Manipulation vs. Mobilization

Part 1 of 2

Matt Erickson DC, FSBT



A report on the scientific literature



Kinetically,spinal manipulation is defined as a high-velocity low amplitude (HVLA) thrust maneuver. According to Ernst and Harkness (2001), “SM (spinal manipulation) involves high velocity thrusts with either a long or short lever-arm, usually aimed at reducing pain and improving range of motion (p. 879).



Kinetics and kinematics of motion (sub-areas of biomechanics) were described by Evans and Breen (2006). “Kinetics is the branch of mechanics that deals with motion (of an object) under the action of given forces. This includes static (equilibrium) states in which no movement is occurring and dynamic states in which forces may vary as movement occurs” (p. 72). “Kinematics is the branch of mechanics that deals with motion (of an object) without reference to force or mass. With a few notable exceptions, most biomechanical studies of spinal manipulation have given scant attention to kinematics” (p. 73). Thus, kinetics is the study of the type of force used with spinal manipulation while kinematics is the study of the motion geometry of the thrust.



Respectfully, spinal manipulation performed by a doctor of chiropractic is a specific chiropractic spinal adjustment (CSA). From an insurance coding a billing perspective, a CSA is also called a chiropractic manipulative treatment (CMT). In part 2 of this series, we will detail the necessity for that language. In this paper (part 1 of 2), we will focus on the definition of spinal manipulation and the different outcomes desired by disparate professions. However, the terminology of a specific chiropractic spinal adjustment needs to be considered at all times when referencing spinal manipulation in this article.



Zinovy and Funiciello (2018, Sept. 17, para. 2) regarding spinal manipulation reported, “This high-velocity, low-amplitude (HVLA) thrusts, also called chiropractic adjustments or osteopathic manipulative treatments (OMT), are carefully performed by applying enough force to push the spinal joint beyond the restricted range of motion with the goal of improving the joint’s function, increasing range of motion, and reducing pain. When a high-velocity manipulation is performed on the spine, it typically involves a cracking or popping sound that can be heard. Some people report feeling relief or enjoying the cracking sound, whereas others do not” (


Conversely, spinal mobilization is kinetically defined as a low-velocity, low-amplitude force (LVLA) non-thrust maneuver used to help relieve pain, improve motion and restore function. Zinovy and Funiciello (2018, Sept. 17) regarding spinal mobilization wrote, “These low-velocity, low amplitude (LVLA) manipulations gradually work the spinal joints through their well-tolerable ranges of motion rather than forcing them beyond the normal limit. The practitioner’s hands gently move the vertebra and stretch each spinal level being worked. Spinal mobilization usually does not involve a neck-cracking sound” (para. 3).


Differentiating Spinal Manipulation Amongst Providers


In a United States-based review (which derived from an analysis of 67 articles and 9 books or textbooks) by Shekelle, Adams, Chassin, Hurwitz, Phillips and Brook (1991, P. 3), the authors stated “A recent analysis of a community-based sample of patients showed that chiropractors delivered 94% of all the manipulative care for which reimbursement was sought, with osteopaths delivering 4%, and general practitioners and orthopedic surgeons accounting for the remainder” (


In other words, DCs perform 94% of All spinal manipulations in the United States while Doctors of Osteopathy (DOs) perform 4% and subsequently, the remaining 2% of spinal manipulations are performed by Physical Therapists (PTs) and Medical Doctors (MDs).



Further, although Zinovy and Funiciello (2018, Sept. 17) reported the general goal of spinal manipulation is “improving the joint’s function, increasing range of motion, and reducing pain” (para. 2), beyond that, the intention of spinal manipulation amongst DCs, DOs and PTs is different. So, what is the difference?



Spinal Manipulation (CSA) According to DCs


In addition to improving joint function, increasing range of motion and reducing pain, spinal manipulation for DCs is about normalizing neuro-biomechanical biomechanical function and reducing neurological irritation to maintain optimal function of the nervous system. Petterman (2007) explained this is known as the Law of the Nerve (p. 168).  DC’s more precisely regard spinal manipulation as a specific chiropractic spinal adjustment or chiropractic manipulative treatment (CMT). Andersson, Lucente, Davis, Kappler, Lipton and Leurgans (1999) reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, “The chiropractic approach is focused more on the nervous system and advocates adjustments of the spinal vertebrae to improve neurotransmission(p. 1426).


