Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

General Spine News

New VAX-D Traction Technology for Low Back Pain

Mechanical traction to treat back pain has been around for centuries. But its use has fallen out of favor lately. This is because there's a lack of evidence to support it. A new traction system called vertebral axial decompression (VAX-D) may change that.

With this traction table, the patient is positioned prone (face down). A harness around the pelvis applies a distraction force to the lumbar spine. The upper body is not in a harness or belted in place. Instead, the patient holds a hand grip to stabilize the rest of the body. The surface of the traction table is low-friction so a thoracic (upper body) harness isn't needed.

In this study, 250 patients with low back pain (LBP) were treated using the VAX-D. All subjects had LBP that limited activity. Each patient had radiographic imaging showing a degenerative or herniated disc. Everyone had tried at least two types of nonoperative treatment without success before using the VAX-D.

Treatment was given five to six times each week for four weeks. Then treatment continued once a week for another four weeks. The traction-relaxation cycle was set at 60 seconds on and 60 seconds off. The force of pull applied was set to the manufacturer's recommended level in accordance with the patient's comfort.

Results were measured by comparing pain levels and function before and after treatment. Pain was rated using a number system. Then it was analyzed using lowest, average, and highest intensity on a typical day.

Patients reported great improvement in pain and function after traction. The improvements were still present at 30 and 180 days after the last traction session. The advantages of the VAX-D are that it is noninvasive with a low risk of injury. The down side is that the nature of the unique type of traction pull makes this unit more expensive than conventional traction devices.

Further study is needed before the VAX-D can be recommended. Research is needed comparing this form of traction with standard (conventional) traction. And a group of patients with LBP should be treated with VAX-D and compared to a similar group who do not receive traction treatment.


Paul F. Beattie, PhD, PT, OCS, et al. Outcomes After a Prone Lumbar Traction Protocol for Patients with Activity-Limiting Low Back Pain: A Prospective Case Series Study. In Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabiliation. February 2008. Vol. 89. No. 2. Pp. 269-274.

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