Manual therapy boosts immunity, study suggests

Researchers have long known that manual therapies like chiropractic can ease back pain. Now, they are beginning to understand why. A recent study discovered that osteopathic manual treatment reduces levels of a key inflammatory cytokine, known as TNF-a, in patients with nonspecific lower back pain. Elevated levels of TNF-a are associated with a number of health problems, including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and psoriasis.

The study involved 70 adults with nonspecific chronic low-back pain. Their cytokine levels were measured both before and after 12 weeks of treatment. Following the 12 weeks of treatment, patients who reported moderate or substantial improvement in their back pain also had substantially lower levels of TNF-a. These improvements were greater for patients receiving the treatment compared with those in the control group, who received a sham treatment.

However, researchers did not find similar reductions in a group of other cytokines associated with the inflammatory response. Levels of IL-1B, IL-6, IL-10, and IL-8 were not significantly lower after treatment. The research team concluded that more research must be done in order to understand these findings.

Still, these findings suggest that manual therapies can reduce inflammation and assist the body's immune response to back pain. Earlier studies have also suggested that chiropractic adjustments can bolster the body's immune response.


Licciardone, JC, et al. Associations of Cytokine Concentrations With Key Osteopathic Lesions and Clinical Outcomes in Patients With Nonspecific Chronic Low Back Pain: Results From the OSTEOPATHIC Trial. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association 2012; 12 (9): 596-605.