Manip vs Mob


Evans (2002), referring to the above images, described the cause of neuro-biomechanical dysfunction due to meniscoid entrapment as follows:

Meniscoid entrapment. 1) On flexion, the inferior articular process of a zygapophyseal joint moves upward, taking a meniscoid with It. 2) On attempted extension, the inferior articular process returns toward its neutral position, but instead of re-entering the joint cavity, the meniscoid impacts against the edge of the articular cartilage and buckles, forming a space-occupying "lesion" under the capsule. Pain occurs as a result of capsular tension, and extension is inhibited. 3) Manipulation of the joint involving flexion and gapping, reduces the impaction and opens the joint to encourage re-entry of the meniscoid into the joint space (4) [Realignment of the joint.] (p. 253)


Evans (2002) continued:

Bogduk and Jull reviewed the likelihood of intra-articular entrapments within zygapophyseal joints as potential sources of pain…Fibro-adipose meniscoid have also been identified as structures capable of creating a painful situation. Bogduk and Jull reviewed the possible role of fibro-adipose meniscoid causing pain purely by creating a tractioning effect on the zygapophyseal joint capsule, again after intra-articular pinching of tissue (p. 252). A large number of type III and type IV nerve fibers (nociceptors) have been observed within capsules of zygapophyseal joints. Pain occurs as distension of the joint capsule provides a sufficient stimulus for these nociceptors to depolarize. Muscle spasm would then occur to prevent the impaction of the meniscoid. The patient would tend to be more comfortable with the spine maintained in a flexed position, because this will disengage the meniscoid. Extension would therefore tend to be inhibited. This condition has also been termed a “joint lock” or “facet-lock,” the latter of which indicates the involvement of the zygapophyseal joint…


Evans (2002) further added, “An HVLAT manipulation [chiropractic spinal adjustment CSA], involving gapping of the zygapophyseal joint, reduces the impaction and opens the joint, so encouraging the meniscoid to return to its normal anatomic position in the joint cavity. This ceases the distension of the joint capsule, thus reducing pain” (p. 252-253).


When considering the neuro-biomechanical lesion, (or vertebral subluxation complex [VSC] as traditionally coined) in its entirety, we must consider the etiology as these forces can lead to complex patho-biomechanical components of the spine and supporting tissues. As a result, a neurological cascade can ensue that would further define the lesion beyond the inter-articulation entrapments.



Panjabi (2006) reported, “Abnormal mechanics of the spinal column has been hypothesized to lead to back pain via nociceptive sensors. The path from abnormal mechanics to nociceptive sensation may go via inflammation, biochemical and nutritional changes, immunological factors, and changes in the structure and material of the endplates and discs, and neural structures, such as nerve ingrowth into the diseased intervertebral disc. The abnormal mechanics of the spine may be due to degenerative changes in the spinal column and/or injury of the ligaments. Most likely, the initiating event is some kind of trauma involving the spine. It may be a single trauma due to an accident or microtrauma caused by repetitive motion over a long time. It is also possible that spinal muscles will fire in an uncoordinated way in response to sudden fear of injury, such as when one misjudges the depth of a step. All these events may cause spinal ligament injury” (p.668-669).


In short, chiropractors primarily use a very specific high-velocity, low-amplitude spinal manipulation/ or a specific chiropractic spinal adjustment to correct the neuro-biomechanical dysfunction and reduce the neurological irritation/interference.



Spinal Manipulation According to DOs


The outcome for DOs is to improve overall blood flow throughout the body. As written by Petterman (2007), this is known as the Law of the Artery (p. 168). This is further supported by Andersson et al., (1999) who wrote, “The focus of osteopathic medicine has been the need to optimize the blood circulation to maintain or restore health” (p. 1426).


Further, DO’s perform non-specific spinal manipulation which they regard as osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). According to the American Osteopathic Association, “Through OMT, physicians manually apply a specific amount of pressure to different regions in the body. These techniques can help: Treat structural and tissue abnormalities, relieve joint restriction and misalignment, restore muscle and tissue balance and promote the overall movement of blood flow throughout the body (



Spinal Manipulation According to PTs


Like DOs, PTs perform non-specific spinal manipulation that is regarded as a unique form of manual therapy that they call thrust joint manipulation (TJM). According to Puentedura, Slaughter, Reilly, Venturan and Young (2017), “Thrust joint manipulation (TJM) is defined as a high-velocity low-amplitude thrust technique which can be distinguished from other joint mobilization techniques that do not utilize a final thrust maneuver” (p. 74).

Historically, in 1920, spinal manipulation was first introduced in Britain to physical therapists by the Osteopathic profession. Paris (2000) reported, “Osteopathic medicine and surgery was founded by Andrew Taylor Still in 1874” (p. 68). Pettman (2007) reported, in 1892, Andrew Still established the American Osteopathic College in Kirksville, Missouri. Conversely, in 1897, DD Palmer opened Palmer College of Cure which is now known as Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport Iowa (168).



Pettman (2007) further reported:

“Two of Still’s original students, William Smith and J. Martin Littlejohn, were medical physicians from Scotland. Smith struck a deal with Still that if Still taught him osteopathy, he would teach Still’s students anatomy, greatly enhancing the scientific validity of this emerging profession.


