Cervical traction (Gardner Wells
is most commonly used) is a device to stabilize the neck and
provide axial distraction to the head and neck (pull the head
and neck, in a controlled and gentle manner, away from the
chest and body). It is often used to stabilize fractures
of the neck. It is generally a temporary solution until
a halo can be placed, or a neck fusion can be performed.
Local anesthetic is applied to the scalp, above and slightly
behind the mid point of the ears, and two pins are inserted,
affixing themselves to the outer table of the skull.
A weight is then applied through a pulley system, to apply
a distraction force to the head. Often, especially in
the case of a neck fracture, the patient will immediately
experience improvement in neck pain as the neck is now stabilized.
Although risks are quite low,
there are several. During application of the halo, there
can be the typical risks associated with any medication and
anesthetics, which would include respiratory arrest, stroke,
coma, death, and allergic reaction. There can be potential
bleeding from the pin sites. The sites can become infected
during the time they remain in place. There can be resorption
of the bone subjacent to the pins, and they could theoretically
puncture through the bone and into the brain. Generally
a traction device is a temporary solution, and therefore there
are no long term risks or long term care instructions.