A recent study investigated the effects of a single OMT session on mean arterial pressure, heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) in rugby players (Carnevali et al. 2021).
During physical stress, e.g. during training, the autonomic nervous system (ANS) has to cope with many demands of the body at the same time. For example, the muscles being used compete with the thermoregulatory need for sufficient blood flow to the skin, the maintenance of a stable blood pressure and good blood flow to the internal organs (Michael et al. 2017). All of this is controlled autonomously outside of our awareness until exercise is stopped and there is an onset of cardiac autonomic recovery (Coote 2010). Full recovery occurs when all stressed systems return to normal resting levels (Terziotti et al. 2001). Particularly high training intensities correlate with a slower recovery of heart rate and heart rate variability (Peçanha et al. 2014, Pecanha et al. 2013, Seiler et al. 2007, Terziotti et al. 2001). Additional psychological stress, as is the case in a competition, amplifies this effect (Barbero-Álvarez et al. 2012, Póvoas et al. 2012). Surveys have found increased HR and HRV values up to 24 hours after a competition in athletes. In addition, orthostatic dysregulation of the ANS has been observed in rugby players the day after a competition (Edmonds et al. 2013). These altered resting and reactivity parameters in elite athletes with incomplete cardiac autonomic recovery have potentially adverse health consequences and lead to reduced performance in training and competition.
Osteopathic manipulative therapy influences the work of the autonomic nervous system by contributing to simultaneous vasodilation, smooth muscle relaxation and increased blood flow. Studies have also shown that OMT leads to an increase in heart rate variability at rest and counteracts a stress-induced decrease in HRV (Fornari et al. 2017, Giles et al. 2013, Henley et al. 2008). OMT is thus able to promote cardiac autonomic homeostasis.
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In the present study, a randomised, double-blind, sham-controlled crossover design was used and resting and reactivity measurements (blood pressure, heart rate, heart rate variability) were taken. A total of 23 male rugby players participated in the study. Each player was tested four times under two different conditions (after a match vs. no match). Subjects were randomly assigned to either OMT or sham treatment.
18 to 20 hours after a match, an increase in blood pressure and heart rate was observed, as well as a decreased HRV compared to a day without training.
The single OMT session resulted in a significant increase in HRV and a significant decrease in blood pressure, regardless of exercise level.
Thus, this study shows a clear benefit of a single OMT session for elite athletes in terms of cardiovascular autonomic parameters.
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