People choose chiropractic care for many reasons. Some people simply want to be healthier while others are seeking a chiropractic approach for a spinal or general health concern. In clinical practice chiropractors have often found that people who have ongoing issues with their neck such as neck dysfunction and pain, have multiple vertebral subluxations throughout their cervical spine.

A new publication has just been released in collaboration with world leading chiropractic researchers Dr Bernadette Murphy and Dr Heidi Haavik. The lead researcher of this study, Danielle Andrews, completed this project as part of a Master’s degree project (1). This study was a group effort between the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and the New Zealand College of Chiropractic Centre for Chiropractic Research.

This newly published study explored differences in brain function between people who have neck dysfunction (subclinical neck pain) and people with healthy and well-functioning necks. In the design of the study on the day of testing, people in both groups were totally pain free – the only difference was that one group had a history of neck dysfunction and the other did not.

What did the study find?

Somatosensory evoked potentials (SEPs) were measured before and after a motor learning exercise. The results of this study found that there were significant differences between people with neck dysfunction and the group with healthy neck function. This finding suggests that people with poorly functioning necks process sensory and motor information in a different manner than people with healthy necks.

Another interesting aspect of this study were the differences in ‘retention’ between the two groups. Both groups showed improved accuracy immediately after the hand tracing task, however when the test was repeated again 24-48 hours after the original test, the accuracy continued to improve in the healthy group but not in the group with neck dysfunction. To be more specific, there were differences between the two groups in the the way their brain processed sensory information from their hands, which was measured from sensors on their scalp which can record information in the pathways between the a part of the brain called the cerebellum (responsible for postural control and coordination) and the main sensory processing areas of the brain. There was a also a correlation between changes in the size of the SEP peaks and how people performed.

This work suggests that having neck dysfunction alters the way the cerebellum influences the sensorimotor processing area of brain. This means that the brains of people with poor neck function respond differently when learning new movement patterns involving hand eye coordination. Other implications are that that SEPs may be able to be used as an early screening tool to identify those at risk of having maladaptive neural plastic response to learning new motor skills.

What does this mean?

When we link this research to previous knowledge, it gets even more interesting. This study adds to previous chiropractic research that has shown that chiropractic adjustments alter the way the brain processes and responds to sensory information (2). Over the last 10 years a number of chiropractic studies have reported changes seen as a result of adjusting people with subclinical neck pain. These changes include an increase in the joint position sense of the elbow, and an increase in the force and voluntary drive (motor control) of the lower leg as well as other findings (3-6). This may mean that correcting vertebral subluxations in the spines of people with poor neck function could improve the way that they perceive and integrate sensory information and perform motor tasks.

This exciting new research supports the theory that poor neck function affects sensorimotor integration. It also suggests that poor neck function might even affect the ability to learn and retain new movement skills. This has implications for the many people seeking chiropractic care with these types of spinal concerns because chiropractic care can both improve neck function and potentially help people in learning and performing new motor tasks and skills.


  1. Andrew D, Yielder P, Haavik H, Murphy B. The effects of subclinical neck pain on sensorimotor integration following a complex motor pursuit task. Experimental Brain Research. 2017:1-1
  2. Haavik, H., & Murphy, B. (2012). The role of spinal manipulation in addressing disordered sensorimotor integration and altered motor control. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 22(5), 768–776.
  3. Haavik-Taylor, H., & Murphy, B. (2007). Cervical spine manipulation alters sensorimotor integration: A somatosensory evoked potential study. Clinical Neurophysiology, 118(2), 391–402.
  4. Haavik, H., & Murphy, B. (2011). Subclinical neck pain and the effects of cervical manipulation on elbow joint position sense. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 34(2), 88–97.
  5. Lelic, D., Niazi, I. K., Holt, K., Jochumsen, M., Dremstrup, K., Yielder, P., … Haavik, H. (2016). Manipulation of Dysfunctional Spinal Joints Affects Sensorimotor Integration in the Prefrontal Cortex: A Brain Source Localization Study. Neural Plasticity, 2016, 3704964.
  6. Niazi, I. K., Türker, K. S., Flavel, S., Kinget, M., Duehr, J., & Haavik, H. (2015). Changes in H-reflex and V-waves following spinal manipulation. Experimental Brain Research, 233(4), 1165–1173.