This IRB-approved project determined the feasibility of conducting larger studies assessing the relationship between cavitation and zygapophysial (Z) joint gapping following spinal manipulative therapy (SMT).
Five healthy volunteers (average age 25.4 years) were screened and examined against inclusion and exclusion criteria. High signal MRI markers were fixed to T12, L3, and S1 spinous processes. Scout images were taken to verify the location of the markers. Axial images of the L4/L5 and L5/S1 levels were obtained in the neutral supine position. Following the first MRI, accelerometers were placed over the same spinous processes and recordings were made from them during side-posture positioning and SMT. The accelerometers were removed and each subject was scanned in side-posture. The greatest central A-P Z joint spaces (gap) were measured from the first and second MRI scans. Values obtained from the first scan were subtracted from those of the second, a positive result indicating an increase in gapping following SMT (positive gapping difference). Gapping difference was compared between the up-side (SMT) joints vs. the down-side (non-SMT) joints and between up-side cavitation vs. up-side non-cavitation joints.
Greater gapping was found in Z joints that received SMT (0.5 ±0.6 mm) vs. non-SMT joints (−0.2 ±0.6 mm), and vertebral segments that cavitated gapped more than those that did not cavitate (0.8 ±0.7 mm vs. 0.4 ±0.5 mm).
A future clinical study is quite feasible. Forty subjects (30 SMT and 10 Control) would be needed for appropriate power (0.90). Partial funding by NIH/NCCAM (#2R01AT000123).