Littlejohn would become the first dean of the College of Osteopathy in Kirksville. He would then go on to found the Chicago College of Osteopathy before returning to Britain and becoming the founder of the British College of Osteopathy in London in 1917.


Despite many frustrating attempts, Littlejohn could never get the English legislature to give osteopathy the same parity with medicine that was enjoyed by his American colleagues. Ironically, instead of behaving antagonistically, he chose to begin educating his fellow physicians and physical therapists in the art and science of spinal manipulation as of 1920.” (p. 169).


Conversely, the development of manipulation to the physical therapy profession in the United States occurred 40 years after being introduced to PTs in Britain in 1920. In a document on the history of manipulative therapy in the United States, Paris (2000) wrote, “Since the 1960s, physical therapists have developed their own body of knowledge in manipulation, emphasizing pain relief and enhanced physical function” (p. 66).


Farrell and Jensen (1992) added, “Physical therapy education has evolved considerably since 1970, when just a few programs included content and skills in "manipulative therapy"” (p. 845).  Thus, physical therapists in the United States did not start developing knowledge of manipulation until the 1960s and few US PT programs taught manipulation in 1970.


PT’s Historical Confusion of Manipulation Vs. Mobilization


As already discussed, the development of spinal manipulation for PTs did not begin until the 1960s. Further, PTs did not have standardized terminology for manual therapy and often mobilization and manipulation were used interchangeably. Mintken, DeRosa, Little and Britt (2008) stated, “Seminal documents from noted professional associations and organizations, such as the American Physical Therapy Association, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists, and the International Federation of Orthopaedic Manipulative Therapists, interchange such terms as manual therapy, mobilization, and manipulation with the implication often being that they are synonymous” (p. 51).



Mintken et al., (2008) added, “Physical therapists in particular are not immune to the consequences of this history. John Mennell, MD stated that physical therapists used a confusing array of terms that “cloud the issue by talking about degrees of manipulation using such terms as articulation and mobilization leading up to manipulation.” Such a woeful lack of language specificity ultimately precludes any ability to compare and contrast the intervention or the outcome and minimizes any opportunity to ultimately discern effective from ineffective” (p. 51).


Mintken et al., (2008) continued, “Furthermore, despite Mennell’s caution appearing many years ago, one could argue that the clarity of language concerning manipulation has not improved, but in fact has worsened” (p. 51).



To address this issue Mintken et al., (2008) published their article to standardize manipulation terminology. Mintken et al., (2008) stated, “In February 2007, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists formed a task force to standardize manual therapy terminology, starting with the intervention of manipulation. The ultimate goal of this task force was to create a template that has the potential to be used internationally by the community of physical therapists in order to standardize manual therapy nomenclature” (pg. 50). Thus, you can see that as late as 2007, it was being reported that manipulation and mobilization in the physical therapy profession were still poorly differentiated and the terminology was not standardized.


The Mintken et al., (2008) reported, “The aim of the task force created in February 2007 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists was to propose a model for standardized terminology to describe manipulative techniques as simply and clearly as possible in language that is understandable to all clinicians, regardless of individual clinical practices or schools of thought” (p. 52-53).




DC’s perform 94% of All spinal manipulations in the United States. Although PTs began learning manipulation in Britain in 1920 through the osteopathic profession, the physical therapy profession did not begin developing spinal manipulation for PTs in the United States until the 1960s and in 1970 few schools included content and skills in manipulation. The purpose of this statement is not to diminish a PT trained to perform non-specific spinal manipulation, but rather to highlight the limited non-specific use and true infancy among PTs in performing spinal manipulation in the US.


Finally, spinal manipulation is kinematically regarded as HVLA and not synonymous with spinal mobilization which is regarded as LVLA. Further, while spinal manipulation acts to improve joint function, increase range of motion, and reduce pain, beyond this, it’s clinical intention is different amongst DCs (CSA: a specific form of spinal manipulation to normalize neuro-biomechanical biomechanical function and removing nerve interference), DOs (OMT: a non-specific form of spinal manipulation with intention on improving blood flow) and PTs (TJM: a non-specific form of spinal manipulation regarded as a unique form of manual therapy).



In part 2 of this series, we will further differentiate spinal manipulation amongst DCs, DOs and PTs and how it is a physician-based service for DCs and DO’s and a form of manual therapy for PTs. Moreover, we will explain in greater depth how spinal manipulation provided by DCs is regarded as specific while among DOs and PTs it is regarded as non-specific. Finally, we will discuss how a DCs intention in performing a specific CSA follow a salutogenic model (what keeps one healthy or well) while the intention of PTs and DOs in performing a non-specific spinal manipulation called TJM or OMT respectfully follows a pathogenic model(what causes disease or makes one ill).




