Recent findings that spinal manual therapy (SMT) produces concurrent hypoalgesic and sympathoexcitatory effects have led to the proposal that SMT may exert its initial effects by activating descending inhibitory pathways from the dorsal periaqueductal gray area of the midbrain (dPAG). In addition to hypoalgesic and sympathoexcitatory effects, stimulation of the dPAG in animals has been shown to have a facilitatory effect on motor activity. This study sought to further investigate the proposal regarding SMT and the PAG by including a test of motor function in addition to the variables previously investigated. Using a condition randomised, placebo-controlled, double blind, repeated measures design, 30 subjects with mid to lower cervical spine pain of insidious onset participated in the study. The results indicated that the cervical mobilisation technique produced a hypoalgesic effect as revealed by increased pressure pain thresholds on the side of treatment (P=0.0001) and decreased resting visual analogue scale scores (P=0.049). The treatment technique also produced a sympathoexcitatory effect with an increase in skin conductance (P<0.002) and a decrease in skin temperature (P=<0.02). There was a decrease in superficial neck flexor muscle activity (P<0.0002) at the lower levels of a staged cranio-cervical flexion test. This could imply facilitation of the deep neck flexor muscles with a decreased need for co-activation of the superficial neck flexors. The combination of all findings would support the proposal that SMT may, at least initially, exert part of its influence via activation of the PAG.
Copyright 2000 Harcourt Publishers Ltd.