This is going to be a little different than what I normally write about. I've been testing a simple firm foam block product on my neck to see what effect it has on my neck and spine. It is a traction device in the way it works and that fact should have been a clue to me that it may not be as comfortable as I expected a simple foam block to be on the back of my neck.
The reason I decided to test this foam traction block, which is supposedly designed to help return a normal curve to the neck and thereby extend its benefits to areas further down the spine, is because I have been watching various chiropractors on their YouTube channels and found one that interested me and recommended use of a foam traction block to help return proper curvature to the cervical spine.
I have recently been watching several online chiropractors, one of which I have found quite interesting because he very often gets very significant improvements in his patients in just the first visit. Over the past 3 to 4 years he has been taping his patient's visits with their permission and posting them on his YouTube channel so that more people can become familiar with his chiropractic methods as well as how his methods are very positively affecting his patients.
I have been to six chiropractors over many years. My feeling was that out of the six chiropractors, only two left me feeling like I would likely come back and see them if needed or recommend them to friends and family. Of those two, I would only highly recommend one. Unfortunately, both have retired.
So this chiropractor I have been watching uses a few techniques that have been used by chiropractors that I have gone to previously, but some of his techniques are new to me. In any case, one of the things that he recommends to his patients to use between visits to help improve the curvature of the neck toward a more normal position, is a foam traction block. He contends that regular use of such a block can not only improve the curvature of the neck, relieve neck stress and pain, but also improve posture. He supplies such a foam block to his patients to use at home to extend the time between visits and generally offer benefit in helping maintain alignment of not just the neck, but the spine also. He also maintains that it can have positive effects at lower areas of the spine. He likes to see his patients once every three to six months and tells his patients that regular use of the foam block can help extend their time between visits and potentially improve some of their spinal issues. Here is a link to one of his patient videos to give you an idea of how he works:
So I looked a little further to get an idea of whether these foam neck traction blocks have any benefit as this chiropractor has suggested in many of his videos. This led me to a video of a physical therapist discussing the use of these neck traction devices and in this video he is demonstrating how to use the one I linked to lower in this article :
In the above video, he suggests that the foam traction device he is demonstrating applies mild traction to the neck which could be useful in offering pain relief for the neck at the end of the day instead of taking a pain reliever to alleviate neck pain. He also shows two ways to use the foam block, one of which seems to offer a slight bit more traction to the neck and mentions that it is fairly comfortable to use, unlike the foam block that I am testing which feels fairly uncomfortable to use. Here is a link to the product that he demonstrated :
So I looked on Amazon and found a foam block for under $25 that I felt would be good to test on my neck to see what benefit if any it might have on improving the curvature of my neck and possibly relieve tension or stress of the neck or spine or both.
This is the product I am testing that I purchased in early December 2023:
I started using it the same day it arrived, but the directions were minimal at best while the print was so fine, it was more than hard to read. I will say, without hesitation, that I was more than a little surprised at how uncomfortable it seemed to be when used as directed. I noticed that the top of the block had a relatively thin edge radius and though rounded, the surface that contacts the neck is approximately 5/8 of an in wide and though it is foam, it is very dense foam and does not have as much give as I had thought it would, which seemed to intensify the uncomfortableness of the block on the back of my neck. The directions suggested at least ten minutes per use and ten minutes also happened to be my tolerance for using the foam traction block! The video for the product on Amazon was also quite minimal at just over one minute long.
My first use was actually sort of interesting. I generally tried to overlook the uncomfortableness of the block. The directions and video showed images of the block making contact with the neck at three different locations, the top of the neck where the spine meets the skull, the middle of the neck and the base of the neck. I didn't think I could take the block for a full 10 minutes at anyone of those three points, so for the ten minutes, I kept switching points so that I covered all three points multiple times during the 10 minute period. During the 10 minutes, I heard my neck crack at least 5 times without any effort on my part at all and this is something that I had never experienced before. It also took me awhile to realize that I needed to fully let my neck relax and hangover the block so the top of my head was pointing slightly toward the floor. I found that doing this made the muscles at the front of my neck feel as though they were being stretched. Again, not a feeling I was at all familiar with. Although the top of my head was slightly pointing toward the floor, my head was not touching the floor, but was literally just hanging unsupported over the foam block. I would definitely describe this stretching of the neck as a form of traction and I could see that it would definitely take some getting used to. When my ten minute timer went off, I was very glad, because I didn't want to spend any more time in this position and the back of my neck was feeling a little sore at the three points where the foam block had contacted my neck.
If you read some of the bad reviews for this product you will see where people said it was too uncomfortable or that it hurt their neck and they were not going to use it again. I can totally understand their point of view, but at the same time, I considered that this is a traction device and as such stretching of the neck in uncomfortable ways is par for the course and some pain seems highly likely under the circumstances.
My next time on the block, I tried placing a small folded towel on the top edge of the block to slightly soften the feeling of pressure caused by the block against the designated three contact points on my neck. That helped a little and made it slightly more tolerable for the 10 minute adventure. In spite of the folded towel on the top of block, there is no mistaking that this is still not a comfortable experience. I imagine with time, it will eventually become easier to use this block so I decided to continue experimenting with the block.
