Chiropractic and the Brain?
Do Chiropractic Adjustments Affect Your Brain?
Traditionally, Chiropractic has held the belief that adjusting joints in the body, particularly the spine has an affect of overall physiology. This was an extremely bold and controversial stance 100 years ago, and until recently not a lot had changed. A typical explanation, mediocre in both plausibility and support, would be something along the lines of a bone is out of place, “pinching” on spinal nerves, and this affects the area of the body that the nerve supplies. Although not completely ridiculous, this would be more extreme cases that would not line up with real patients or typical Chiropractic treatment recommendations. Occasionally you could have more serious structural issues, degeneration, or a disc herniation that actually pinches a spinal nerve. What about the vast majority of patients who don’t have such a severe condition, can their joint health still affect their overall health?
Vastly more satisfying, plausible, defensible and applicable to the masses is the idea that joint mechanics (and therefore adjustments that affect those mechanics) affect the Central Nervous System (~The Brain) by providing vast amounts of proprioceptive (movement and position) information to the brain. Your joints and muscles have sensors to tell your brain where they are and how they are moving. This is important information and is basically like a nutrient for your brain. This is why you see movement, separate from cardiovascular exercise, becoming more and more important in discussions about learning and brain development in children. This system is also very sensitive to small changes, which makes the idea of sub-clinical, symptom free joint issues affecting your health and well being much more plausible. Even small changes in a joints ability to move or position MUST affect the information going to your brain. Our modern lifestyle full of sitting, stress, and trauma offers a plethora of reasons why joints may not be moving properly.
But Chiropractic immediately affecting the brain?
In a 2011 study out of Japan, researches used PET scan technology to measure metabolic changes in the brain of subjects before and after a Chiropractic adjustment.
The results? PET image analysis showed changes in brain metabolism between the resting and post Chiropractic state! The areas where the changes occurred were potentially related to reductions in mental stress, muscle tone, and sympathetic tone (related to your body’s stress response). These are significant areas of change.
This was a small study the details of which you likely care much less about than I do, but it provides a biologically plausible way that adjustments can affect the body and brain. If you are affecting the brain, the potential to affect overall health and well-being is obvious.
Another interesting note is that this study used an Activator for the adjustments, which is an extremely gentle method. Until studies like this, the mechanism for these types of very low force adjusting techniques poorly understood and questions about effectiveness were common because the treatment is so gentle.
If you are interested in the original article, which you probably are not, I have a copy at the office, or you can find it on the pubmed database.
Tyler Fix DC, CCWP
1. Ogura,Takeshi, et al. “Cerebral Metabolic Changes in Men After Chiropractic Spinal Manipulation for Neck Pain”. Altern Ther Health Med. 2011 (Nov); 17 (6): 12–17