Objective: To study the immediate sensorimotor neurophysiological effects of cervical spine manipulation using somatosensory evoked potentials (SEPs).
Methods: Twelve subjects with a history of reoccurring neck stiffness and/or neck pain, but no acute symptoms at the time of the study were invited to participate in the study. An additional twelve subjects participated in a passive head movement control experiment. Spinal (N11, N13) brainstem (P14) and cortical (N20, N30) SEPs to median nerve stimulation were recorded before and for 30min after a single session of cervical spine manipulation, or passive head movement.
Results: There was a significant decrease in the amplitude of parietal N20 and frontal N30 SEP components following the single session of cervical spine manipulation compared to pre-manipulation baseline values. These changes lasted on average 20min following the manipulation intervention. No changes were observed in the passive head movement control condition.
Conclusions: Spinal manipulation of dysfunctional cervical joints can lead to transient cortical plastic changes, as demonstrated by attenuation of cortical somatosensory evoked responses.
Significance: This study suggests that cervical spine manipulation may alter cortical somatosensory processing and sensorimotor integration. These findings may help to elucidate the mechanisms responsible for the effective relief of pain and restoration of functional ability documented following spinal manipulation treatment.