Monthly Archives: October 2019
Spinal manipulation is a treatment employed by several professions, including physiotherapists and osteopaths; for chiropractors, it is the hallmark therapy.
- They use it for (almost) every patient.
- They use it for (almost) every condition.
- They have developed most of the techniques.
- Spinal manipulation is the focus of their education and training.
- All textbooks of chiropractic focus on spinal manipulation.
- Chiropractors are responsible for most of the research on spinal manipulation.
- Chiropractors are responsible for most of the adverse effects of spinal manipulation.
Spinal manipulation has traditionally involved an element of targeting the technique to a level of the spine where the proposed movement dysfunction is sited. This study evaluated the effects of a targeted manipulative thrust versus a thrust applied generally to the lumbar region.
Sixty patients with low back pain were randomly allocated to two groups: one group received a targeted manipulative thrust (n=29) and the other a general manipulation thrust (GT) (n=31) to the lumbar spine. Thrust was either localised to a clinician-defined symptomatic spinal level or an equal force was applied through the whole lumbosacral region. The investigators measured pressure-pain thresholds (PPTs) using algometry and muscle activity (magnitude of stretch reflex) via surface electromyography. Numerical ratings of pain and Oswestry Disability Index scores were collected.
Repeated measures of analysis of covariance revealed no between-group differences in self-reported pain or PPT for any of the muscles studied. The authors concluded that a GT procedure—applied without any specific targeting—was as effective in reducing participants’ pain scores as targeted approaches.
The authors point out that their data are similar to findings from a study undertaken with a younger, military sample, showing no significant difference in pain response to a general versus specific rotation, manipulation technique. They furthermore discuss that, if ‘targeted’ manipulation proves to be no better than ‘general’ manipulation (when there has been further research, more studies), it would challenge the need for some current training courses that involve comprehensive manual skill training and teaching of specific techniques. If simple SM interventions could be delivered with less training, than the targeted approach currently requires, it would mean a greater proportion of the population who have back pain could access those general manipulation techniques.
Assuming that the GT used in this trial was equivalent to a placebo control, another interpretation of these results is that the effects of spinal manipulation are largely or even entirely due to a placebo response. If this were confirmed in further studies, it would be yet one more point to argue that spinal manipulation is not a treatment of choice for back pain or any other condition.
When Samuel Hahnemann translated Cullen’s ‘Treatise on Materia Medica’ in 1790, he learnt of Cullen’s explanation of the actions of Peruvian (or China) bark, Cinchona officinalis, a malaria treatment. Hahnemann disagreed with it and decided to conduct experiments of his own. He thus ingested high doses of Cinchona and noticed that subsequently he developed several of the symptoms that are characteristic of malaria. This is how Hahnemann later described his experience:
I took for several days, as an experiment, four drams of good china daily. My feet and finger tips, etc., at first became cold; I became languid and drowsy; my pulse became hard and quick; an intolerable anxiety and trembling (but without rigor); trembling in all limbs; then pulsation in the head, redness in the cheeks, thirst; briefly, all those symptoms which to me are typical of intermittent fever, such as the stupefaction of the senses, a kind of rigidity of all joints, but above all the numb, disagreeable sensation which seems to have its seat in the periosteum over all the bones of the body – all made their appearance. This paroxysm lasted for two or three hours every time, and recurred when I repeated the dose and not otherwise. I discontinued the medicine and I was once more in good health.
Hahnemann described what de facto was the 1st homeopathic proving. Despite the fact that Hahnemann misinterpreted the event, provings thus became the very basis of homeopathy. At Hahnemann’s time, it was highly uncommon for doctors to test their medicines in this way. So, one might wonder: where did the idea come from? Is it his very own innovation, or did he get the idea from someone else?
In 1777, Hahnemann had studied medicine in Vienna. The medical school was at the time strongly influenced by Gerard van Swieten (1700-1772) He was the innovator of a new way of medical thinking and is honoured for this legacy to the present day in Vienna.
Van Swieten’s aim was to put medicine on new scientific foundations based on objective clinical observation, botanical and chemical research, and the introduction of new, powerful remedies.
One of the pupils of this school was Anton Störck (1731-1803). He became the director of Austrian public health and medical education, appointed by Empress Maria Theresia. Störck was the first medical scientist to systematically test the effects of medicines, including poisonous plants (e.g., hemlock, henbane, meadow saffron).
In numerous cases, Störck used himself as a subject in his experiments to determine adverse effects and tolerable dose levels. One of his pupils was Joseph Quarin who fully adopted his teacher’s concepts. He later rose to considerable prominence in the Viennese medical establishment.
Hahnemann’s clinical teacher at Vienna was Joseph Quarin. Hahnemann’s idea of ‘homeopathic provings’ are thus to a significant extent influenced by Störck’s innovation.
