Blood Pressure and Heart Rate Response to Posteriorly Directed Pressure Applied to the Cervical Spine in Young, Pain-free Individuals: A Randomized, Repeated-measures, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study

Emmanuel Yung, Sacred Heart University
Michael Wong, Azusa Pacific University
Haddie Williams
Kyle Mache, Avail Physical Therapy



Randomized clinical trial. Objectives To compare the blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR) response of healthy volunteers to posteriorly directed (anterior-to-posterior [AP]) pressure applied to the cervical spine versus placebo.


Manual therapists employ cervical spine AP mobilizations for various cervical-shoulder pain conditions. However, there is a paucity of literature describing the procedure, cardiovascular response, and safety profile.


Thirty-nine (25 female) healthy participants (mean ± SD age, 24.7 ± 1.9 years) were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 groups. Group 1 received a placebo, consisting of light touch applied to the right C6 costal process. Group 2 received AP pressure at the same location. Blood pressure and HR were measured prior to, during, and after the application of AP pressure. One-way analysis of variance and paired-difference statistics were used for data analysis.


There was no statistically significant difference between groups for mean systolic BP, mean diastolic BP, and mean HR (P >.05) for all time points. Within-group comparisons indicated statistically significant differences between baseline and post-AP pressure HR (-2.8 bpm; 95% confidence interval: -4.6, -1.1) and between baseline and post-AP pressure systolic BP (-2.4 mmHg; 95% confidence interval: -3.7, -1.0) in the AP group, and between baseline and postplacebo systolic BP (-2.6 mmHg; 95% confidence interval: -4.2, -1.0) in the placebo group. No participants reported any adverse reactions or side effects within 24 hours of testing.


AP pressure caused a statistically significant physiologic response that resulted in a minor drop in HR (without causing asystole or vasodepression) after the procedure, whereas this cardiovascular change did not occur for those in the placebo group. Within both groups, there was a small but statistically significant reduction in systolic BP following the procedure.