Static or motion manual palpation tests of the spine are commonly used by chiropractors and osteopaths to assess pain location and reproduction in low back pain (LBP) patients. But how reliable are they?
The purpose of this review was to evaluate the reliability and validity of manual palpation used for the assessment of LBP in adults. The authors systematically searched five databases from 2000 to 2019 and critically appraised the internal validity of studies using QAREL and QUADAS-2 instruments.
A total of 2023 eligible articles were identified, of which 14 were at low risk of bias. Evidence suggests that reliability of soft tissue structures palpation is inconsistent, and reliability of bony structures and joint mobility palpation is poor. Preliminary evidence was found to suggest that gluteal muscle palpation for tenderness may be valid in differentiating LBP patients with and without radiculopathy.
The authors concluded that the reliability of manual palpation tests in the assessment of LBP patients varies greatly. This is problematic because these tests are commonly used by manual therapists and clinicians. Little is known about the validity of these tests; therefore, their clinical utility is uncertain. High quality validity studies are needed to inform the clinical use of manual palpation tests.
I have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that the diagnostic methods used by chiropractors and osteopaths are of uncertain or disproven validity (see for instance here, or here). Why is that important?
Imagine you consult a chiropractor or osteopath. Simply put, this is what is likely to happen:
- They listen to your complaint.
- They do a few tests which are of dubious validity.
- They give you a diagnosis that is meaningless.
- They treat you with manual therapies that are neither effective nor safe.
- You pay.
- They persuade you that you need many more sessions.
- You pay regularly.
- When eventually your pain has gone away, they persuade you to have useless maintenance treatment.
- You pay regularly.
In a nutshell, they have very little to offer … which explains why they attack everyone who dares to disclose this.
Prior research has generated inconsistent results regarding vaccination rates among patients using so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Given that SCAM includes a wide range of therapies – about 400 different treatments have been counted – variable vaccination patterns may occur within consultations with different types of SCAM practitioners.
A recent analysis aimed to evaluate differences between categories of SCAM regarding vaccination behavior among US adults.
were less likely to be vaccinated. Other SCAMs showed no significant association with flu vaccination behavior. Independent predictors for a flu shot were prior diabetes, cancer, current asthma, kidney disease, overweight and current pregnancy. As well, higher educational level, age, ethnicity, health insurance coverage, and having seen a general physician or medical specialist in the past 12 months were also associated with a higher vaccination rate.
The authors concluded that SCAM users were equally likely to receive an influenza vaccination compared with non-users. Different SCAM therapies showed varied associations with vaccination behavior. Further analyses may be needed to distinguish influencing factors among patients’ vaccination behavior.
This survey confirms what we have discussed repeatedly on this blog (see, for instance here, here, here, here, and here). The reason why consumers who consult naturopaths, homeopaths, or chiropractors get vaccinated less regularly is presumably that these practitioners tend to advise against vaccinations. And why do they do that?
- Naturopaths claim that vaccines are toxic and their therapeutic options protect against infections.
- Homeopaths claim that vaccines are toxic and their therapeutic options protect against infections.
- Chiropractors claim that vaccines are toxic and their therapeutic options protect against infections.
Do these ‘therapeutic options’ – detox, nosodes, spinal manipulation – have anything in common?
Yes, they are bogus!
Many naturopaths, homeopaths, and chiropractors seem to be a risk to public health.
The General Chiropractic Council (GCC) regulates chiropractors in the UK, Isle of Man, and Gibraltar to ensure the safety of patients undergoing chiropractic treatment. The GCC sets the standards of chiropractic practice and professional conduct that all chiropractors must meet.
By providing a lengthy ruling in the case of the late John Lawler and his chiropractor, Arlene Scholten, the GCC has recently established new standards for chiropractors working in the UK, Isle of Man, and Gibraltar (see also today’s article in The Daily Mail). If I interpret the GCC’s ruling correctly, a UK chiropractor is henceforth allowed to do all of the following things without fearing to get reprimanded, as long as he or she produces evidence that the deeds were done not with malicious intentions but in a state of confusion and panic:
- Treat a patient with treatments that are contraindicated.
