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  • Jones Chiropractic

Mild Spinal Dysfuction

We know that once you are feeling pain it changes how your brain functions. The research on subclinical pain is showing us is that even just mild recurring spinal problems, even on days you feel no pain, can also alter how your brain functions.

The function of your spine impacts the way your brain works

Poor Neck Function

A research study in Canada found that individuals poorly functioning necks are not as good at processing sensory information from their different sensory organs, like their eyes and ears, compared with people with healthy necks.


Chiropractic care has been shown to improve the way older people process sensory information together from their eyes and ears. A study conducted in Auckland older adults, those that did receive the chiropractic care were better able to accurately perceive sound and visual information at the same time after the chiropractic care.


Video Transcript

You may be wondering if spinal dysfunction really can affect your brain. So let’s look at some very interesting research that has explored exactly this. A group of New Zealand based researchers and another group in Canada has over the past ten years done many experiments comparing brain function in people with a history of spinal dysfunction and a group with no spinal problems whatsoever. The spinal dysfunction group was called the ‘Subclinical Pain Group’ because they were not in any kind of pain on the days of the experiments, but they had a history of spinal problems.


So ‘Subclinical pain’ refers to people who have recurring spinal dysfunction such as mild pain, ache, and/or stiffness, with or without a history of known trauma.


There is an increasing interest in subclinical pain in the scientific literature because individuals who fall into this category provide an opportunity to explore how spinal dysfunction effects their brain without the complications of current pain, because pain itself is known to alter brain function.1 We already know that once you are feeling pain it changes how your brain functions.2 But what the research on subclinical pain is showing us is that even just mild recurring spinal problems, even on days you feel no pain, can also alter how your brain functions!3


Let’s take a closer look at some studies that have compared these people with Sub-clinical pain with people who have never ever had spinal problems at all. Well this is where it gets interesting. The brains of People with a history of spinal dysfunction are less accurately aware of where their arm is when they close their eyes!4 You need your brain to know accurately, where your arms are all the time to be able to move without having injuries.


Another study showed that the brains of people with spinal dysfunction were slower at mentally rotating objects in space compared with the healthy control group.3 This suggests that your brain’s ability to mentally rotate objects is affected by the function of your spine! We need to mentally rotate objects in space all day every day – but we often don’t think about the fact that we do this. Being able to accurately perceive where you are, and where your arms and legs are, is very, very important. You need to know where you are to be able to move without having accidents. And it’s also very important to be able to accurately perceive the world around you! This is a vital skill we need all day every day. To recognize some objects you may need to mentally rotate them. For example, to recognize the letter p versus the letter b if they’re not upright you would need to mentally rotate them in your mind to figure out which letter it was. We all mentally rotate shapes and objects that we see but we may not often think about that we do it or how important it is for our daily life.


Another study conducted in Canada recorded brain wave responses to mild electrical stimulation at the wrist before and after a ten minute task where they had to do precise movements with their hands.5 There were significant differences between the spinal dysfunction group and those with healthy spines, demonstrating that the brains of those with mild recurrent neck pain – even on days they have no symptoms at all – process sensory and movement information in a different way compared to people with totally healthy necks.5 They also found that only the healthy neck group could remember or learn the hand movements, but the neck dysfunction group could not – so even this kind of mild neck dysfunction was changing the way there brains were able to learn movement patterns.5


In another study scientists in Canada found that individuals with poorly functioning necks are not as good at processing sensory information from their different sensory organs, like their eyes and ears, compared with people with healthy necks.6 Being able to accurately process multimodal sensory information becomes very important as we age, as poor multimodal processing is a risk factor for falls in the elderly.7


This is where chiropractic could help! Chiropractic care has been shown to improve the way older people process sensory information together from their eyes and ears.8 A study was conducted in Auckland New Zealand with 60 older adults, half of whom received 3months of chiropractic care and the other half did not. Those that did receive the chiropractic care were better able to accurately perceive sound and visual information at the same time after the chiropractic care!


Adjusting dysfunctional spinal segments, or what chiropractors call vertebral subluxations has also been shown to improve the brains ability to perceive where the arm is in space when the subjects closed their eyes.4 This was in the same group mentioned earlier who had a history of spinal dysfunction.4 Chiropractic neck adjustments have also been shown to lead to faster mental rotation.9 Another study has shown that adjusting dysfunctional spinal segments in people with subclinical spinal pain improved their brains ability to contract their leg muscles, it actually makes them stronger!10


So, one thing is becoming clear. The function of your spine impacts the way your brain works! So why not take good care of your spine with a regular checkup with your family chiropractor.


Video References

  1. Rossi S, della Volpe R, Ginanneschi F, et al. Early somatosensory processing during tonic muscle pain in humans: relation to loss of proprioception and motor ‘defensive’ strategies. Clin Neurophysiol. 2003;114(7):1351-1358.

  2. Rossi S, della Volpe R, Ginanneschi F, et al. Early somatosensory processing during tonic muscle pain in humans: relation to loss of proprioception and motor ‘defensive’ strategies. Clin Neurophysiol. 2003;114(7):1351-1358.

  3. Baarbe JK, Holmes MW, Murphy HE, Haavik H, Murphy BA. Influence of Subclinical Neck Pain on the Ability to Perform a Mental Rotation Task: A 4-Week Longitudinal Study With a Healthy Control Group Comparison. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. Jan 2016;39(1):23-30.

  4. Haavik Taylor H, Murphy B. Cervical spine manipulation alters sensorimotor integration: A somatosensory evoked potential study. Clin Neurophysiol. 2007;118(2):391-402.

  5. Andrew D, Yielder P, Haavik H, Murphy B. The effects of subclinical neck pain on sensorimotor integration following a complex motor pursuit task. Exp Brain Res. 2017;In Press.

  6. Farid B, Yielder P, Holmes M, Haavik H, Murphy B. Subclinical neck pain leads to altered multi-sensory integration at baseline and four week follow-up relative to healthy controls. Journal of Manipulative & Physiological Therapeutics. 2017;In Press.

  7. Setti A, Burke KE, Kenny RA, Newell FN. Is inefficient multisensory processing associated with falls in older people? Exp Brain Res. Mar 2011;209(3):375-384.

  8. Holt KR, Haavik H, Lee AC, Murphy B, Elley CR. Effectiveness of Chiropractic Care to Improve Sensorimotor Function Associated With Falls Risk in Older People: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. Apr 2 2016.

  9. Kelly D, Murphy BA, Backhouse D. Use of a mental rotation reaction-time paradigm to measure the effects of upper cervical adjustments on cortical processing: a pilot study. JMPT. 2000;23(4):246-251.

  10. Niazi I, Türker K, Flavel S, Kinget M, Duehr J, Haavik H. Changes in H-reflex and V waves following spinal manipulation. Exp Brain Res. 2015;233:1165-1173.

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