A friend sent me an interesting study recently that you may never have seen.1 The researcher who conducted the study evaluated 50 cadavers "to determine whether any connection existed between minor curvatures of the spine, on the one hand, and diseased organs on the other." After carefully examining each of the cadavers, the author found that "in fifty cadavers with disease in 139 organs, there was found curve in the vertebrae, belonging to the same sympathetic segments as the diseased organs 128 times, leaving an apparent discrepancy of ten, in which vertebrae in curve belonged to an adjacent segment to that which should supply the diseased organs with sympathetic filaments."
Two things make this research particularly interesting. First, it was conducted by Henry Winsor, a medical doctor working with the University of Pennsylvania. And second, the study was published in Medical Times almost a century ago, in November 1921.
Sadly, in recent years medical research has diverted from looking at more holistic approaches, like that investigated by Dr. Winsor, to a strong focus on drugs and surgery. Clearly, a large portion of the medical research agenda in the modern era is being dictated by deep pockets, namely the pharmaceutical industry.
While Dr. Winsor's work is a bit rudimentary by today's standards, it did provide information that future research has built upon. Other researchers, particularly those who are doctors of chiropractic, are working to build the necessary research foundation in an effort to demonstrate a rationale for using chiropractic to address visceral function.
A paper titled "Visceral Responses to Spinal Manipulation"2 was published last October. The authors are Phillip Bolton, DC, PhD,3 in Australia, and Brian Budgell, DC, PhD,4 currently at Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in Canada. Both have conducted numerous studies on this and related topics. This study "looks at the physiological evidence that spinal manipulation can impact visceral function." The authors note that "the corpus of literature is not large, and the greatest number of papers concerns cardiovascular function." They ultimately conclude that "while the literature confirms that mechanical stimulation of the spine modulates some organ functions in some cohorts, a comprehensive neurobiological rationale for this general phenomenon has yet to appear."
While accurate by scientific standards, this finding does not in any way negate what you see in your own practice. We often see additional benefits to chiropractic adjustments that are not anticipated by the patient, some of which can be quite dramatic – the relief of pain in other areas, an increase in organ function, greater overall health, even improved hearing and eyesight.5 These are very real results that often fly below the scientific radar, although with time, one hopes more rigorous investigations will serve to verify these types of clinical experiences.
The bottom line is that while we don't want to create unrealistic patient expectations, we do want to clearly communicate the potential benefits of chiropractic care beyond the musculoskeletal. Your patients often have anecdotal experiences that demonstrate the power of chiropractic. These nonmusculoskeletal benefits are part of our story and we shouldn't be shy about telling it.
- Winsor H. Sympathetic segmental disturbances – II, the evidences of the association, in dissected cadavers, of visceral disease with vertebral deformaties [sic] of the same sympathetic segments. Medical Times, November 1921.
- Bolton PS, Budgell B. Visceral responses to spinal manipulation. J Electromyogr Kinesiol, 2012 Oct;22(5):777-84.
- You can review Dr. Bolton's work, including the visceral response study co-authored by Dr. Budgell, on PubMed. Visit www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed and search for Bolton PS.
- You can also review Dr. Budgell's work, including the visceral response study, on PubMed by searching for Budgell B.
- Gilman G, Bergstrand J. Visual recovery following chiropractic intervention. J Behav Opt, 1990;1(3). Study reprinted with permission inits entirety in Dynamic Chiropractic, May 23, 1990.
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