Would You Rest Your Neck on a Dense Piece of Foam To Relieve Tension? Here's Why It Works
For many of us, neck pain is an unfortunate byproduct of our modern lives — probably due to the hours we spend hunched over our computers and phones. Massages and visits to the chiropractor can help, but not everyone has the time or money for these; so it’s tempting to try a home remedy. But with so many devices purporting to relieve neck pain, how do you know which one to choose? There's no definitive answer, as both bodies and pain intensity vary. One device, however, has been getting a lot of attention lately. Known as a "cervical traction device," this piece of curved foam is being credited by many neck pain sufferers with providing quick and effective relief. Keep reading to get the scoop on this unusual-looking tool.
Why are cervical traction devices suddenly popular?
TikTok, the social media platform responsible for all those dancing videos, was where the device first got attention. TikTok user Jen Hamilton, a healthcare worker in North Carolina, posted a video in 2022 that went viral — it now has nearly 5 million views — in which she showcased her cervical traction device and claimed that it had “changed everything” for her neck and back pain. In the video, Hamilton puts her device on the floor and lays down so that the base of her neck is resting on top of it, saying, “I don’t want to go back to the way life was before this” — a pretty strong endorsement. The cervical traction device she uses (Buy from Amazon, $19.99) is by the brand RESTCLOUD and boasts an accessible price point and over 30,000 five-star ratings, with many of the positive reviews mentioning her video.
What is a cervical traction device?
Neck traction, also called cervical traction, is a type of stretching that is often used for neck pain, and cervical traction devices work by stretching the spinal vertebrae and muscles. A big part of the device’s appeal is its simplicity; all you need to do is lie down with your neck positioned in its curve for around 10 minutes. “Cervical traction works to alleviate the pressure put on the discs and joints of the neck from the chronic posture and gravity that wears on our bodies,” says Dr. Matt Tanneberg, a chiropractor and certified strength and conditioning specialist based in Arizona. “The pulling effect of the traction is 'decompressing' the compression of life." The unique curved shape of a cervical traction device may provide a corrective to necks kept in a constantly slumped position.
Who should not use a cervical traction device?
There are several variations on Hamilton’s RESTCLOUD device, including more expensive and elaborate options similar to those you might find in a chiropractor’s office. Still, no matter which cervical traction device you choose, it’s important to go slowly and follow the instructions — and you might also want to consult with your doctor before using one.
“Many people benefit from cervical traction devices,” says Dr. Tanneberg. “However, there are certain people who should steer clear. Those who should not use cervical traction include post cervical surgical patients, osteoporotic patients, those with ligament damage or instability, and those with acute flare ups involving significant amounts of muscular spasm.”
What are the benefits of a cervical traction device?
So, why should you use a cervical traction device instead of another neck or back pain reliever? “In general, cervical traction devices are much more affordable and convenient for home use than traction devices for our lumbar spine,” says Dr. Tanneberg. The cervical spine includes your neck, while the lumbar spine includes your lower back (in case you’re not clear on the terminology). A cervical traction device is unique because it focuses solely on your neck — though it can have benefits for your back, as well. Many users, including Hamilton, report that their device also helped them with back pain.
“We all like to revert back to bad posture and sitting for long periods of time when the mood calls for it,” Dr. Tanneberg points out. “However, the long term wear and tear from that can at least be alleviated and slowed down by the use of cervical traction.”
The device is small and portable, making it easy to both travel with and store in your home. It may be particularly helpful after a long commute, since prolonged sitting is the culprit behind a lot of neck strain.
How do I use a cervical traction device?
A curved foam cervical traction device couldn't be easier to use. Simply lay down with your neck resting on the device, and stay there for ten minutes; use this as an opportunity to relax, meditate, or generally check in with your body. Keep your knees bent with your feet on the ground for added support. For a video demonstration, check out a physical therapist's helpful primer below.
While cervical traction devices aren’t necessarily a miracle cure for neck pain, they might offer you some relief. So, if you're hurting, it can't hurt to check out this affordable TikTok-approved hunk of foam and see if it helps!
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