Why do spinal manipulation techniques take the form they do? Towards a general model of spinal manipulation

David W. Evans*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


For centuries, techniques used to manipulate joints in the spine have been passed down from one generation of manipulators to the next. Today, spinal manipulation is in the curious position that positive clinical effects have now been demonstrated, yet the theoretical base underpinning every aspect of its use is still underdeveloped. An important question is posed in this masterclass: why do spinal manipulation techniques take the form they do? From the available literature, two factors appear to provide an answer: 1. Action of a force upon vertebrae. Any 'direct' spinal manipulation technique requires that the patient be orientated in such a way that force is applied perpendicular to the overlying skin surface so as to act upon the vertebrae beneath. If the vertebral motion produced by 'directly' applied force is insufficient to produce the desired effect (e.g. cavitation), then force must be applied 'indirectly', often through remote body segments such as the head, thorax, abdomen, pelvis, and extremities. 2. Spinal segment morphology. A new hypothesis is presented. Spinal manipulation techniques exploit the morphology of vertebrae by inducing rotation at a spinal segment, about an axis that is always parallel to the articular surfaces of the constituent zygapophysial joints. In doing so, the articular surfaces of one zygapophysial joint appose to the point of contact, resulting in migration of the axis of rotation towards these contacting surfaces, and in turn this facilitates gapping of the other (target) zygapophysial joint. Other variations in the form of spinal manipulation techniques are likely to depend upon the personal style and individual choices of the practitioner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-219
Number of pages8
JournalManual Therapy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomechanics
  • Kinematics
  • Spinal manipulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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