The efficacy of traction for back pain: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials

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Objective: To assess the efficacy of traction for patients with low back pain (LBP) with or without radiating pain, taking into account the clinical technique or parameters used. Data Sources: A computer-aided search of MEDLINE, CINAHL, AMED, and the Cochrane Collaboration was conducted for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in the English language, from 1966 to December 2001. Study Selection: RCTs were included if: participants were over the age of 18 years, with LBP with or without radiating pain; the intervention group received traction as the main or sole treatment; the comparison group received sham traction or another conservative treatment; and the study used 1 of 4 primary outcome measures. Data Extraction: The study was conducted in 2 strands. Strand 1 assessed methodologic quality using a specific criteria list recommended by the Cochrane Back Review Group. The strength of the evidence was then rated using the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research system. Strand 2 applied further inclusion criteria based on recommended clinical parameters. One reviewer conducted the selection and data extraction. Data Synthesis: Strand 1: 1 study scored 9 points (maximum score, 10 points); the other 12 scored between 0 and 3 points, indicating that most were of poor quality. Nine studies reported negative findings, but only 1 study was of a high quality. Three studies reported positive findings and 1 study was inconclusive. Strand 2: only 4 trials having low methodologic quality were included, 2 of which reported negative findings, and 2 positive findings. Conclusion: The evidence for the use of traction in LBP remains inconclusive because of the continued lack of methodologic rigor and the limited application of clinical parameters as used in clinical practice. Further trials, which give attention to these areas, are needed before any firm conclusions and recommendations may be made. © 2003 by the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.




Harte, A. A., Baxter, G. D., & Gracey, J. H. (2003, October 1). The efficacy of traction for back pain: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. W.B. Saunders.

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