Mechanical effects of traction on lumbar intervertebral discs: A magnetic resonance imaging study

Musculoskelet Sci Pract. 2017 Jun:29:78-83. doi: 10.1016/j.msksp.2017.03.007. Epub 2017 Mar 20.


Background: Although traction has long been used for treating patients with low back pain (LBP), its effects are still inconclusive mainly because of limited high-quality evidence.

Objective: To provide evidence of the mechanism of traction on lumbar intervertebral discs.

Design: A quantitative approach with a repeated measurement protocol.

Method: Nine participants (mean age = 22.1 ± 0.8 years) without any LBP history were recruited. Magnetic Resonance Images of the lumbar spine of each participant were recorded before and after 30 min of horizontal lying and directly after 30 min of horizontal traction of 42% body weight. The average, anterior, central, and posterior disc height and tilt angle of each lumbar disc and lumbar lordosis were measured.

Results: A significant increase in the average disc height for all lumbar discs, a significant reduction of lumbar lordosis and changes in tilt angle were observed after the application of 30 min of resting followed by 30 min of traction. A significant increase in the average disc height was observed only in lower lumbar discs after 30 min of traction. The increase in the posterior disc height was more apparent than that in the anterior disc height.

Conclusions: Horizontal traction was evidently effective in increasing the disc height of lower lumbar levels, particularly in the posterior regions of the discs. Further evidence of the effects of traction of different modes, magnitudes, and durations on the change in disc height is required for proper control of traction applied to specific disc levels.

Keywords: Disc height; Disc tilt angle; Low back pain; Lumbar lordosis; Traction.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / diagnostic imaging
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / physiopathology*
  • Intervertebral Disc Degeneration / therapy*
  • Low Back Pain / therapy*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / physiopathology*
  • Lumbosacral Region / diagnostic imaging
  • Lumbosacral Region / physiopathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Traction / methods*
  • Young Adult