Steven Hill has worked out a way to pull without holding the clay to put stress on the back. Benzine, this might be good for a laugh with the more serious students. Just make sure the clay isn't too stiff or you may have to finish up high anyway.
I think what he said about the thickness taper is where pulling handles naturally accomplishes the taper. You can get the taper with handbuilt, it just takes more work.
I alternate between a handle that uses a Bill Van Gilder ribbed board to texture and shape, and pulling, attaching and final pulling from the pot.