A team of 42 authors from various disciplines (mostly medicine and philosophy) have published an appeal to broaden the definition of evidence. They reached several overlapping conclusions with implications for policy and practice in research and clinical care, which they summarised as follows:
1. ‘Evidence’ is typically evidence of causation. Common terms used in EBM, such as ‘intervention’, ‘outcome’ or ‘increased risk’, are relevant to evidence-based decision making only insofar as they point to causal matters: causal interventions and their effects. Although there is growing reluctance to make causal claims in areas of uncertainty, the correct response to such uncertainty is not to avoid talking about causation but instead to improve our methods of understanding it.
2. Establishing causation often requires the use of multiple methods since no single method will be universally applicable or perfect for this purpose. This means that statistical approaches, in particular randomised controlled trials and systematic reviews, cannot uncover all causally relevant information, contrary to their widespread assumed status as the universal gold standards of EBM.
3. An understanding of causal mechanisms can help to determine whether an intervention works (ie, its efficacy shown in experiment or effectiveness in clinical practice). In addition, we should strive to understand how an intervention works (ie, its mechanism) and how it can be made to work (ie, the conditions under which it works best). Understanding mechanisms is essential for both of these. For instance, a medical intervention that works experimentally might not do so when combined with a negatively interacting substance.
4. Although animal experiments can shed light on causal mechanisms, other types of evidence can add to our understanding. This is because causal mechanisms are complex, involving multiple causal interactions of various factors. These factors play roles in the effectiveness of the treatment and in interactions between the treatment and the individual patient.
5. Given the multiplicity of methods (cf 2) and a wide interpretation of what counts as a mechanism (cf 3 and 4), causation should be understood in non-reductionist terms. That is, the scope of relevant causal interactions extends beyond the molecular, pharmacological and physiological levels of interaction. Any thorough causal account should also include higher-level factors, such as the behaviour of tissues, whole organs and individuals, including psychological and social factors.
6. ‘Causal evidence’ should be extended to include different types of evidence, including case studies and case reports, which can in some cases provide valuable information for understanding causation and causal mechanisms. This is particularly important when dealing with rare disorders, marginal groups or outliers.
7. Patient narratives and phenomenological approaches are useful tools for looking beyond evidence such as symptoms and outcomes, and to elucidate the core causes or sources for chronic and unexplained conditions.
8. Causation has a non-negligible temporal aspect. Whether of long or short duration, a causal interaction cannot be fully understood from a ‘snapshot’, but requires both backwardlooking perspectives (towards the origin) and forward-looking perspectives (towards the outcome).
These points are well worth considering, in my view. As we have often discussed on this blog, causation is the key. The authors see their paper as a philosophical analysis that ought to have a direct impact on the practice of medicine. If we are to understand what is meant by ‘evidence’, what is the ‘best available evidence’ and how to apply it in the context of medicine, they write, we need to tackle the problem of causation head on. In practice, this means understanding the context in which evidence is obtained, as well as how the evidence might be interpreted and applied when making practical clinical decisions. It also means being explicit about what kind of causal knowledge can be gained through various research methods. The possibility that mechanistic and other types of evidence can be used to add value or initiate a causal claim should not be ignored.
Their plea has much scope for being misunderstood by enthusiasts of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). And I am keen to hear what you think about the 8 points raised here.
Once upon a time, arsenic has been used widely for medicinal and other purposes. Now that we know how toxic it is, few people would voluntarily take it – except of course fans of homeopathy. In homeopathy, arsenic is an important and popular remedy.
Here is what HOMEOPATHY PLUS tell us about its therapeutic potential:
Arsenic is a toxic chemical element, historically used as a poison. It is safe to use with infants through to the elderly when prepared in homeopathic potencies. Those who need Arsenicum are prone to hypochondriasis and are intolerant of untidiness and disorder. They are anxious, critical, and restless, and dislike being alone but may be irritable with company. Restlessness may be followed by exhaustion which is out of proportion to their illness. They fear illness and disease, death, and being alone. Discharges tend to be acrid and burning. Burning pains paradoxically feel better for heat (except the headache which is better for cold applications). Thirst is for sips of warm drinks but cold drinks worsen. Symptoms worsen between midnight and 2 AM.
Colds and Hayfever
- Red, puffy, burning eyes that feel better for hot compresses.
- Watery, nasal discharge that burns and reddens the nostrils and lip.
- Frequent sneezing with no relief.
- Worsened by cold air or cold drinks.
- Rapid, difficult breathing, with wheezing (asthma).
- Coughs or wheezing worse for lying down and better for sitting upright.
- Burning, throbbing pain.
- Worsened by heat and relieved by cold applications or cool air (though rest of body will be chilly and rugged up).
- Eczema with burning, itching, dry skin.
