Over-the-Door Cervical Traction for Neck Pain

If you have neck pain or arm pain that is coming from your neck (cervical radiculopathy), you may benefit from physical therapy to help manage your condition. Your physical therapist can work with you to help improve your neck mobility and function and to decrease your pain.

A man in a cervical traction
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Cervical Traction

Your physical therapist may use various treatments and modalities to help treat your condition. Cervical traction is one treatment to help your neck pain: traction can help stretch muscles and soft tissues in your neck, can separate disc and joint spaces in your neck and can decrease pain in your neck and arms by relieving pressure on nerves that come from your cervical spine.

There are many different ways to apply traction to your neck. While in the physical therapy clinic, your therapist may have you use a mechanical traction device that requires your head and neck to be strapped to a machine that gently pulls on your neck, providing traction.

Your physical therapist may also use his or her hands to provide traction to your neck with a technique called manual cervical traction. This type of traction allows your therapist to easily adjust the amount of traction force and the direction of the pull of your neck. Of course, manual cervical traction can only be performed in the clinic and therefore does not offer you an opportunity to receive traction independently.

Get Traction at Home

If you benefit from cervical traction in the physical therapy clinic, you may also benefit from traction at home. That way, you can maintain the gains at home that are made with traction in the clinic.

Over-the-door cervical traction may be an optimum way to administer neck traction to yourself in the comfort of your home, as it can be a safe and simple way to help you decrease your pain by providing gentle neck traction.

Where to Purchase

Many medical supply stores and pharmacies carry over-the-door traction devices as part of their regular stock. Stop into your local pharmacy to see if one is available for purchase. Over-the-door traction devices cost approximately $20.00 (US).

If you are having a difficult time finding an over-the-door traction unit, your physical therapist can help you order one from a medical supplier. Again, you can expect to pay about $20.00 for the device.

Setting Up Your Device

Before using your over-the-door traction device, speak with your physical therapist or doctor to ensure that neck traction is a safe treatment for you.

Over-the-door traction units come with three main parts: a hook-and-pulley component that hangs over your door, a nylon cord that's fed through the pulley, a water bag that hangs on the end of the cord to provide traction force, and a harness to wear on your head. The harness attaches to the end of the nylon cord that is opposite the weighted water bag.

Before using your traction unit, you must hang it over your door. There is a small hook with a pulley attached to it that hangs on your door; secure it to the top of your door and close the door. It's best to use a closet door so you know that no one will open the door while you're using the traction device. If a closet door is not available, be sure that you lock the door so that no one can open it while you are attached to the traction device.

Next, attach the harness to your head. The chin strap should fit snugly under your chin, and it should be secured by the hook and loop fasteners. The two straps with the metal grommets should be on either side of your head; these metal rings should be hooked to the end of the nylon cord, and the cord should be fed through the pulley system on your door.

After strapping on the head harness, fill your water bag and hang it on one end of the cord (there are markings on the bag to indicate its weight). Simply fill the bag until the water is at the desired mark, usually 8-15 pounds. After filling the water bag, sit in a chair facing your door, and then hang the bag on the end of the nylon cord that is not attached to your head harness. Be sure not to drop the water bag, as this could cause a sudden forceful traction motion on your neck.

How Long to Use Traction

In general, you should use the over-the-door traction for about 15 to 20 minutes each session. You can perform several sessions per day. If your pain is increasing while using the over-the-door traction device, you must stop using it and consult your physical therapist or doctor.

While using the over-the-door traction device, you should feel a gentle pulling sensation in your neck. You may feel decreased neck pain, and if you have arm pain or tingling, you may also feel this decrease.

Remember that traction does not take the place of neck exercises or postural correction in the treatment of your neck pain. Be sure to perform the exercises that your physical therapist has prescribed to treat your neck pain. Active engagement in your exercise program is essential to help treat your neck pain and to help prevent it from returning once it has fully abolished.

If you have neck pain, an over-the-door traction device is a simple, cost-effective method to provide traction to your neck at home. Ask your physical therapist if over-the-door traction is an appropriate treatment for your specific condition.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Madson TJ, Hollman JH. Cervical traction for managing neck pain: a survey of physical therapists in the united states. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2017;47(3):200-208. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2017.6914

  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine Clinicaltrials.gov. The Value of Traction in Cervical Radiculopathy.

  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine Clinicaltrials.gov. Manual Cervical Distraction: Measuring Chiropractic Delivery for Neck Pain Clinical Trial.

  5. Fritz JM, Thackeray A, Brennan GP, Childs JD. Exercise only, exercise with mechanical traction, or exercise with over-door traction for patients with cervical radiculopathy, with or without consideration of status on a previously described subgrouping rule: a randomized clinical trial. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2014;44(2):45-57. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2014.5065

  6. Bagheripour B, Kamyab M, Azadinia F, Amiri A, Akbari M. The efficacy of a home-mechanical traction unit for patients with mild to moderate cervical osteoarthrosis: A pilot study. Med J Islam Repub Iran. 2016;30:386. PMID: 27493930

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.