methods*
  • Traction / statistics & numerical data
  • United States