  1. Vermeulen Henricus M., Rozing Piet m., Obermann Win R., Cessie Saskia le and Vlieland Vliet. (2006). Comparison of High-Grade and Low-Grade Mobilization Techniques in the Management of Adhesive Capsulitis of the Shoulder: Randomized Controlled Trial. Physical Therapy, 86(3), 355-368.
  2. Ernst Edzard, MD, PhD, FRCP (Edin) and Harkness Elaine, BSc. (2001). Review Article Spinal Manipulation: A Systematic Review of Sham-Controlled, Double-Blind, Randomized Clinical Trials Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 22(4), 879-889.
  3. Evans David W., BSc (Hons) Ost and Breen Alan C., DC, PhD (2006). A Biomechanical Model For Mechanically Efficient Cavitation Production During Spinal Manipulation Prethrust Position And The Neutral Zone. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 29(1), 72-82.
  4. Zinovy Meyler, DO and Funiciello Marco, DO. (2018, Sept. 17). Manual Manipulation and Mobilization for Chronic Stiff Neck. Spine Health, Retrieved from
  5. Shekelle Paul G., Adams Alan H., Chassin Mark R., Hurwitz Eric L., Phillips Reed B. and Brook Robert H. (1991). The Appropriateness of Spinal Manipulation for Low-Back Pain: Project Overview and Literature Review. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. Retrieved from
  6. Pettman Erland, PT, MCSP, MCPA, FCAMT, COMT (2007). A History of Manipulative Therapy. The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy 15(3), 165–174.
  7. Andersson Gunnar B.J., MD, PhD, Lucente Tracy, MPH, Davis Andrew M., MPH, Kappler Robert E., DO, Lipton James A., DO and Leurgans Sue, PhD. (1999). A Comparison of Osteopathic Manipulation with Standard Care for Patients with Low Back Pain. New England Journal of Medicine, 341(14), 1427-1431.
  8. Evans, D. W. (2002). Mechanisms and effects of spinal high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust manipulation: Previous theories. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 25
  9. Panjabi, M. M. (2006). A hypothesis of chronic back pain: Ligament subfailure injuries lead to muscle control dysfunction. European Spine Journal15
  10. American Osteopathic Association. (n.d.). What is Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment? Retrieve from
  11. Puentedura Emilio J., Slaughter Rebecca, Reilly Sean, Ventura Erwin and Young Daniel. (2017). Thrust joint manipulation utilization by U.S. physical therapists. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 25(2), 74-82.
  12. Paris Stanley V., PhD, PT. (2000). A History of Manipulative Therapy Through the Ages and Up to the Current Controversy in the United States. The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy 8(2), 66 – 77.
  13. Farrell Joseph P. and Jensen Qall M. (1992). Manual Therapy: Critical Assesment Profession of Physical Therapy. Physical Therapy 72(12), 843-852.
  14. Mintken Paul E., PT, DPT, OCS1, DeRosa Carl, PT, PhD, DPT, FAPTA2, Little Tamara, PT, DMT, FAAOMPT3, and Smith Britt, PT, DPT, OCS. (2008). A Model for Standardizing Manipulation Terminology in Physical Therapy Practice. The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 16(1), 50–56.

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Published in Low Back Problems

The Mechanism of the Chiropractic

Spinal Adjustment/Manipulation:

Chiropractic vs. Physical Therapy for Spine


Part 5 of a 5 Part Series

By: Mark Studin

William J. Owens



Reference: Studin M., Owens W., (2017) The Mechanism of the Chiropractic Spinal Adjustment/Manipulation: Chiropractic vs. Physical Therapy for Spine, Part 5 of 5, American Chiropractor 39 (12) pgs. 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30, 31


A report on the scientific literature  


According to the Cleveland Clinic (2017):


The Cleveland Clinic Spine Care Path is a process-based tool designed for integration in the electronic medical record (EMR) to guide clinical work flow and help providers make evidence-based guidelines operational. 


The care path was developed by Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Spine Health with input from Department of Pain Management staff like Dr. Berenger. One goal was to match appropriate treatments and providers to patients at various points along the care continuum for low back pain.


We know acute back pain is common and often resolves with simple therapy or even no therapy,” Dr. Berenger says. “For patients without red flags, imaging is rarely required.” 


These patients may be best served through prompt access to care from physical therapists or nurse practitioners as entry-level providers. When pain persists beyond four to six weeks, the care path defines when referral to spine or pain specialists, spine surgeons or behavioral health providers is indicated. (https://consultqd.clevelandclinic. org/2014/11/sticking-with-proven-practices-for-low-back-pain/)

According to the Mayo Clinic Staff (2017):


Most acute back pain gets better with a few weeks of home treatment. Over-the-counter pain relievers and the use of heat or ice might be all you need. Bed rest isn't recommended. 