When you look on Amazon, you quickly see that there are many various forms of these blocks or similar available. Some definitely look like they might be more comfortable than others because they have a continuous curve instead of a single point of contact with the neck, but it seems like that single point of contact might be important to put pressure on specific areas of the cervical spine in order to positively alter the curvature of the neck.
I decided to continue testing the block to see if I could notice any differences with additional times on the block. It has gotten slightly more comfortable with more use, but it is still not comfortable by any stretch of the imagination and I have added the two height adjusters to it which raise the block off the ground approximately another 1 3/8 ". I'm not sure what the purpose of these spacers are except for possibly a person with a longer neck so that their head can not touch the ground and remains fully stretched.
I notice that some reviewers didn't find the block too uncomfortable at all. All I can say is, lucky them! With repeated use I have noticed that after a recent 10 minute stint on the block, something unusual happened after using it. I went to go to sit down at my desk. Once seated, I stretched my upper body to my left as I sometimes do. This time when I stretched to my left, I heard what sounded like about 7 pops on the right side of my spine. This has never happened to me before. I often stretch to my left and right while seated at my desk, but I have never heard seven pops from doing so. If I hear a pop at all, it is only one or two max. After those seven pops, my back did feel what I would describe as more relaxed. I took this to mean that perhaps the chiropractor was right in saying that the neck block could potentially help lower areas of the spine to align as well as the neck.
On subsequent uses of the block, I haven't noticed too many pops coming from my neck such as I initially noticed. Perhaps that is an indication that my cervical spine is improving its curvature and helping my neck to stay aligned. I have noticed that my range of motion to look straight up has increased. According to the chiropractor, when you look up at the ceiling, ideally the front of your face should be parallel to the ceiling. I'm not quite there yet, but definitely much closer to reaching that goal and I suspect that more time on the block will help get me there.
I have also noticed that my range of motion when looking fully to the right or left without pain or tension has increased.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about this neck traction block. I do feel it is helping to make some improvements to my neck and spine, but I wonder if it could be done more comfortably than this block is capable of.
I have decided to continue to use this traction block for about another month to see if it might offer further benefit to my spine. Would I recommend this traction block to others? I would say only if you have a fairly high threshold for pain or, at a minimum that you can tolerate the discomfort it causes. Other blocks such as this one that the physical therapist demonstrated in the video above, apply continuous pressure to the neck and may be more comfortable to use, but I don't think they are effective at applying pressure to specific areas of the cervical spine as the one I am testing, seems to do? I think that if a device is more comfortable to use, you are more likely to use it regularly whereas if it is uncomfortable as mine seems to be, you may not be willing to use it regularly.
As you can see, this device supports the neck in such a way as to try and replicate the correct curve of the neck, but does not offer direct pressure to any particular area of the cervical spine and that may be an important point as other foam blocks seem to concentrate pressure on specific areas of the neck.
So far, I find this block helpful, but I wish it were more comfortable to use. Looking at how the therapist demonstrated the other foam traction block, it definitely seems more comfortable to use and for that reason alone, I might consider that device over the one I chose. However, I do feel that the device I chose likely offers more of a traction effect on the cervical spine as well as the ability to apply pressure at very specific points of the cervical spine.
With those thoughts in mind, I found a video of another foam traction block that can apply pressure to a specific area of the spine, yet the peak of the block has a more generous radius to it than the one I am testing and looks likely to be more comfortable during regular use. That to me makes it more desirable than the one I am testing and more effective than the blue one the physical therapist demonstrated above. Here is a video of a chiropractor demonstrating this foam traction block with specific placement to C6 of the cervical spine :
The top of the foam block he is demonstrating seems likely to be more comfortable than the block I am testing because it is a more generous radius at the top edge where your neck makes contact with it, while mine has a narrower radius top which I can say is not very comfortable, yet the other one can still be placed at a specific point on the cervical spine to help improve the curve of the neck, which the blue foam block that the previous physical therapist demonstrated, could not do. So this block seems to offer the benefit I feel is missing in the block I am testing, increased comfort during use. So I looked for a similar block on Amazon and found this one which seems similar in appearance to the one he demonstrated and it also has adjustable height capability which mine does also :
So of the three foam traction blocks I have discussed here, the third option seems to offer a bit more comfort and functionality while being able to target specific areas of the cervical spine. Interestingly this one is the most expensive of the three at a price of $26.95 plus tax and shipping. It is also one of the higher rated foam traction blocks on Amazon. I can't recommend it because I did not test this one, but knowing what I know now about these three products, it would be my first choice for myself. Here are images of the three foam blocks so that you can see the difference in roundness of the top of both black foam blocks. The first one has a more gradual and larger radius to the top of the block that looks likely to be more comfortable, while the second block has a tighter uncomfortable radius to it. The last block at the bottom does not seem to have the ability to target a specific area of the cervical spine which would seem to limit its effectiveness at helping to restore proper curvature to the neck. Both of the first two blocks are 8 inches long and have two height adjusters included. The blue foam block has no height adjustability nor can it target a specific area of the cervical spine, but it is the least expensive of the group at $16.99 plus tax and shipping. The one I bought was $22.99 plus tax and shipping.
Third Foam Traction Block