Unravelling functional neurology: Does spinal manipulation have an effect on the brain?- A systematic literature review

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Abstract

Background: A recent hypothesis purports that spinal manipulation may cause changes at a brain level. Functional Neurology, a mainly chiropractic approach, promotes the use of spinal manipulation to improve 'brain function' as if it were a proven construct. No systematic review has been performed to investigate how well founded this hypothesis is. Objective: To investigate whether spinal manipulation has an effect on 'brain function' that is associated with any clinical benefits. Method: In this systematic review, the literature was searched in PubMed, Embase, and PEDro (final search February 2018). We included randomized or non-randomized controlled studies, in which spinal manipulation was performed to any region of the spine, applied on either symptomatic or asymptomatic humans, and compared to a sham or to another type of control. The outcome measures had to be stated as direct or proxy markers of 'brain function'. Articles were reviewed blindly by at least two reviewers, using a quality checklist designed for the specific needs of the review. Studies were classified as of 'acceptable', 'medium', or 'low' methodological quality. Results were reported in relation to (i) control intervention (sham, 'inactive control', or 'another physical stimulus') and (ii) study subjects (healthy, symptomatic, or with spinal pain" subjects/spinal pain"), taking into account the quality. Only results obtained from between-group or between-intervention comparisons were considered in the final analysis. Results: Eighteen of 1514 articles were included. Studies were generally of 'low' or 'medium' methodological quality, most comparing spinal manipulation to a control other than a sham. Thirteen out of the 18 studies could be included in the final analysis. Transitory effects of different types of 'brain function' were reported in the three studies comparing spinal manipulation to sham (but of uncertain credibility), in "subclinical neck/spinal pain" subjects or in symptomatic subjects. None of these three studies, of 'medium' or 'acceptable' quality, investigated whether the neurophysiological effects reported were associated with clinical benefits. The remaining 10 studies, generally of 'low' or 'medium' quality, compared spinal manipulation to 'inactive control' or 'another physical stimulus' and similarly reported significant between-group differences but inconsistently. Conclusion: The available evidence suggests that changes occur in 'brain function' in response to spinal manipulation but are inconsistent across and-sometimes-within studies. The clinical relevance of these changes is unknown. It is therefore premature to promote the use of spinal manipulation as a treatment to improve 'brain function'.

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Meyer, A. L., Amorim, M. A., Schubert, M., Schweinhardt, P., & Leboeuf-Yde, C. (2019, October 2). Unravelling functional neurology: Does spinal manipulation have an effect on the brain?- A systematic literature review. Chiropractic and Manual Therapies. BioMed Central Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12998-019-0265-8

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