NMM/OMTBrief Report

Single Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy Session Dampens Acute Autonomic and Neuroendocrine Responses to Mental Stress in Healthy Male Participants

Mauro Fornari, DO (Italy); Luca Carnevali, PhD; and Andrea Sgoifo, PhD
Notes and Affiliations
Notes and Affiliations

Received: March 9, 2017

Accepted: March 14, 2017

Published: September 1, 2017

J Osteopath Med; 117(9): 559-567

Context: The efficacy of osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMTh; manipulative care provided by foreign-trained osteopaths) is supported by observational data and patient feedback, but there is still a need for objective, quantitative biomarkers that allow measurement of the underlying mechanisms. No study exploring the protective potential of OMTh for mental stress has been published, to the authors’ knowledge.

Objectives: To explore the modulating effect of OMTh on autonomic neural regulation of the heart and verifiy its ability to influence the activity of the hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis.

Methods: Healthy young adult men who had never received OMTh were exposed to either a brief protocol using craniosacral techniques or sham therapy (control) involving the same anatomical areas. A laboratory stress episode consisting of a 5-minute arithmetic task participants were required to perform in front of a committee preceded the therapy sessions. Continuous electrocardiograph recordings were done before, during, and after the stress episode. Heart rate and frequency-domain parameters of heart rate variability (specifically, high-frequency component power in normalized units and the ratio of low-frequency to high-frequency power) were measured to quantify the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system and the state of sympathovagal balance at the level of the heart, respectively. Saliva samples were also collected at points throughout the study to determine cortisol levels.

Results: Osteopathic manipulative therapy reduced the overall chronotropic effect of the stressor (t=−2.9, P<.05) and counteracted the vagal withdrawal and the shift of autonomic balance toward sympathetic prevalence (t=−2.8, P<.05) that were observed in control participants. Moreover, OMTh participants had a much lower overall cortisol level during the mental stressor compared with control participants (t=−2.3, P<.05). Participants in the OMTh group did not show the statistically significant reduction in the amplitude of the cortisol awakening response observed in their control counterparts after the stress episode (control: t=2.7, P<.05; OMT: P=.83).

Conclusions: The application of a single OMTh session to healthy participants induced a faster recovery of heart rate and sympathovagal balance after an acute mental stressor by substantially dampening parasympathetic withdrawal and sympathetic prevalence. The OMTh session also prevented the typical increase in cortisol levels observed immediately after a brief mental challenge.

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