Continue your activities as much as you can tolerate. Try light activity, such as walking and activities of daily living. Stop activity that increases pain, but don't avoid activity out of fear of pain. If home treatments aren't working after several weeks, your doctor might suggest stronger medications or other therapies. (http://www.mayoclinic. org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/basics/treatment/con-20020797


The Mayo Clinic Staff (2017) continued:


Physical therapy is the cornerstone of back pain treatment. A physical therapist can apply a variety of treatments, such as heat, ultrasound, electrical stimulation and muscle-release techniques, to your back muscles and soft tissues to reduce pain.As pain improves, the therapist can teach you exercises that can increase your flexibility, strengthen your back and abdominal muscles, and improve your posture. Regular use of these techniques can help prevent pain from returning. (http://www.


The above 2 scenarios are consistent with contemporary care paths for medicine regarding back pain. High velocity-low amplitude chiropractic spinal adjustments are not part of any medical institution’s care plan (to the current knowledge of the authors) despite the following compelling literature.

Coronado et al. (2012) reported:


Reductions in pain sensitivity, or hypoalgesia, following SMT [defined by the author as high velocity-low amplitude adjustment or a spinal adjustment] may be indicative of a mechanism related to the modulation of afferent input or central nervous system processing of pain. (p. 752)


Coronado et al. (2012) further asked the question:


…was whether SMT [defined by the author as high velocity-low amplitude or a spinal adjustment] elicits a general response on pain sensitivity or whether the response is specific to the area where SMT is applied. For example, changes in pain sensitivity over the cervical facets following a cervical spine SMT would indicate a local and specific effect while changes in pain sensitivity in the lumbar facets following a cervical spine SMT would suggest a general effect. We observed a favorable change for increased PPT [pressure pain threshold] when measured at remote anatomical sites and a similar, but non-significant change at local anatomical sites. These findings lend support to a possible general effect of SMT beyond the effect expected at the local region of SMT application. (p. 762)

Reed, Pickar, Sozio, and Long (2014) reported:


…forms of manual therapy have been clinically shown to increase mechanical pressure pain thresholds (i.e., decrease sensitivity) in both symptomatic and asymptomatic subjects. Cervical spinal manipulation has been shown to result in unilateral as well as bilateral mechanical hypoalgesia. Compared with no manual therapy, oscillatory spinal manual therapy at T12 and L4 produced significantly higher paraspinal pain thresholds at T6, L1, and L3 in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. The immediate and widespread hypoalgesia associated with manual therapy treatments has been attributed to alterations in peripheral and/or central pain processing including activation of descending pain inhibitory systems. 


Increasing evidence from animal models suggests that manual therapy activates the central nervous system and, in so doing, affects areas well beyond those being treated. (p. 277)


With regards to manual therapy versus physical therapy, this is where the phrase, “caveat emperor” should be used as the concept is misleading. Groeneweg et al. (2017) compared manual and physical therapies, recruiting 17 manual therapists and 27 physical therapists. The training of the manual therapists was from Manual Therapy University and were predominantly physical therapists who spent 3 years studying manual therapy. 

Groeneweg et al. (2017) reported:


The manual therapist performs per protocol repeated passive joint movements with low velocity and intensity and high accuracy in different positions of the patient (sitting, supine and side-lying). The rhythm of the movements is slow (approximately 30 cycles/min) and the movements are repeated about six times. Treatment is in general painless. Passive joint movements are performed in a combination of rolling and sliding, or rocking and gliding (or swinging and sliding) in the joint, based on the arthrokinematic and osteokinematic principles of intra-articular movements. Passive movements are performed over the entire range of motion within the physiological range of motion of joints, whereby the curvature of the articular surface is followed, with manual forces directed to the joints/specific spinal level. Physiological joint range of motion is carefully respected. Traction, oscillation and high-velocity movements are not applied. In all patients, based on the assessment protocols, all joints of the spine, pelvis and extremities are mobilized in specific directions. (p. 3)

Groeneweg et al. (2017) also stated:


This pragmatic RCT [randomized control trial] in 181 patients with non-specific neck pain (>2 weeks and <1 year) found no statistically significant overall differences in primary and secondary outcomes between the MTU group and PT group. The results at 7 weeks and 1 year showed no statistically and clinically significant differences. The assumption was that MTU was more effective based on the theoretical principles of mobilization of the chain of skeletal and movement-related joint functions of the spine, pelvis and extremities, and preferred movement pattern in the execution of a task or action by an individual, but that was not confirmed compared with standard care (PT). (pg. 8)


The above article strongly confirms why language is important when describing the chiropractic spinal adjustment. Too many “lump together” all manual therapies and claim the effectiveness, or lack thereof, based on studies as the one above confirms. The article compared physical therapy to physical therapists who have gone for advanced education in what they already do in low-amplitude repetitive movements using “arthrokinematic and osteokinematic principles of intra-articular movements” meaning very specific per the anatomy. The outcome confirmed there is no difference between manual therapy and physical therapy because they are the same according to the description in the research. However, these therapies do not provide what chiropractic offers, although many hastily consider manual therapy and chiropractic care to be the same. Substance P is perhaps the most compelling evidence of why a chiropractic spinal adjustment should be considered the “first choice” for spinal care.

