As a general term, traction means pulling on part of the body.
Most often, traction uses mechanical force (sometimes generated by weights and pulleys) to put tension on a displaced bone or joint, such as a dislocated shoulder, to put it back in position and keep it still.
Traction is also used to keep a group of muscles (such as the neck muscles) stretched to reduce muscle spasms. This is called cervical traction.
As a treatment, traction will involve a certain amount of tension to pull the body part into another position, a length of time to use the tension, and a way to keep the tension.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.