LIke you've I've had more PT than I can count! But in many cases it's been extremely helpful, especially for my neck, and to help me get mobility back, although it can't really help nerve pain that isn't caused by muslce tighness. You're right, the traction has changed considerably, although it's still the same concept. Now there's usually a little machine that can be set more precisely to put slowly increasing amounts of tension on the pulleys, and you're kind of strapped in a bit more comfortably (well, not strapped, but I can't think of a good word!) now. It's not as uncomfortable, and I think it a lot more controlled.
By the way, I don't think all PT's do it. The equipment is very expensive. My PT also told me it's basically the same thing chiropractors advertise as "decompression therapy". And I'd much rather have a PT overseeing that treatment than a chiro. (not that chiropractors don't help some, but I don't think they know as much about muscle involvement). As I said above, my PT stopped after 2 treatments when he realized that it was increasing my symptoms in ways it wasn't supposed to. I sure wish it had worked!
Kara can probably describe what it's like for her as a first timer!