This single-blind, randomized, clinical trial was aimed at determining the long-term clinical effects of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) or mobilization (MOB) as an adjunct to neurodynamic mobilization (NM) in the management of individuals with Lumbar Disc Herniation with Radiculopathy (DHR).
Forty participants diagnosed as having a chronic DHR (≥3 months) were randomly allocated into two groups with 20 participants each in the SMT and MOB groups.
Participants in the SMT group received high-velocity, low-amplitude manipulation, while those in the MOB group received Mulligans’ spinal mobilization with leg movement. Each treatment group also received NM as a co-intervention, administered immediately after the SMT and MOB treatment sessions. Each group received treatment twice a week for 12 weeks.
The following outcomes were measured at baseline, 6, 12, 26, and 52 weeks post-randomization; back pain, leg pain, activity limitation, sciatica bothersomeness, sciatica frequency, functional mobility, quality of life, and global effect. The primary outcomes were pain and activity limitation at 12 weeks post-randomization.
The results indicate that the MOB group improved significantly better than the SMT group in all outcomes (p < 0.05), and at all timelines (6, 12, 26, and 52 weeks post-randomization), except for sensory deficit at 52 weeks, and reflex and motor deficits at 12 and 52 weeks. These improvements were also clinically meaningful for neurodynamic testing and sensory deficits at 12 weeks, back pain intensity at 6 weeks, and for activity limitation, functional mobility, and quality of life outcomes at 6, 12, 26, and 52 weeks of follow-ups. The risk of being improved at 12 weeks post-randomization was 40% lower (RR = 0.6, CI = 0.4 to 0.9, p = 0.007) in the SMT group compared to the MOB group.
The authors concluded that this study found that individuals with DHR demonstrated better improvements when treated with MOB plus NM than when treated with SMT plus NM. These improvements were also clinically meaningful for activity limitation, functional mobility, and quality of life outcomes at long-term follow-up.
Yet again, I find it hard to resist playing the devil’s advocate: had the researchers added a third group with sham-MOB, they would have perhaps found that this group would have recovered even faster. In other words, this study might show that SMT is no good for DHR (which I find unsurprising), but it does NOT demonstrate MOB to be an effective therapy.