Numerous studies have shown that spinal manipulations performed by a chiropractor can help improve a range of pain symptoms, there remains some mystery about how the process works. Two new studies shed some light on how spinal manipulation may affect various biochemical and neurological pathways in the body, by regulating hormone levels and immune response.
In the first study, researchers from South Africa and Wales investigated one theory: that spinal manipulation prompts the body to release more of the stress hormone cortisol, and that the anti-inflammatory properties of the cortisol help reduce swelling and pain in irritated areas of the lower back.
The researchers conducted clinical trials on 30 residents of Durban, South Africa, who reported suffering from low back pain for a month or less. Subjects were randomly assigned to two treatment groups. Because cortisol operates on a circadian rhythm, with concentrations generally peaking between 6 and 8 am, all participants were examined in the early morning in a room without natural sunlight. Those in the first group received a session of spinal adjustments, while those in the control group rested for five minutes, but did not receive a specific treatment. Researchers took blood samples from each participant before and after these sessions, then compared the serum cortisol levels.
The study found that cortisol levels remained at a steady level in patients who had received spinal adjustments as treatment, but decreased in those patients who rested during their session. The researchers conclude that spinal adjustments might help lessen low back pain by prolonging the release of cortisol in the body, and thus reducing inflammation in the affected area. These findings provide some insight into how chiropractic engages the body’s own stress mechanisms to promote healing, and confirm other areas of research into low back pain.
In the second study, researchers2 from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College investigated the affect of spinal adjustments on interleukins that control immune response. They selected 74 test subjects with no current symptoms or recent history of spinal adjusment, but who displayed restricted motion in the upper thoracic spine. The patients were randomly assigned to three treatment groups to receive either a control “blood draw” treatment or spinal manipulation with or without cavitation.
All treatments were administered on a single day, and blood samples were collected before each treatment, 20 minutes after the treatment and two hours after treatment. The blood samples were compared to see if there was any increase in the levels of certain antibodies.
The researchers found that subjects treated with spinal adjustments with cavitation hadsignificantly increased levels of interleukin-2 induced immunoglobin G (IgG) and immunoglobin M (IgM) in 20 minutes after the session. After two hours, these patients had significantly elevated IgM levels compared to baseline and the control “blood draw” group. These findings suggest that spinal manipulation can have what they call a “priming” effect on the body’s immune response, by enhancing the signaling of interleukin-2, thus producing the increased levels of IgM and IgG antibodies. More study is needed to better explain this response, the research provides fascinating evidence that spinal manipulation may affect the functioning of the body’s immune system.
Call your Maitland chiropractor today at 407-629-5333 to see how chiropractic adjustments may improve your health concern.