This idea of having a handbrake on your muscles may actually be more real than you think. Not a handbrake in your muscles, but a handbrake in your brain which is what controls your muscles and tells them to contract.
Studies have shown that chiropractic adjustments can make you stronger
One study reported in a group of students who received chiropractic care, that they were actually able to produce 16% more force in their leg muscle after a chiropractor had gently checked and adjusted any dysfunctional spinal segments, or what chiropractors call vertebral subluxations.
Does it sometimes feel like you just don’t have the strength that you usually have? Maybe you can’t lift as much at the gym, or perhaps you just can’t open that stubborn jam jar in the kitchen. Does it feel like someone’s put the handbrake on your muscles?
This idea of having a handbrake on your muscles may actually be more real than you think… well maybe not a handbrake in your muscles, but a handbrake in your brain which is what controls your muscles and tells them to contract. Let me explain this a little further by telling you about a study that looked at how chiropractic care may help release the handbrake in your brain.
First of all though, let’s look at why scientists may be interested in how chiropractic care may change the way your brain controls your muscles. The answer to this is really simple. Over the last few years a number of studies have shown that when you get adjusted by a chiropractor it can make you stronger. One study reported in a group of students who received chiropractic care, that they were actually able to produce 16% more force in their leg muscle after a chiropractor had gently checked and adjusted any dysfunctional spinal segments, or what chiropractors call vertebral subluxations.1 This didn’t happen when the chiropractors did a control intervention that just involved moving their spine, but not adjusting them.
The same NZ group of researchers followed up this study in elite Tae Kwon Do athletes, and again showed that even in a group of elite, highly trained athletes, a single session of chiropractic care can improve their strength and prevent fatigue.2 And now they’ve even shown that chiropractic care can help improve strength in patients who have had a stroke.3
But what does this have to do with handbrakes in the brain you may wonder. Well, in a new study by the same team of researchers, they wanted to see if chiropractic care resulted in an increase in the way the brain could drive the muscle in the subject’s arms. To do this, they measured the participant’s bicep’s muscle strength, and then measured something that’s called ‘central inhibition’, before and after a single session of chiropractic care, or just moving their heads around as a control intervention. This ‘central inhibition’ measure is a bit like the brain’s handbrake to the muscle. There are two ways the brain can increase the way your muscle contracts. It can either press the gas pedal or it can release the ‘hand brake’ to that muscle. It’s a little bit more complicated than this of course, because the brain has many ‘gas pedals’ and many ‘hand brakes’ to every single muscle in your body. But the scientists wanted to know if a particular type of inhibitory handbrake changed after these subjects got adjusted. The technical term for the method they used to record this type of inhibition was ‘TMS twitch interpolation technique’ and it allows them to explore the way the participants brains are driving their arm muscles… in other words it measured the degree to which their brain was pulling the handbrake to that particular muscle.
What they found was that there was a difference in the degree of central inhibition to the bicep’s muscle only after they were adjusted, compared to when they did the control movement of the neck. There was less inhibition, suggesting the brain had released the handbrake to the muscle after they got adjusted. So this may be one of the reasons why the previous studies showed that chiropractic care could increase strength, because maybe chiropractic care is reducing the central inhibition to your muscles, or in other words, releasing the handbrake to your muscles making it easier for your brain to move your muscles and produce more strength.
So, if you feel like you’ve got a handbrake in your muscles or in your brain, maybe you should go see a chiropractor and see if they can help your brain release the handbrake so that your brain can more efficiently control your muscles and perhaps even help you to get that jam jar open.
- Niazi IK, Turker KS, Flavel S, et al. Changes in H-reflex and V-waves following spinal manipulation. Exp Brain Res 2015 doi: 10.1007/s00221-014-4193-5 [published Online First: 2015/01/13]
- Christiansen TL, Niazi IK, Holt K, et al. The effects of a single session of spinal manipulation on strength and cortical drive in athletes. Eur J Appl Physiol 2018;118(4):737-49. doi: 10.1007/s00421-018-3799-x [published Online First: 2018/01/13]
- Holt K, Niazi IK, Nedergaard RW, et al. The effects of a single session of chiropractic care on strength, cortical drive, and spinal excitability in stroke patients. Scientific Reports 2019;9(1):2673. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-39577-5