Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a medical condition wherein arterial blood pressure is elevated. This ever-increasing healthcare concern affects more than 7.5 million Canadians. Hypertension is a significant risk factor for cerebrovascular disease (CVD) and ischemic heart disease, which are leading causes of premature death worldwide.
Pressure within arteries can be elevated for a variety of reason, but comes down to being related to an elevation in heart rate/pulse, a constriction of the vessels themselves, or both. While prevention followed by diet and exercise would be the preferred first courses of action, they are not always enough and lifelong, daily (or more) maintenance with pharmaceuticals may be required to treat hypertension. Though potentially necessary, high blood pressure medications can have significant side effects.
Recent research suggests that there may be a safe, effective, non-invasive treatment for hypertension. Earlier this summer, a randomized control trial concluded that chiropractic adjustments to the upper thoracic spine – the area between the neck and low back – can effectively lower blood pressure and heart rate. Chiropractic adjustments in the thoracic spine provide direct input to parts of the nervous system that then send a signal to the vascular system that prompts it to relax. These specific areas of the nervous system are known as the pontomedullary reticular formation and the intromediolateral cell column. Thoracic adjustments can also initiate a stretch reflex arc that decreases sympathetic tone, relaxes peripheral arteries, and resets blood pressure. This is to say that mechanical force (i.e. a chiropractic adjustment) to the musculoskeletal system can influence blood pressure.
Because of the study design, researchers are still unsure if the effects of chiropractic care in regards to hypertension are transient and, if so, how long the effects last. While there is still much exploration to be done before chiropractic care can be deemed safe treatment for high blood pressure, this study lays important groundwork on which science can build and potentially discover side-effect-free alternatives.
**IMPORTANT NOTE: Blood pressure medications should never be suspended without first consulting with the prescribing physician.
In case you missed it, you can find the research article here.