By Doctor Rosemarie Jabbour (Chiropractor)
Study: Adjusting the spine changes brain function by almost 20%, possibly in the prefrontal cortex.
A research paper published in the scientific journal Neural Plasticity has concluded that adjusting the spine helps improve brain function*. This is a significant moment in our ongoing understanding of how chiropractic may benefit our health, function and form. In a moment I'll discuss the findings, but first: what is neural plasticity and why is it important?
What we know is that 'neural plasticity' - the ability of the brain to re-organise itself by forming new neural connections - can have positive or negative effects on our overall health, function and form. Positive neural plasticity may improve cognitive function, improve memory, elevate mood and optimise healing. Negative neural plasticity may contribute to issues such as brain fog and memory loss, declining mental clarity and dementia.
Positive neural plasticity can be stimulated in many ways including learning or studying new things (such as a new language or playing an instrument), life long learning, brain training exercises and now, chiropractic adjustments to the spine.
Adjustments and brain function
One of the researchers behind this recent study, Heidi Haavik, comments that spinal function affects brain function:
"There's now solid evidence that adjusting the spine changes brain function. This is the fourth time that the effect of adjusting the spine has on the brain has been studied. This last time it was studied and confirmed by an independent medical researcher," she told Spinal Research via Nimrod Weiner.**
Additionally, this study indicates that adjustments impact the function of an important part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex.
"The latest study suggests that the changes that we do see in the brain when we adjust the spine do occur in the prefrontal cortex. That part of the brain is like the conductor in the
brain," Haavik says.
What are the implications for chiropractic?
Such a finding could help explain some of the previous research results on the positive effects chiropractic may have on the way we function.
Chiropractors have a long history of observing a wide range of changes in the people under their care following spinal adjustments.
Many of these observations, while not yet fully understood, centre around patients often feeling or focusing better or improvements in patient movement and coordination.
As Haavik explains:
"An effect on the function of the prefrontal cortex could explain many previous research results, such as improvements in sensorimotor function relevant to falls-prevention; better joint-position sense in both the upper limb and the lower limb; improved muscle strength in lower limb muscles; better pelvic floor control; and better ability to carry out mental rotation of objects."
The prefrontal cortex region of the brain is responsible for higher level function. If chiropractic adjustments have been shown to have benefit to this part of the brain, the following question could be asked: what other impacts might chiropractic have on things like behaviour, decision making, autonomic function, motor control, spatial awareness and memory?
Does this study matter?
What we know is that adjusting the spine changes brain function by almost 20%, possibly in the prefrontal cortex. The potential implications of future research in this area might be significant, not only to our ongoing understanding of brain function, but to the use of manual therapy, specifically chiropractic care, in the management of a wider range of functional conditions.
Note: this study can be regarded as basic science research and not clinical research. We are not suggesting better management or treatment of diseases as a result of this research. Rather, we are simply presenting the findings, asking questions and thinking about the future of this type of research.
Learn more about neural plasticity and brain function
I have provided a list to some useful resources on neural plasticity and brain function. It's becoming ever more clear that we may be able to re-wire our brains. There are steps we can take to help reinvigorate brain function, now including chiropractic adjustments.
- Neuroplasticity: can you rewire your brain? By Dr. Sarah McKay, PhD. March 2015. ABC Active Memory.
- What is Brain Plasticity? brainHQ 2016.
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Related blog posts:
*Lelic, D, Niazi, IK, Holt, K, Jochumsen, M, Dremstrup, K, Yielder, P, Murphy, B, Drewes, A and Haavik, H (2016), “Manipulation of dysfunctional spinal joints
affects sensorimotor integration in the pre-frontal cortex: A brain source localization study,” Neural Plasticity, Volume 2016 (2016). http://www.hindawi.com/journals/np/2016/3704964/ (accessed June
- **Haavik, H (2016), correspondence with Spinal Research via Nimrod Weiner
Australian Spinal Research Foundation "Research: Beyond A Doubt, Adjusting The Subluxated Spine Changes Brain Function" Published by Spinal Research, 2016.
(accessed June 2016).