Evans (2002) reported:


In a series of studies, Brennan et al. investigated the effect of spinal HVLAT manipulation causing cavitation ("sufficient to produce an auditory release or palpable joint movement") on cells of the immune system. They found that a single manipulation to either the thoracic or lumbar spine resulted in a short-term priming of polymorphonuclear neutrophils to respond to an in vitro particulate challenge with an enhanced respiratory burst (RB) as measured by chemiluminescence in subjects with and without symptoms. The enhanced RB was accompanied by a two-fold rise in plasma levels of the neuropeptide substance P (SP).


SP is an 11-amino acid polypeptide and is one of a group of neuropeptides known as tachykinins. These are peptides that are produced in the dorsal root ganglion (DRG)  and released by the slow-conducting, unmyelinated C-polymodal nociceptors in a process known as an "axon reflex." They are released into peripheral tissues from the peripheral terminals of the C-fibers. modulating the inflammatory process by "neurogenic inflammation.” They are also released from the central terminals of the nociceptors into the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, where they modulate pain processing and spinal cord reflex activity.


This neurophysiologic effect of spinal HVLAT manipulation seems to be force threshold-dependent. The threshold was found to lie somewhere between 450N and 500N for the thoracic spine and 400N for the lumbar spine. When compared with data from biomechanical studies of spinal manipulation, these forces would be sufficient to cause cavitation. The "SP" studies used "sham manipulation" as a control, consisting of a "low-velocity light-force thrust to the selected segment." rather like a mobilization. This illustrates that zygapophyseal HVLAT manipulations that cause cavitation produce physiological effects, not demonstrable by electromyography, that are totally different fi-om effects created by zygapophyseal manipulations that do not cause cavitation. (p. 255-256)

According to Hartford-Wright, Lewis, Vink and Ghabriel (2014):


Substance P (SP) is a neuropeptide released from the endings of sensory nerve fibers and preferentially binds to the NK1 receptor. It has a widespread distribution throughout the nervous system, where it is implicated in a variety of functions including neurogenic inflammation, nausea, depression and pain transmission as well as in a number of neurological diseases, including CNS tumors. (p. 85)

Low velocity manipulation, no matter how well it follows “arthrokinematic and osteokinematic principles of intra-articular movements,” will not effectuate the release of Substance P, only a chiropractic spinal adjustment with cavitation will do that. When considering the results of a chiropractic spinal adjustment, disability is a critical indicator with regards to the effectiveness of treatment outcomes.

Cifuentes, Willets and Wasiak (2011) compared different treatments of recurrent or chronic low back pain. They considered any condition recurrent or chronic if there was a recurrent disability after a 15-day absence and return to disability. Anyone with less than a 15-day absence was excluded from the study. Please note that we kept disability outcomes for all reported treatment and did not limit this to physical therapy. However, the statistic for physical therapy is significant.


The Cifuentes, Willets and Wasiak (2011) study concluded that chiropractic care during the health maintenance care period resulted in:

The study concluded that chiropractic care during the disability episode resulted in:

24% Decrease in disability duration of first episode compared to physical therapy

250% Decrease in disability duration of first episode compared to medical physician's care

5.9% Decrease in opioid (narcotic) use during maintenance care with physical therapy care

30.3% Decrease in opioid (narcotic) use during maintenance care with medical physician's care

32% Decrease in average weekly cost of medical expenses during disability episode compared to physical therapy care

21% Decrease in average weekly cost of medical expenses during disability episode compared to medical physician's care


Cifuentes et al. (2011) started by stating, “Given that chiropractors are proponents of health maintenance care...patients with work-related LBP [low back pain] who are treated by chiropractors would have a lower risk of recurrent disability because that specific approach would be used” (p. 396). The authors concluded by stating, “After controlling for demographic factors and multiple severity indicators, patients suffering nonspecific work-related LBP who received health services mostly or only from a chiropractor had a lower risk of recurrent disability than the risk of any other provider type” (Cifuentes et al., 2011, p. 404).


