New research shows that spinal adjustments can result in immediate improvements in cervical joint function. A new study from Korea Nazarene University shows that cervical manipulation, also called neck adjustments, can significantly improve joint position sense, which may improve neck mobility in patients with neck pain or whiplash.
Joint position sense is a major component of proprioception, or the body’s awareness and ability to control your limbs without looking at them. Patients with neck pain and whiplash injuries have been found to have impaired joint position sense in their neck and upper limbs. This may limit the ability of the joint to move fluidly with speed and accuracy. Poor joint position sense in neck pain patients has also been tied to symptoms of dizziness. Earlier research has shown that neck adjustments, commonly used by chiropractors, can improve elbow joint position sense. However, there have been no studies on the effects of neck adjustments on healthy individuals without neck pain.
Korean researchers examined the effects of neck adjustments on the joint position sense in a group of 30 healthy volunteers. Half the volunteers were treated with neck adjustments and light massage while the other half was treated exclusively with massage. Joint position sense was determined by measuring joint position error before and after the interventions using a digital dual clinometer. The participants were shown twice how to position their necks at six different angles (such as 35 degrees flexion and a 35 degree extension) and then were asked to recreate that angle on their own. The difference in the position measured and the correct angle was calculated as the joint position error.
All participants showed improvements in joint position sense after treatment. However, participants who received a neck adjustment had significantly better improvements in two of the angles measured (left lateral flexion and left rotation) compared to the massage-only group. The researchers suggested that massage had the capacity to improve joint position sense, but that the combined treatment of neck adjustments and massage was the most effective for increasing range of motion. They concluded by recommending that cervical joint manipulation and massage by used in combination when treating patients with reduced joint position sense due to decrease range of motion, neck pain, or whiplash.
The findings suggest that chiropractic neck adjustments could immediately improve cervical range of motion, which may help to explain why patients may experience reduced neck pain after a single session of chiropractic care.
Gong, Wontae. Effects of cervical joint manipulation on joint position sense of normal adults. Journal of Physical Therapy Science 2013; 25:721–723.
Haavik H, and Murphy B. Subclinical neck pain and the effects of cervical manipulation on elbow joint position sense. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 2011; 34(2):88-97. doi: 10.1016/j.jmpt.2010.12.009.