- Fail to obtain informed consent.
- Pose as a real doctor without informing the patient that the practitioner is just a chiropractor who has never been near a medical school.
- Cause the death of a patient by treatment to the neck.
- Administer first aid in a way that makes matters worse.
- Tell lies to the ambulance men who consequently failed to employ a method of transport that would save the patient’s life.
- Keep inaccurate patient records that conceal what treatments were administered.
In previous years, the job of a chiropractor had turned out to be demanding, difficult, and stressful. This was due not least to the GCC’s professional standards which UK chiropractors were obliged to observe. The code of the GCC stated prominently that “our overall purpose is to protect the public.”
All this is now a thing of the past.
The new ruling changed everything. Now, UK chiropractors can relax and can happily pursue their true devotion, namely to keep their bank manager happy, while not worrying too much about the welfare and health of their patients.
In the name of all UK chiropractors, I herewith express my thanks to the GCC for unashamedly protecting first and foremost the interests of their members, while tacitly discarding medical ethics and evidently not protecting the public.
MAKE CHIROPRACTIC GREAT AGAIN!
On 19-30 April 2021 & 1-2 September, 2021 the Professional Conduct Committee of the General Chiropractic Council considered the case of Arleen Scholten, the chiropractor who treated John Lawler, the patient who died after her treatment. Details of the case can be found in the following posts:
- Former chiropractor fined after death of MS patient receiving hyperbaric oxygen therapy
- Death by chiropractic: thoughts about the sad case of Mr Lawler
- The death of Mr Lawler highlights the scandals of chiropractic
- Death by chiropractic neck manipulation? More details on the Lawler case
The Committee considered there had been breaches of the Code, those breaches occurred as a result of Mrs. Scholten’s state of mind at the time and not as a result of a deliberate intention on her part to be inaccurate or misleading. In light of those circumstances, the Committee considered other members of the profession and fully informed members of the public would not consider her failings to be morally reprehensible or deplorable, but rather would consider them regrettable but understandable in the exceptional, albeit tragic, circumstances of this case. The Committee, therefore, agreed with the GCC’s expert witness Mr Brown and did not think Mrs Scholten’s conduct fell far short of the standard required of a registered chiropractor. The Committee was not satisfied, therefore, that her behaviour amounted to unacceptable professional conduct. Accordingly, the Committee found the allegation of UPC not to be well-founded.
How can this be right?
To remind us of the case, here is what I wrote about it previously:
The tragic case of John Lawler who died after being treated by a chiropractor has been discussed on this blog before. Naturally, it generated much discussion which, however, left many questions unanswered. Today, I am able to answer some of them.
- Mr Lawler died because of a tear and dislocation of the C4/C5 intervertebral disc caused by considerable external force.
- The pathologist’s report also shows that the deceased’s ligaments holding the vertebrae of the upper spine in place were ossified.
- This is a common abnormality in elderly patients and limits the range of movement of the neck.
- There was no adequately informed consent by Mr Lawler.
- Mr Lawler seemed to have been under the impression that the chiropractor, who used the ‘Dr’ title, was a medical doctor.
- There is no reason to assume that the treatment of Mr Lawler’s neck would be effective for his pain located in his leg.
- The chiropractor used an ‘activator’ which applies only little and well-controlled force. However, she also employed a ‘drop table’ which applies a larger and not well-controlled force.
I have the permission to publish the submissions made to the coroner by the barrister representing the family of Mr Lawler. The barrister’s evidence shows that:
The chiropractor, Mrs. Scholten, had been accused by the GCC of unacceptable professional conduct. The exact text of the GCC reads as follows :
1. Between 31 July 2017 and 11 August 2017, you provided chiropractic care and
treatment to Patient A at Chiropractic 1st, 68 The Mount, North Yorkshire, YO24 1AR,
2. On 11 August 2017 you provided treatment to Patient A which included:
a. a drop technique applied to the thoracic spine;
b. the use of an Activator applied to the thoracic spine;
c. the use of an Activator applied to the cervical spine.
