WHAT IS OSTEOPATHY?
Osteopathy is a type of holistic bodywork based on the idea that the condition of the musculoskeletal system can affect the function of other systems within the body. It is suggested that when the body’s ‘framework’ is properly aligned, this can stimulate the natural processes needed for self-healing. Osteopathic treatment includes a variety of manual therapies such as adjusting the alignment of the spine, gentle stretches and soft-tissue massage. Craniosacral therapy is closely related to osteopathy, but involves very gentle touch and focuses on the structures protecting the brain and spinal cord.
Our purpose is to be a global facilitator of health and wellness through access, education and advancement of Traditional & Complementary Medicine (T&CM). The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that lifestyle-related diseases (or non-communicable diseases) are responsible for more than 70% of deaths worldwide each year.
Knowledge represents empowerment. By sharing this evidence-based, peer-reviewed research, we aim to support everyday people to take ownership of their wellness, by making informed decisions and choices in conjunction with their health professional.
How This Study Could Influence Your Cardiovascular Health
According to the WHO, cardiovascular diseases are the world’s leading cause of mortality, responsible for approximately 31% of all deaths worldwide. This study investigates the effect of osteopathic manipulation on heart-related measures of stress response, and is titled:
SINGLE OSTEOPATHIC MANIPULATIVE THERAPY SESSION DAMPENS ACUTE AUTONOMIC AND NEUROENDOCRINE RESPONSES TO MENTAL STRESS IN HEALTHY MALE PARTICIPANTS.
You can read the full study here: https://jaoa.org/ article.aspx?articleid=2652668
Why Is This Study Important?
Emotional and psychological stress has long been associated with negative health outcomes. Research published in 2017 suggests a direct connection between how the brain regulates stress response, and the likelihood of a person eventually developing cardiovascular disease. This means finding ways to reduce stress response at the level of the nervous system may reduce the risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke.
The part of the nervous system responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response, closely associated with stress hormones, is called the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The part responsible for resting and digestion is known as the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). An imbalance between these two, with the SNS being overactive while PNS function is suppressed, is associated with high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Heart rate variability, abbreviated HRV, is a measure of how quickly the heart can change its rhythm. The researchers cited a body of evidence that indicates poor heart rate variability may be associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other non-communicable illnesses including cancer. The time it takes for a person’s heart rate to return to a resting pace after being elevated due to stress can provide an indication of HRV. This means treatments that may make it easier for the heart to return to a resting rate may also play a beneficial role in supporting HRV.
What Does This Mean For My Wellness?
The results of this study suggest craniosacral osteopathic manipulation may have a significant effect on biological signs of mental stress, including cardiac behaviour and levels of stress hormone in the system. This suggests osteopathic treatment may have a role to play in reducing risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease.
The study was limited by its small sample size and the fact only healthy male participants were recruited. This means it is uncertain how much the findings can be generalised to the whole population. However, the robust study design and the statistically significant results justify further research to verify the researchers’ conclusions. The authors also suggested that the data they obtained could be used as a starting point to guide the treatment of people who are experiencing health problems related to low HRV and chronic stress.
If the findings are true for women as well as men, and for patients who already have symptoms of chronic disease, this study could mean that osteopathic manipulation may help reduce the effects of mental stress. This in turn could decrease the risk of cardiovascular problems associated with poor HRV and elevated cortisol levels.
How Does This Relate to Osteopathy?
Although it is believed that there may be a connection between osteopathic treatment and healthy nervous system function, this has not been backed up by extensive evidence. The authors of this study referred to previous research that indicated osteopathic manipulation may reduce responses to physical stressors, but noted that the effects on mental stress had not yet been explored.
In 2017, researchers affiliated with University of Parma in Italy published the results of a trial investigating the effects of craniosacral osteopathic manipulation on biological measures of stress response. The 20 participants were subjected to a mentally stressful situation, after which half were given real osteopathic therapy, while the other half were given a simulated treatment (gently touching similar areas around the head and spine).
The researchers hypothesised that the group receiving genuine treatment “would experience a faster recovery” from the cardiac and hormonal activity associated with the stress response.
Key Findings About the Effects of Osteopathic Manipulation on Stress Response
- It was found that participants who underwent genuine osteopathic manipulation returned to ‘unstressed’ cardiac conditions sooner than those receiving the simulated therapy.
- The researchers concluded that osteopathic manipulation seemed to have “protective” properties against mental stressors, by assisting in balancing the body’s stress response.
- The researchers further reported that the osteopathic treatment “completely blocked the typical activation” of the pathway linking key brain structures with the adrenal glands (which produce cortisol), as measured by the participants’ cortisol levels.
- Based on cortisol levels measured on the days before and after the trial date, the authors concluded that the treatment also prevented a stress-related fluctuation in cortisol levels in the morning following the experiment, which was experienced by the group receiving simulated treatment.
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association (JAOA) is the official scientific publication of the American Osteopathic Association, as well as the premier scholarly, peer-reviewed publication of the osteopathic medical profession.
Quoted from journal description
Cardiovascular diseases | World Health Organization
Single Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy Session Dampens Acute Autonomic and Neuroendocrine Responses to Mental Stress | The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association
Relation between resting amygdalar activity and cardiovascular events | The Lancet
Autonomic nervous system | Queensland Brain Institute
Osteopathy | souladvisor.com
Craniosacral therapy | souladvisor.com
About | The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association