Given that physical therapy has been the primary portal for mechanical spine issues (not fractures, tumors or infection) coupled with the contemporary opiate addiction and mortality issues, a different path must be sought as a matter of public safety. The only avenue for both medical primary care providers and specialists other than surgery is pain management in the form of opiates and that doesn’t resolve any issues, it only creates new addiction issues. Mechanical spine pain is one of the most common diagnoses.


According to Block (2014): 


Over 100 million Americans experience chronic pain with common painful conditions including back pain, neck pain, headaches/migraines, and arthritis, in addition to other painful conditions such as diabetic peripheral neuropathy, etc... In a large study in 2010, 30.7% of over 27,000 U.S. respondents reported an experience of chronic, recurrent pain of at least a 6-month duration. Half of the respondents with chronic pain noted daily symptoms, with 32% characterizing their pain as severe (≥7 on a scale ranging from 0 to 10). Chronic pain has a broad impact on emotional well-being and health-related quality of life, sleep quality, and social/recreational function. (p. 1)


Mafi, McCarthy and Davis (2013) reported on medical and physical therapy back pain treatment from 1999 through 2010 representing 440,000,000 visits and revealed an increase of opiates from 19% to 29% for low back pain with the continued referral to physical therapy remaining constant. In addition, the costs for managing low back pain patients (not correcting anything, just managing it) has reached $106,000,000,000 ($86,000,000,000 in health care costs and $20,000,000,000 in lost productivity).



Mafi, McCarthy and Davis (2013) stated:


Moreover, spending for these conditions has increased more rapidly than overall health expenditures from 1997 to 2005...In this context, we used nationally representative data on outpatient visits to physicians to evaluate trends in use of diagnostic imaging, physical therapy, referrals to other physicians, and use of medications during the 12-year period from January 1, 1999, through December 26, 2010. We hypothesized that with the additional guidelines released during this period, use of recommended treatments would increase and use of non-recommended treatments would decrease. (p. 1574)


The above paragraph has accurately described the problem with allopathic “politics” and “care-paths.” Despite self-reported overwhelming evidence where there were 440,000,000 visits and $106,000,000,000 in failed expenditures, they hypothesized that increased utilization for recommended treatment would increase. The recommended treatment, as outlined in the opening two comments of this article, doesn’t work and physical therapy is a constant verifying a “perpetually failed pathway” for mechanical spine pain.



Chiropractic offers an evidence-based approach in developing an “outcome based “care path for mechanical spine pain. Although this article discusses pain, chiropractic offers more than simply pain management, however this discussion is limited to mechanical spine pain. Therefore, with chiropractic as the “first option” or “Primary Spine Care” focusing on the biomechanical pathological instability, the underlying cause of the pain can be addressed, leaving no further need to manage an issue that has been simply fixed.




1. Cleveland Clinic. (2017). Sticking with proven practices for low back pain, Introducing: Cleveland Clinic’s Spine Care Path. Retrieved from 11/sticking-with-proven-practices-for-low-back-pain/

2. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017). Treatments and drugs. Diseases and Conditions, Back Pain, Retrieved from:

3. Coronado, R. A., Gay, C. W., Bialosky, J. E., Carnaby, G. D., Bishop, M. D., & George, S. Z. (2012). Changes in pain sensitivity following spinal manipulation: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Electromyography Kinesiology, 22(5), 752-767.

4. Reed, W. R., Pickar, J. G., Sozio, R. S., & Long, C. R. (2014). Effect of spinal manipulation thrust magnitude on trunk mechanical activation thresholds of lateral thalamic neurons. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 37(5), 277-286.

5. Groeneweg, R., van Assen, L., Kropman, H., Leopold, H., Mulder, J., Smits-Engelsman, B. C., ... & van Tulder, M. W. (2017). Manual therapy compared with physical therapy in patients with non-specific neck pain: a randomized controlled trial. Chiropractic & Manual Therapies25(12), 1-12.

6. Evans, D. W. (2002). Mechanisms and effects of spinal high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust manipulation: Previous theories. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 25(4), 251-262.

7. Harford-Wright, E., Lewis, K. M., Vink, R., & Ghabriel, M. N. (2014). Evaluating the role of substance P in the growth of brain tumors. Neuroscience261, 85-94.

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9. Mafi, J. N., McCarthy, E. P., Davis, R. B., & Landon, B. E. (2013). Worsening trends in the management and treatment of back pain. JAMA Internal Medicine173(17), 1573-1581.

Dr. Mark Studin is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Chiropractic at the University of Bridgeport College of Chiropractic, an Adjunct Post Graduate Faculty of Cleveland University - Kansas City, College of Chiropractic, an Adjunct Professor of Clinical Sciences at Texas Chiropractic College and a clinical presenter for the State of New York at Buffalo, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences for post-doctoral education, teaching MRI spine interpretation, spinal biomechanical engineering and triaging trauma cases. He is also the president of the Academy of Chiropractic teaching doctors of chiropractic how to interface with the medical and legal communities (, teaches MRI interpretation and triaging trauma cases to doctors of all disciplines nationally and studies trends in healthcare on a national scale ( He can be reached at or at 631-786-4253.



