In a blood pressure reading, the higher number (“systolic”) represents the pressure that blood exerts against the arterial walls when the heart beats. The lower number (“diastolic”) represents the pressure blood exerts against the arterial walls when the heart rests between beats (measured in millimeters of mercury or mmHg). The definition of hypertension (HT), like so many other aspects of health, has been defined and redefined over the years. Let’s take a look at the current definition and what (if anything) chiropractic provides to help this VERY common condition.
The American Heart Association defines (as of November 2017) “NORMAL” as being <120/ and <80; “ELEVATED” as 120-129/ and <80; STAGE 1 HT: 130-139/ or 80-89; STAGE 2 HT: >140/ or, >90; HYPERTENSIVE CRISIS: >180/ and/or >120. Between the two numbers, the systolic blood pressure (BP) is generally given the most attention as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over age 50. A gradual increase in systolic BP normally occurs with increasing age as arteries gradually stiffen due to plaque build-up. Recent studies report that the risk of death from ischemic heart disease and stroke DOUBLES with every 20mmHg systolic or 10mm Hg diastolic BP increase in people from age 40-89.
So, CAN chiropractic help patients with hypertension? The answer is YES… at least in some cases. A placebo-controlled study published in 2007 (and spotlighted on “WebMD”) reported a specific type of chiropractic adjustment applied to the Atlas (C1) vertebra that SIGNIFICANTLY lowered both systolic (by 14 mm Hg) and diastolic BP (by 8 mm Hg) in 25 patients with early-stage HT. This improvement did not occur in 25 control patients who received a sham procedure. This beneficial effect persisted for eight weeks during which time the patients took no medication for their condition.
Dr. George Bakris, the director of the University of Chicago hypertension center and lead author of the 2007 study wrote, “This procedure has the effect of not one, but two blood pressure medications given in combination. And it seems to be adverse-event free. We saw no side effects and no problems.”
Case studies of chiropractic treatment lowering BP date back to the 1980s, and higher quality, larger scaled studies have been published in the last decade. One explanation on how chiropractic adjustments help to lower BP is that adjustments applied to C1 (the Atlas) affect the parasympathetic nervous system, which tends to lower the diastolic BP (lower number), while mid-thoracic manipulation—which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system—tends to lower the systolic BP (upper number) to a larger degree. Chiropractic care includes not only spinal manipulation, but also dietary counseling, and more—all WITHOUT the potential for the sometimes significant side-effects associated with medications.