Skin blood flow (SBF) indexes have been used to describe physiological mechanisms related to spinal manual therapy (SMT). The aims of the current review were to evaluate methods for data collection, assess how investigators interpreted SBF changes, and formulate recommendations to advance manual medicine research. A database search was performed in PubMed, Cochrane Library, the Physiotherapy Evidence Database, and the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature through April 2014. Articles were included if no less than 1 outcome measure was changes in 1 SBF index following SMT. The database search yielded 344 records. Two independent authors applied the inclusion criteria. Twenty studies met the inclusion criteria. Selected studies used heterogeneous methods to assess short-term post-SMT changes in SBF, usually vasoconstriction, which was interpreted as a general sympathoexcitatory effect through central mechanisms. However, this conclusion might be challenged by the current understanding of skin sympathetic nervous activity over local endothelial mechanisms that are specifically controlling SBF. Evaluation of SBF measurements in peripheral tissues following SMT could document physiological responses that are beyond peripheral sympathetic function. Based on the current use of SBF indexes in clinical and physiological research, 14 recommendations for advancing manual medicine research using laser Doppler flowmetry are presented.
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