Dr. Bill Owens is presently in private practice in Buffalo and Rochester NY and generates the majority of his new patient referrals directly from the primary care medical community.  He is an Associate Adjunct Professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, an Adjunct Post Graduate Faculty of Cleveland University - Kansas City, College of Chiropractic, an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Clinical Sciences at the University of Bridgeport, College of Chiropractic and an Adjunct Professor of Clinical Sciences at Texas Chiropractic College.  He also works directly with doctors of chiropractic to help them build relationships with medical providers in their community. He can be reached at or 716-228-3847  



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Published in Neck Problems

Chiropractic vs. Physical Therapy

 in Treating Low Back Pain

with Spinal Adjustments vs. Exercise Rehabilitation



William J. Owens DC, DAAMLP

A report on the scientific literature


In the United Kingdom, Field and Newell (2016) reported that back pain accounts for 4.8% of all social benefit claims with overall costs reaching $7 billion pounds or $9.35 billion US dollars. Boyles (2016) reported that “Researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle, found that the nation's dramatic rise in expenditures for the diagnosis and treatment of back and neck problems has not led to expected improvements in patient health. Their study appears in the Feb. 13 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. After adjustment for inflation, total estimated medical costs associated with back and neck pain increased by 65% between 1997 and 2005, to about $86 billion a year… Yet during the same period, patients reported more disability from back and neck pain, including more depression and physical limitations.


“We did not observe improvements in health outcomes commensurate with the increasing costs over time," lead researcher Brook I. Martin, MPH, and colleagues wrote. "Spine problems may offer opportunities to reduce expenditures without associated worsening of clinical outcomes." ( Part of the explanation for the rise in cost of treatment of low back pain is the utilization of physical therapy by allopath’s (medical primary care providers and medical specialists) as the primary option for the treatment of low back pain vs. the literature verified better alternative of chiropractic based upon outcome studies.  


Through the years, both chiropractors and physical therapists have concurrently utilized exercise rehabilitation as a modality to treat low back pain. As a rule, the chiropractic profession has utilized exercise rehabilitation as an adjunct to the spinal adjustment where in physical therapy, it has been the main focus of the treatment plan. In addition, other passive modalities to mitigate pain, such as electrical stimulation and/or hydro/cryotherapy has been utilized as an adjunct to each professions main treatment. As a rule, exercise rehabilitation is a crucial adjunct to the treatment of low back disorders as it adds necessary motion to the joint and helps balance muscle tone required to create a biomechanically stabilized joint over time.

However, Ianuzzi and Khalsa (2005) wrote (pg. 674)


Facet joint capsule strain magnitudes during simulated high velocity low amplitude spinal manipulations were within the range of motion occurred during maximum physiological motions, indicating that the procedure is biomechanically safe and provide a stimulus that is likely sufficient to stimulate facet joint capsule neurons. However, physiological motions of the lumbar spine by themselves (e.g. Exercise) are generally ineffective in treating low back pain, suggesting that facet joint capsule strain magnitude alone would be insufficient in providing a novel stimulus for facet joint capsule afferents.


The high strain rates that occurred during spinal manipulation could provide a novel “yet biomechanically safe” stimulus for afferents innervating given facet joint capsule. Alternatively, during spinal manipulation, the relative magnitudes (patterns) of facet joint capsule strain was in a region of the lumbar spine may be unique, which could result in a novel pattern of facet joint capsule mechanoreceptor firing in the spinal region and subsequently a novel stimulus to the central nervous system.


Simply put, the facet joint capsules are comprised of ligaments where the mechanoreceptors are located. A spinal manipulation (chiropractic spinal adjustment) stimulates the neurons in the capsule where exercise (physiological motion) does not. In addition, it has been shown that chiropractic spinal adjustments are safe to the joint capsule and ligaments that comprise the capsule.




  1. Field J., Newell D. (2016) Clinical Outcomes In a Large Cohort of Musculoskeletal Patients Undergoing Chiropractic Care In the United Kingdom: A Comparison of Self and National Health Service Referral Routes, Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 39(1), pgs. 54-62
  2. Boyles S., $86 Billion Spent on Back, Neck Pain, WebMD (2016) Retrieved from:
  3. Ianuzzi A., Khalsa P. (2005) High Loading Rate During Spinal Manipulation Produces Unique Facet Joint Capsule Strain Patterns Compared With Axial Rotations, Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 28 (9), 673-687

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Published in Low Back Problems