Objectives: The purpose of this study was to use previously validated methods to quantify and relate 2 phenomena associated with chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy (SMT): (1) cavitation and (2) the simultaneous gapping (separation) of the lumbar zygapophyseal (Z) joint spaces.
Methods: This was a randomized, controlled, mechanistic clinical trial with blinding. Forty healthy participants (18-30 years old) without a history of low-back pain participated. Seven accelerometers were affixed to the skin overlying the spinous processes of L1 to L5 and the S1 and S2 sacral tubercles. Two additional accelerometers were positioned 3 cm left and right lateral to the L4/L5 interspinous space. Participants were randomized into group 1, side-posture SMT (n = 30), or group 2, side-posture positioning (SPP, n = 10). Cavitations were determined by accelerometer recordings during SMT and SPP (left side = upside for both groups); gapping (gapping difference) was determined by the difference between pre- and postintervention magnetic resonance imaging scan joint space measurements. Results of mean gapping differences were compared.
Results: Upside SMT and SPP joints gapped more than downside joints (0.69 vs −0.17 mm, P < .0001). Spinal manipulative therapy upside joints gapped more than SPP upside joints (0.75 vs 0.52 mm, P = .03). Spinal manipulative therapy upside joints gapped more in men than in women (1.01 vs 0.49 mm, P < .002). Overall, joints that cavitated gapped more than those that did not (0.56 vs 0.22 mm, P = .01). No relationship was found between the occurrence of cavitation and gapping with upside joints alone (P = .43).
Conclusions: Zygapophyseal joints receiving chiropractic SMT gapped more than those receiving SPP alone; Z joints of men gapped more than those of women, and cavitation indicated that a joint had gapped but not how much a joint had gapped.
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