The purpose of this study was to examine heart rate variability (HRV) in the presence or the absence of pain in the lower back, while receiving one chiropractic treatment at L5 from either a manually assisted mechanical force (Activator) or a traditional diversified technique spinal manipulation.


A total of 51 participants were randomly assigned to a control (n = 11), 2 treatment, or 2 sham groups (n = 10 per group). Participants underwent an 8-minute acclimatizing period. The HRV tachygram (RR interval) data were recorded directly into a Suunto watch (model T6; FitzWright Company Ltd, Langley, British Columbia, Canada). We analyzed the 5-minute pretreatment and posttreatment intervals. The spectral analysis of the tachygram was performed with Kubios software.


All groups decreased in value except the control group that reacted in the opposite direction, when comparing the pretests and posttests for the high-frequency component. The very low frequency increased in all groups except the control group. The low frequency decreased in all groups except the sham pain-free group. The low frequency-high frequency ratio decreased in the treatment pain group by 0.46 and in the sham pain-free group by 0.26. The low frequency-high frequency ratio increase was 0.13 for the sham pain group, 0.04 for the control group, and 0.34 for the treatment pain-free group. The mean RR increased by 11.89 milliseconds in the sham pain-free group, 18.65 milliseconds in the treatment pain group, and 13.14 milliseconds in the control group. The mean RR decreased in the treatment pain-free group by 1.75 milliseconds and by 0.01 milliseconds in the sham pain group.


Adjusting the lumbar vertebrae affected the lumbar parasympathetic nervous system output for this group of participants. Adaptation in the parasympathetic output, reflected by changes in high frequency, low frequency, and very low frequency, may be independent of type of adjustment. Therefore, the group differences found in the modulation of the HRV would seem to be related to the presence or absence of pain. The autonomic nervous system response may be specific and sensitive to its effectors organ.

J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2009 May;32(4):277-86. [PMID:19447264]

Author information: Roy RA, Boucher JP, Comtois AS. Université du Québec à Montréal, Département de Kinanthropologie, CP 8888, Succursale Centre-Ville, Montréal, Québec, Canada.