On this blog, I have repeatedly discussed chiropractic research that, on closer examination, turns out to be some deplorable caricature of science. Today, I have another example of what I would call pseudo-research.
This RCT compared short-term treatment (12 weeks) versus long-term management (36 weeks) of back and neck related disability in older adults using spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) combined with supervised rehabilitative exercises (SRE).
Eligible participants were aged 65 and older with back and neck disability for more than 12 weeks. Co-primary outcomes were changes in Oswestry and Neck Disability Index after 36 weeks. An intention to treat approach used linear mixed-model analysis to detect between group differences. Secondary analyses included other self-reported outcomes, adverse events and objective functional measures.
A total of 182 participants were randomized. The short-term and long-term groups demonstrated significant improvements in back and neck disability after 36 weeks, with no difference between groups. The long-term management group experienced greater improvement in neck pain at week 36, self-efficacy at week 36 and 52, functional ability and balance.
The authors concluded that for older adults with chronic back and neck disability, extending management with SMT and SRE from 12 to 36 weeks did not result in any additional important reduction in disability.
What renders this paper particularly fascinating is the fact that its authors include some of the foremost researchers in (and most prominent proponents of) chiropractic today. I therefore find it interesting to critically consider the hypothesis on which this seemingly rigorous study is based.
As far as I can see, it essentially is this:
36 weeks of chiropractic therapy plus exercise leads to better results than 12 weeks of the same treatment.
I find this a most remarkable hypothesis.
Imagine any other form of treatment that is, like SMT, not solidly based on evidence of efficacy. Let’s use a new drug as an example, more precisely a drug for which there is no solid evidence for efficacy or safety. Now let’s assume that the company marketing this drug publishes a trial based on the hypothesis that:
36 weeks of therapy with the new drug plus exercise leads to better results than 12 weeks of the same treatment.
Now let’s assume the authors affiliated with the drug manufacturer concluded from their findings that for patients with chronic back and neck disability, extending drug therapy plus exercise from 12 to 36 weeks did not result in any additional important reduction in disability.
WHAT DO YOU THINK SUCH A TRIAL CAN TELL US?
My answer is ‘next to nothing’.
I think, it merely tells us that
- daft hypotheses lead to daft research,
- even ‘top’ chiropractors have problems with critical thinking,
- SMT might not be the solution to neck and back related disability.
I REST MY CASE.