Saunders Cervical Traction

saunders cervical traction

If you have neck pain, your healthcare provider might recommend a device like the Saunders Cervical Traction Unit for you to use at home. But how do you know it will help? As a physical therapist, I use this kind of device all the time in the clinic. Keep reading to learn my opinion of the Saunders cervical traction unit – and whether it’s worth the money. 

What is a cervical traction unit?

A cervical traction unit works by aligning your neck and relieving pressure off your spine through decompression. This technique is effective in relieving neck pain or radiating symptoms such as pain down the arms and back. 

Doctors prescribe cervical traction to treat pain associated with pinched nerves, arthritis or stenosis of the spine, herniated discs, headaches, muscle aches, and overall joint stiffness at the neck. Research shows that intermittent cervical traction (ICT) treatments can significantly reduce neck pain in the short term.

And while cervical traction is helpful for a lot of diagnoses, there are certain conditions or symptoms where cervical traction is not appropriate – what we call “contraindications.”

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The long list of contraindications for ICT treatments includes spinal instability, fracture, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal cord compression, tumors or malignancies, infections and inflammatory diseases, acute or traumatic injury, and any other condition that would be worsened with movement. 

Obviously, you should check with your doctor or physical therapist to see if cervical traction is right for you. Assuming your doctor has cleared you for one, let’s take a closer look at the Saunders cervical traction unit as a suitable device for relieving neck pain.  

The Quality of a Saunders Cervical Traction Unit

When it comes to medical devices, quality is not something you should compromise. Today we enjoy a plethora of options in medical equipment, but not every option is worthwhile. Although I generally support competition because it leads to generic brands and lower prices, I am leery of cheap medical equipment. Compromising quality for a cheaper product can result in a less safe, less effective, and possibly more injurious therapy experience.

saunders cervical traction

If you’ve done some research on the Saunders cervical traction unit, you’ll know that it is not cheap. However, you’ll also notice that Saunders is one of the best-known brands in home traction units. Saunders has gained a strong and, in my opinion, worthy reputation for producing well-built, high-quality products that are effective, user-friendly, and portable. 

That’s not to say other options for cervical traction aren’t effective. However, from my personal experience in the clinic, I’ve had success with this unit in particular. My patients find it both comfortable and easy to use, and personally, I think it’s one of the best options on the market. 

Setting Up Your Saunders Unit

The unit comes as one piece, so set up is really simple; all you have to do is remove it from the case and lay it flat on the ground.  

There are three settings for angling the device, and the Saunders unit defaults to an angle of 15 degrees. Raising the unit to the middle notch inclines the angle to 20 degrees, while the highest position angles the unit at 25 degrees.

saunders neck traction

Generally, the 15º position is considered neutral, but you may find the 20º or 25º positions more comfortable depending on your neck or body composition. 

You’ll notice two adjustable neck wedges that hold your head in place on the device. Rotate the knobs at the base of the unit to control the wedges and move them closer to your neck. You’ll want these wedges to fit snugly against your neck just below the base of your head or occiput.

Finally, place the head strap just above your eyebrows, securing the Velcro on both ends. 

neck traction

How to Use a Cervical Traction Device

Once you’ve fit the device comfortably to your head and neck, you can begin decompression.

The attached hand pump allows you to control the pressure using three settings: pump, hold, and release. Set the device to “pump” in order to increase pressure, then rotate it to “hold” in order to sustain the pressure. Keep track of how long you keep the device on the “hold” setting. Finally, release the pressure by simply turning the pump to the “release” setting.  

Included with the pump is a helpful gauge that displays how much pressure is actively decompressing your neck. It’s important to follow the instructions of your healthcare provider as to how much pressure to build and for how long. Your doctor or physical therapist may recommend starting with 15 pounds of pressure, then working up to 25-30 pounds.

saunders traction

When it comes to the duration of decompression therapy, aim to progress gradually. It can take a couple of days to get used to the treatment. Generally, I recommend my patients start with 3-5 minutes of decompression and then increase the time to 8-10 minutes, as long as the treatment is well-tolerated. If you experience more pain or increased soreness in the neck, stop the treatments until you can follow up with your prescribing doctor or physical therapist. 

Overall Review

Personally, I find that the Saunders cervical traction unit provides an effective therapy for reducing neck pain. However, you should check with your doctor or physical therapist before using any device like this.

Although these units are expensive at $350 new and about $150 used online, that’s a small price to pay for the impact this unit will have on your quality of life. Biting the bullet on a Saunders cervical traction unit is certainly cheaper than taking days off work for neck pain or paying for expensive medical procedures. 

Decompression therapy is not a gimmick. With proper use among patients with appropriate diagnoses, the Saunders cervical traction unit will deliver worthwhile results.

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Tim Fraticelli DPT, MBA, CFP®

Tim Fraticelli is a Physical Therapist, Certified Financial Planner™ and founder of He loves to teach PTs and OTs ways to save time and money in and out of the clinic, especially when it comes to documentation or continuing education. Follow him on YouTube for weekly videos on ways to improve your financial health.