In Skeletal traction involves using screws, wires,

In this lesson, you will learn about different types of skeletal traction.

You will also learn about complications that can occur when a person is in skeletal traction.

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What Is Skeletal Traction?

Imagine that a house has been damaged from some type of traumatic event, such as a tree falling on it. What would need to be done in order to fix it? While there would be many important steps in the process, eventually wooden beams would need to be screwed back into place in order to stabilize the structure.Similarly, when a person breaks a bone, it can be stabilized or held in place by traction. Skeletal traction involves the insertion of pins, wires, or screws into a bone. Then, weight is applied directly to the bone using a system of weights, ropes, and pulleys. This procedure involves surgery.

Skeletal traction is used for serious fractures or bone breaks. It can be used before an operation, or as the main treatment to heal a fracture. Two types of skeletal traction that are commonly used are balanced suspension traction and skull tongs traction.

Types of Skeletal Traction

Balanced suspension traction is used when a patient breaks a femur bone. The femur is also known as the thigh bone.

With balanced suspension traction, pins are inserted through this large bone. This is a surgical procedure. Usually, one large pin is placed through the center of the bone, while two smaller pins are inserted on either side of the bone. The pins are used to hold the bone in place.A device known as a Thomas splint is used in balanced suspension for extra support. It is a metal frame that supports the femur. The broken leg is placed through the frame.

At the same time, a splint called a Pearson attachment is also used to support the lower leg. The device wraps around the lower leg from the knee to the ankle. The Pearson attachment is connected to a rope that pulls in the opposite direction of the weights. It helps to balance out the traction, so that the person isn’t pulled too much in the direction of the weights that are providing traction at the femur’s pin sites.Skull tongs traction is used for cervical fractures. These types of fractures involve broken bones in the upper part of the spine. During surgery, holes are drilled into the skull and tongs are inserted.

The tongs are metal screws that are held in place by a long metal band that goes over the head, like a headband. Weights are applied to the tongs to make the spine secure.The patient with skull tongs can wear a device known as a halo vest. The halo vest is a metal frame that attaches to the tongs.

It helps to support the spine, and the patient can walk around while wearing it.


The complications related to skeletal traction can be serious. When a screw is placed into a bone, it puts the patient at risk for a bone infection.

Also, a patient with a broken femur can’t move. Their resulting immobility can cause skin ulcers.Skull tongs are inserted in the operating room under sterile conditions. To avoid infection, the tongs are cleaned daily in a sterile manner using a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and normal saline. If skull tongs become infected, it could lead to a serious brain infection known as encephalitis. A bad headache could mean that an infection has started. If the tongs are infected, medications known as steroids are started to reduce the risk of brain swelling and inflammation.

Also, antibiotics are given to treat the pin site infection.

Lesson Summary

So now you know what skeletal traction is all about. As you can see, fixing a broken bone is similar in some ways to repairing a damaged house. Skeletal traction involves using screws, wires, or pins to keep bones in place. Common types of skeletal traction are balanced suspension traction and skull tongs traction. Both types of traction help to stabilize or support broken bones.

Balanced suspension traction is used for a broken thigh bone, while skull tongs traction is used for fractures in the upper spine. Both types of traction have serious risks, including infection. Patients in balanced suspension traction are also at risk for skin breakdown because they can’t move. People who have skull tongs could be at risk for a deadly brain infection known as encephalitis.


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