- Thirst for frequent small sips of water.
- Burning stomach pains eased by drinking milk.
- Offensive, burning, scalding diarrhoea.
- A key remedy for food poisoning or gastroenteritis.
- Hot head and cold body.
- Chilly and want to be rugged up.
- Restless and anxious – insomnia between midnight and 2 AM
- Dreams of robbers
- Chilly, anxious pets.
- Itchy, dry skin eruptions in chilly, anxious animals.
Where do I find it?
Arsenicum album (Ars.) is available from our online store as a single remedy and is also included in the following Complexes (combination remedies): Anxiety; Common Cold – Watery; Hay Fever; Insomnia; Mouth Ulcer; Panic Stop; Sinus Pain; Winter Defence.
While above self-limiting or acute complaints are suitable for home treatment, see your healthcare provider if symptoms worsen or fail to improve. Chronic or persistent complaints, which may or may not be mentioned above, require a different treatment and dosage protocol so are best managed by a qualified homeopath for good results.
For acute and self-limiting complaints, take one pill or five drops of the remedy every 30 minutes to 4 hours (30 minutes for intense symptoms, 4 hours for milder ones). Once an improvement is noticed, stop dosing and repeat the remedy only if symptoms return. If there is no improvement at all by three doses, choose a different remedy or seek professional guidance. Chronic symptoms or complaints require a course of professional treatment to manage the changes in potencies and remedies that will be required.
So, arsenic is safe to use with infants through to the elderly when prepared in homeopathic potencies!
True of false?
We recently discussed a case of homeopathic arsenic poisoning from India. Now a similar one has been reported from Switzerland. A Swiss doctor published a case report of chronic arsenic poisoning associated with the intake of a homeopathic remedy.
For about 4 years the patient had taken globules of a freely purchasable homeopathic remedy containing inorganic arsenic (iAs) diluted to D6 (average arsenic content per single globule: 0.85 ± 0.08 ng). She took the remedy because it was advertised for gastrointestinal confort. In the previous 7 months, she had taken 20 to 50 globules daily (average 30 ng arsenic daily).
She complained of nausea, stomach and abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and flatulence, headache, dizziness, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, snoring, leg cramps and fatigue, loss of appetite, increased thirst and sweating, reduced diuresis, weight gain, paleness and coolness of both hands with a furry feeling of the hands, eczema of the hands, arms and legs, conjunctivitis and irregular menstruation.
The physical and laboratory examinations showed a body mass index of 30 kg/m2, acne vulgaris, bilateral spotted leukonychia, eczema of hands, arms and legs, non-pitting oedema of the legs, elevated plasma alkaline phosphatase activity, folate deficiency and severe vitamin D3 insufficiency. The arsenic concentration in her blood was <0.013 µmol/l, and arsenic was undetectable in her scalp hair. The total iAs concentration was 116 nmol/l in the morning urine and 47 nmol/l in the afternoon urine.
The urinary arsenic concentration decreased and the patient’s complaints improved upon interruption of the arsenic globules, vitamin D3, thiamine and folic acid supplementation, and symptomatic therapy.
The author concluded that an avoidable toxicant such as inorganic arsenic, for which no scientific safe dose threshold exists, should be avoided and not be found in over-the-counter medications.
The author rightly states that causality of this association cannot be proven. However, he also stresses that a causal link between chronic iAs exposure and the patient’s nonspecific systemic symptoms is nevertheless suggested by circumstantial evidence pointing to the disappearance of CAsI signs and symptoms after therapy including interruption of the exposure. In his (and my) view, this renders causality most likely.
A systematic review of the evidence for effectiveness and harms of specific spinal manipulation therapy (SMT) techniques for infants, children and adolescents has been published by Dutch researchers. I find it important to stress from the outset that the authors are not affiliated with chiropractic institutions and thus free from such conflicts of interest.
They searched electronic databases up to December 2017. Controlled studies, describing primary SMT treatment in infants (<1 year) and children/adolescents (1–18 years), were included to determine effectiveness. Controlled and observational studies and case reports were included to examine harms. One author screened titles and abstracts and two authors independently screened the full text of potentially eligible studies for inclusion. Two authors assessed risk of bias of included studies and quality of the body of evidence using the GRADE methodology. Data were described according to PRISMA guidelines and CONSORT and TIDieR checklists. If appropriate, random-effects meta-analysis was performed.
Of the 1,236 identified studies, 26 studies were eligible. In all but 3 studies, the therapists were chiropractors. Infants and children/adolescents were treated for various (non-)musculoskeletal indications, hypothesized to be related to spinal joint dysfunction. Studies examining the same population, indication and treatment comparison were scarce. Due to very low quality evidence, it is uncertain whether gentle, low-velocity mobilizations reduce complaints in infants with colic or torticollis, and whether high-velocity, low-amplitude manipulations reduce complaints in children/adolescents with autism, asthma, nocturnal enuresis, headache or idiopathic scoliosis. Five case reports described severe harms after HVLA manipulations in 4 infants and one child. Mild, transient harms were reported after gentle spinal mobilizations in infants and children, and could be interpreted as side effect of treatment.
