Yes, chiropractic spinal manipulation shows promise to alleviate symptoms of infant colic! At least, this is the result of an overview of systematic reviews of so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs) for infant colic. Here I focus merely on the part that deals with chiropractic spinal manipulation. The authors of the overview come to this result based mainly on the statement:
Spinal manipulation was assessed in six reviews [22, 23, 25,26,27,28]. Two multiple CAM reviews assessed manipulation but did not pool the results [22, 25]. Both found three trials to be effective [68, 69, 72, 73, or] with the exception of one .
And here are the references they cite (all the primary studies are on chiropractic manipulation):
22.Perry R, Hunt K, Ernst E. Nutritional supplements and other complementary medicines for infantile colic: a systematic review. Pediatrics. 2011;127:720–33.
23.Bruyas-Bertholo V, Lachaux A, Dubois J-P, Fourneret P, Letrilliart L. Quels traitements pour les coliques du nourrisson. Presse Med. 2012;41:e404–10.
24.Harb T, Matsuyama M, David M, Hill RJ. Infant colic—what works: a systematic review of interventions for breast-fed infants. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2016;62(5):668–86.
25.Gutiérrez-Castrellón P, Indrio F, Bolio-Galvis A, et al. Efficacy of Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 for infantile colic. Systematic review with network meta-analysis. Medicine. 2017;96(51):e9375.
26.Dobson D, Lucassen PLBJ, Miller JJ, Vlieger AM, Prescott P, Lewith G. Manipulative therapies for infantile colic. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2012;(Issue 12. Art. No.: CD004796)
27.Gleberzon BJ, Arts J, Mei A, McManus EL. The use of spinal manipulative therapy for pediatric health conditions: a systematic review of the literature. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2012;56(2):128–41.
28.Carnes D, Plunkett A, Ellwood J, et al. Manual therapy for unsettled, distressed and excessively crying infants: a systematic review and meta-analyses. BMJ Open. 2018;8:e019040.
68.Wiberg J, Nordsteen J, Nilsson N. The short-term effect of spinal manipulation in the treatment of infantile colic: a randomized controlled trial with a blinded observer. J Manip Physiol Ther. 1999;22(8):517–22.
69.Mercer C. A study to determine the efficacy of chiropractic spinal adjustments as a treatment protocol in the Management of Infantile Colic [thesis]. Durban: Technikon Natal,Durban University; 1999.
70.Mercer C, Nook B. The efficacy of chiropractic spinal adjustments as a treatment protocol in the management of infantile colic. In: Presented at: 5th Biennial Congress of the World Federation of Chiropractic. Auckland; 1999. p. 170-1.
71.Olafsdottir E, Forshei S, Fluge G, Markestad T. Randomized controlled trial of infantile colic treated with chiropractic spinal manipulation. Arch Dis Child. 2001;84(2):138–41.
And here is the relevant part of the overview’s conclusion:
Spinal manipulation shows promise to alleviate symptoms of colic, although concerns remain as positive effects were only demonstrated when crying was measured by unblinded parent assessors.
I have several concerns about this new overview:
- My comments on the Canes paper are here and do not need repeating.
- My comments on the Dobson paper (according to the overview authors, it is the best of all the reviews) are also available and need no repeating.
- Reference 22 is a systematic review I did together with the lead author of the new overview while she was one of my co-workers at Exeter. It is not focussed on spinal manipulation, but on all SCAMs. Here is the relevant passage from our conclusions regarding spinal manipulation: The evidence for … manual therapies does not indicate an effect.
How the review authors could come to the verdict that spinal manipulation shows promise is thus more than a little mysterious. If we consider the following, it gets positively bewildering. Even the most rudimentary of searches on Medline will deliver a 2009 systematic review by myself entitled ‘Chiropractic spinal manipulation for infant colic: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials‘. It was the first systematic review on the subject but was not included in the new overview.
I do not know.
Here are my conclusions from this paper:
Collectively these RCTs fail to demonstrate that chiropractic spinal manipulation is an effective therapy for infant colic. The largest and best reported study failed to show effectiveness (11). Numerous weaknesses of the primary data would prevent ﬁrm conclusions, even if the results of all RCTs had been unanimously positive.
And here is what my review stated about the three primary RCTs assessed in all the other review authors:
The trial by Wiberg et al. (10) did not attempt to blind the infants’ parents who acted as the evaluators of the therapeutic success. The paper provides little details about the recruitment process, but it is fair to assume that patients were asked to participate in a trial of spinal manipulation. Thus one might expect a degree of disappointment in parents of the control group whose children did not receive this treatment. This, in turn, could have impacted on the parents’ subjective judgements. In any case, there is no control for placebo effects which can be very different for a physical intervention compared with an oral placebo – dimethicone was administered as a placebo and the authors stress that it is ‘no better than placebo treatment’.
The RCT by Olafsdottir et al. (11) is by far the best-reported study of all the included RCTs. In many ways, it is a replication of Wiberg’s investigation (10) but on a larger scale with twice the sample size. It is the only study where a serious attempt was made to control for the placebo effects of spinal manipulations. For these reasons, its results seem more reliable than those of the other RCTs.
The RCT by Browning and Miller (12) is a comparison of two manual techniques both of which are assumed by the authors to be effective. Thus it is essentially a non-inferiority trial. Yet, it is woefully underpowered for such a design. Even if it had the necessary power, its results would be difﬁcult to interpret because none of the two interventions have been proven to be effective. Thus, one would still be uncertain whether both interventions are similarly ineffective or effective. As it stands, the result simply seems to demonstrate that symptoms of infant colic lessen over time possibly as a result of non-speciﬁc therapeutic effects, the natural history of the disease, concomitant treatments, social desirability or a combination of these factors.
So, what should we conclude from all this? I am not sure – except for one thing, of course: I would not call the evidence for chiropractic spinal manipulation promising.