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Spinal Manipulative Therapy Alters Brain Activity in Patients With Chronic Low Back Pain: A Longitudinal Brain fMRI Study
Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience  (IF2.763),  Pub Date : 2020-10-26, DOI: 10.3389/fnint.2020.534595
Wenli Tan, Wei Wang, Yuchan Yang, Yilei Chen, Yingjie Kang, Yanwen Huang, Zhigang Gong, Songhua Zhan, Zeng Ke, Jianwei Wang, Weian Yuan, Weiyuan Huang, Chishing Zee, Zikuan Chen, Bihong T. Chen

Background: Spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) helps to reduce chronic low back pain (cLBP). However, the underlying mechanism of pain relief and the neurological response to SMT remains unclear. We utilized brain functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) upon the application of a real-time spot pressure mechanical stimulus to assess the effects of SMT on patients with cLBP.

Methods: Patients with cLBP (Group 1, n = 14) and age-matched healthy controls without cLBP (Group 2, n = 20) were prospectively enrolled. Brain fMRI was performed for Group 1 at three time points: before SMT (TP1), after the first SMT session (TP2), and after the sixth SMT session (TP3). The healthy controls (Group 2) did not receive SMT and underwent only one fMRI scan. During fMRI scanning, a real-time spot pressure mechanical stimulus was applied to the low back area of all participants. Participants in Group 1 completed clinical questionnaires assessing pain and quality of life using a visual analog scale (VAS) and the Chinese Short Form Oswestry Disability Index (C-SFODI), respectively.

Results: Before SMT (TP1), there were no significant differences in brain activity between Group 1 and Group 2. After the first SMT session (TP2), Group 1 showed significantly greater brain activity in the right parahippocampal gyrus, right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and left precuneus compared to Group 2 (P < 0.05). After the sixth SMT session (TP3), Group 1 showed significantly greater brain activity in the posterior cingulate gyrus and right inferior frontal gyrus compared to Group 2 (P < 0.05). After both the first and sixth SMT sessions (TP2 and TP3), Group 1 had significantly lower VAS pain scores and C-SFODI scores than at TP1 (P < 0.001).

Conclusion: We observed alterations in brain activity in regions of the default mode network in patients with cLBP after SMT. These findings suggest the potential utility of the default mode network as a neuroimaging biomarker for pain management in patients with cLBP.

Clinical Trial Registration:Chinese Clinical Trial Registry, identifier ChiCTR1800015620.