COPD causes respiratory problems in millions of people across the world. While traditional medicine cannot do much for its correction, a growing body of research indicates that treating COPD with spinal manipulation can help minimize symptoms and pain.
What Is COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term for a group of conditions that causes respiratory problems due to airflow blockage. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are examples. In these and other COPD conditions, airflow is limited, making simple tasks like walking upstairs difficult.
COPD is diagnosed using a simple breathing test called spirometry, in which a small machine connected to a mouthpiece is used to monitor the volume and rate of airflow breathed in and out over a period of time. The test is brief and safe and allows medical professionals to detect COPD to begin treating it.
Inhalation of tobacco smoke is the most common cause of the disease, though air pollution, respiratory infection, and a family history of COPD also put people at risk. Across the world, COPD ranks as the sixth highest cause of death for both men and women. 16 million Americans have been diagnosed, and many more may go undiagnosed. COPD does not have a cure, but it can be treated.
Reviewing the Role of Spinal Manipulation in Treating COPD
The effectiveness of treating COPD with spinal manipulation has long been a subject of study, and in 2016, Wearing, et al. published their compiled findings from past research in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, published under the title “Use of Spinal Manipulation Therapy for Management of COPD.”
These authors reviewed studies that documented treating COPD with spinal manipulation (defined by low-amplitude, high-velocity manipulation common in chiropractic). This included research of COPD treatment utilizing spinal manipulation with and without the employment of other therapies, such as exercise, making it the first systematic review of its kind.
Wearing, et al. limited their review to studies with participants above the age of 18 years with a pre-existing diagnosis of COPD. Six articles met the inclusion criteria and were included in the review. These include three randomized controlled trials in which exercise from a pulmonary rehabilitation program was combined with spinal manipulation therapy, one case series, one pre-post observational study, and one single case study.
The manual therapies employed in the review incorporated a range of spinal manipulation techniques. The review also examined variations in results when physical exercises and/or pharmacological interventions were employed in addition to spinal manipulation. Measures of the success of treating COPD with spinal manipulation included a six-minute walking test, various lung-capacity tests, and a number of respiratory questionnaires.
Though sample sizes were small, ranging from 1 to 33 participants, the results compiled by Wearing, et al. hint at the effectiveness of spinal manipulation as a treatment method for the management of COPD. They also highlight the need for further research about the value of combining exercise with such treatment.
The Efficacy of Treating COPD with Spinal Manipulation
Taking all findings into account, treating COPD with spinal manipulation was found to have great potential to alter respiratory mechanics in COPD and other chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma. Patients with COPD and other respiratory conditions may take heart that methodologies as natural as spinal manipulation can help improve breathing ability and minimize fear.
The review indicated that manual therapy—which includes joint mobilization, spinal manipulation, and soft tissue therapy in addition to other techniques—offered redress for changes in respiratory mechanics associated with declining lung function caused by COPD. These improvements included increased flexibility of both chest wall and thoracic excursion which helped to reduce the work of breathing in patients for which breathing is naturally more difficult.
Though the ill side effect of muscle soreness up to 24 hours after treatment was present in the data, such soreness resolved itself without additional treatment and did not outweigh the improvements to exercise capacity and lung function. Exercise capacity has been shown to be a predictor of mortality in COPD cases, so even small improvements should not be underestimated. Following the administration of spinal manipulation therapy, five of the six studies reported improvements in both exercise performance and lung function.
All three of the randomized trials reviewed resulted in improved exercise capacity and lung function following a combination of spinal manipulation therapy in conjunction with exercise. These findings point to the efficacy of non-pharmacological interventions in treating COPD and improved benefits when spinal manipulation and exercise as treatment methods are combined as compared to when either modality is used alone.