The Journal of Contemporary Chiropractic published the results of a case study February 14, 2020, documenting the improvement of neck pain, anxiety and cortisol levels as a result of chiropractic care. Elevated cortisol levels are typically associated with stress and anxiety, and measuring cortisol levels is a good way to measure a reduction in anxiety levels.
The study begins by noting how common neck pain is, and the connection between neck pain and anxiety. “Neck pain is common and has a considerable impact on individuals and their families, communities, healthcare systems, and businesses. At least 33% and as high as 65% of people have suffered and recovered from an episode of neck pain within the last year.”
The study also points out that women are more likely than men to suffer from persistent neck pain and neck problems. The authors also report, “Of all 291 conditions studied in the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Burden of Disease 2010 (GBD) study, neck pain ranked 4th in terms of disability and contributes to an economic burden of billions of dollars in costs associated with treatment and lost work time.”
The American Psychological Association defines anxiety by stating, “Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat.”
In this case, a 40-year-old woman was suffering for the previous two weeks with chronic recurring neck pain and headache that was made worse by an increase of desk and computer work. She described her condition as constant pain with tension throughout the upper back and neck which was made worse by sitting or driving. She was also suffering with headaches. The pain, which the woman rated as 7 out of 10 with 10 being the worst, made sleeping difficult. The woman reported a history of anxiety which was getting worse as her pain was increasing.
A chiropractic examination was performed which included a postural inspection, spinal range of motions tests, static and motion spinal palpation, and spinal x-rays. The conclusion from these tests was that subluxations were present. The woman also submitted to a saliva test to establish a baseline salivary cortisol level so that this could be compared to future cortisol level tests as a measure of anxiety and stress levels.
Regular specific chiropractic adjustments were given over a 12-week period. As care was progressing, the woman reported that her symptoms were significantly improving and that her headaches had completely resolved. She also reported that she no longer had trouble sleeping and her anxiety was gone. To objectively measure the woman’s anxiety levels, a follow-up saliva study was performed to test the woman’s cortisol levels. This test showed a reduction of salivary cortisol levels, thus confirming her reduction in anxiety.
In their conclusion the authors noted, “Chiropractic management of chronic, recurring neck pain and headache in a patient with anxiety was associated with subjective improvement in both musculoskeletal and anxiety symptoms resulting in improved physical function.”