The authors concluded that, based on GRADE methodology, we found the evidence was of very low quality; this prevented us from drawing conclusions about the effectiveness of specific SMT techniques in infants, children and adolescents. Outcomes in the included studies were mostly parent or patient-reported; studies did not report on intermediate outcomes to assess the effectiveness of SMT techniques in relation to the hypothesized spinal dysfunction. Severe harms were relatively scarce, poorly described and likely to be associated with underlying missed pathology. Gentle, low-velocity spinal mobilizations seem to be a safe treatment technique in infants, children and adolescents. We encourage future research to describe effectiveness and safety of specific SMT techniques instead of SMT as a general treatment approach.
We have often noted that, in chiropractic trials, harms are often not mentioned (a fact that constitutes a violation of research ethics). This was again confirmed in the present review; only 4 of the controlled clinical trials reported such information. This means harms cannot be evaluated by reviewing such studies. One important strength of this review is that the authors realised this problem and thus included other research papers for assessing the risks of SMT. Consequently, they found considerable potential for harm and stress that under-reporting remains a serious issue.
Another problem with SMT papers is their often very poor methodological quality. The authors of the new review make this point very clearly and call for more rigorous research. On this blog, I have repeatedly shown that research by chiropractors resembles more a promotional exercise than science. If this field wants to ever go anywhere, if needs to adopt rigorous science and forget about its determination to advance the business of chiropractors.
I feel it is important to point out that all of this has been known for at least one decade (even though it has never been documented so scholarly as in this new review). In fact, when in 2008, my friend and co-author Simon Singh, published that chiropractors ‘happily promote bogus treatments’ for children, he was sued for libel. Since then, I have been legally challenged twice by chiropractors for my continued critical stance on chiropractic. So, essentially nothing has changed; I certainly do not see the will of leading chiropractic bodies to bring their house in order.
May I therefore once again suggest that chiropractors (and other spinal manipulators) across the world, instead of aggressing their critics, finally get their act together. Until we have conclusive data showing that SMT does more good than harm to kids, the right thing to do is this: BEHAVE LIKE ETHICAL HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS: BE HONEST ABOUT THE EVIDENCE, STOP MISLEADING PARENTS AND STOP TREATING THEIR CHILDREN!
Acupuncture is often recommended for relieving symptoms of fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS). The aim of this systematic review was to ascertain whether verum acupuncture is more effective than sham acupuncture in FMS.
Ten RCTs with a total of 690 participants were eligible, and 8 RCTs were eventually included in the meta-analysis. Its results showed a sizable effect of verum acupuncture compared with sham acupuncture on pain relief, improving sleep quality and reforming general status. Its effect on fatigue was insignificant. When compared with a combination of simulation and improper location of needling, the effect of verum acupuncture for pain relief was the most obvious.
The authors concluded that verum acupuncture is more effective than sham acupuncture for pain relief, improving sleep quality, and reforming general status in FMS posttreatment. However, evidence that it reduces fatigue was not found.
I have a much more plausible conclusion for these findings: in (de-randomised) trials comparing real and sham acupuncture, patients are regularly de-blinded and therapists are invariably not blind. The resulting bias and not the alleged effectiveness of acupuncture explains the outcome.
And why do I think that this conclusion is much more plausible?
Firstly, because of Occam’s Razor.
Secondly, because this is roughly what my own systematic review of the subject found (The notion that acupuncture is an effective symptomatic treatment for fibromyaligia is not supported by the results from rigorous clinical trials. On the basis of this evidence, acupuncture cannot be recommended for fibromyalgia). This view is also shared by other critical reviews of the evidence (Current literature does not support the routine use of acupuncture for improving pain or quality of life in FM). Perhaps more crucially, the current Cochrane review seems to concur: There is low to moderate-level evidence that compared with no treatment and standard therapy, acupuncture improves pain and stiffness in people with fibromyalgia. There is moderate-level evidence that the effect of acupuncture does not differ from sham acupuncture in reducing pain or fatigue, or improving sleep or global well-being. EA is probably better than MA for pain and stiffness reduction and improvement of global well-being, sleep and fatigue. The effect lasts up to one month, but is not maintained at six months follow-up. MA probably does not improve pain or physical functioning. Acupuncture appears safe. People with fibromyalgia may consider using EA alone or with exercise and medication. The small sample size, scarcity of studies for each comparison, lack of an ideal sham acupuncture weaken the level of evidence and its clinical implications. Larger studies are warranted.