Chiropractic's Effect on Stress Hormones May Reduce Low Back Pain

chiropractic treatment for low back painLow back pain affects millions of people every day, and it is a complaint frequently treated by chiropractors. Chiropractors use spinal adjustment and manipulation techniques to correct misalignments in the spine, and help clients restore pain-free function and flexibility to their backs. New research sheds some light on how spinal manipulation can reduce low back pain.

Although numerous studies have shown that spinal manipulations performed by a chiropractor can help alleviate low back pain, there remains some mystery about how the process works. Researchers affiliated with universities in South Africa and Wales investigated one theory: that spinal manipulation prompts the body to release more of the stress hormone cortisol, and that the anti-inflammatory properties of the cortisol help reduce swelling and pain in irritated areas of the lower back.

The researchers conducted clinical trials on 30 residents of Durban, South Africa, who reported suffering from low back pain for a month or less. Subjects were randomly assigned to two treatment groups. Those in the first group received a session of spinal manipulation, while those in the control group rested for five minutes, but did not receive a specific treatment. Researchers took blood samples from each participant before and after these sessions, then compared the serum cortisol levels.

The study found that cortisol levels remained at a steady level in patients who had received spinal manipulation treatment, but decreased in those patients who rested during their session. The researchers conclude that spinal manipulation might help lessen low back pain by prolonging the release of cortisol in the body, and thus reducing inflammation in the affected area. These findings provide some insight into how chiropractic engages the body's own stress mechanisms to promote healing, and confirm other areas of research into low back pain.

Padayachy K, Hoosen G, Vawda M. The immediate effect of low back manipulation on serum cortisol levels in adult males with mechanical low back pain. Clinical Chiropractic. December 2010. 13(4).