3. Following the drop technique, Patient A indicated he was in discomfort and had lost sensation in his arms and you inappropriately continued treatment.
4. During the course of a subsequent 999 telephone call:
a. you told the call handler that Patient A had laid on the adjusting table and you had used the Activator on his midback;
b. you told the call handler that when you were using the Activator on Patient A’s midback he had said his hands had gone numb;
c. you told the call handler that as Patient A was elderly you had never used any manual adjustment on Patient A;
d. you omitted to tell the call handler that you had used a drop technique on Patient A;
e. you omitted to tell the call handler that Patient A had first expressed discomfort following the drop technique;
f. you omitted to tell the call handler that you had treated Patient A’s cervical spine.
5. When paramedics arrived at the Clinic:
a. you told them words to the effect that you had manipulated Patient A’s midback with the use of an Activator;
b. you told them words to the effect that Patient A had first complained of discomfort when you had been using the Activator on his midback;
c. you omitted to tell the paramedics you had used a drop technique on Patient A;
d. you omitted to tell the paramedics that Patient A had first expressed discomfort following the drop technique;
e. you omitted to tell the paramedics that you had treated Patient A’s cervical spine;
f. you demonstrated the force applied by an Activator on one of the paramedic’s arms.
6. In Patient A’s records for 11 August 2017:
a. you recorded that you had used the Activator on Patient A’s thoracic spine at T2/3 level;
b. you recorded that Patient A had directly said his arms felt numb;
c. you omitted to record that you had used a drop technique on Patient A;
d. you omitted to record that you had treated Patient A’s cervical spine.
7. Your comments and omissions as set out above at 4 and/or 5, and/or as recorded at 6 above, were;
c. dishonest in that you intended to mislead as to the precise details of the treatment you had provided Patient A
Mr Goldring, on behalf of Mrs Scholten, indicated that the following facts were admitted: Particulars 1, 2(a), 4(a), 4(b), 4(c), 4(d), 5(a), 5(b), 5(c), 5(f), 6(a), 6(b), 6(c) and 7(a) and (b), insofar as they related to the aforementioned admitted facts. The Chair therefore announced that those matters were found proved. Later in the proceedings Mr Goldring indicated that 7(a) and 7(b) were not in fact admitted in respect of 4(c) and 6(b), since it was Mrs Scholten’s case that she had not used any manual adjustment on Patient A, (Particular 4(c)) and the record that Patient A had directly said his arms felt numb was accurate, (Particular 6(b)). Accordingly, the Chair formally announced that position.
END OF QUOTES
I am totally baffled by this ruling.
- What about the fact that the chiropractor’s treatment was not even indicated?
- What about the fact that no informed consent was obtained?
- What about the fear that the chiropractor moved her patient after the injury had happened and made an attempt of ‘mouth to mouth’ resuscitation which seems to have aggravated the injury?
- What about the fact that she misled the paramedics which then caused them not to stabilise Mr. Lawlwer’s neck?
Is the GCC truly saying that, as long as a chiropractor panics, all these mistakes can be excused? I am at a complete loss trying to understand the GCC ruling and very much hope that someone can explain it to me.
In their 2019 systematic review of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) for chronic back pain, Rubinstein et al included 7 studies comparing the effect of SMT with sham SMT.
They defined SMT as any hands-on treatment of the spine, including both mobilization and manipulation. Mobilizations use low-grade velocity, small or large amplitude passive movement techniques within the patient’s range of motion and control. Manipulation uses a high-velocity impulse or thrust applied to a synovial joint over a short amplitude near or at the end of the passive or physiological range of motion. Even though there is overlap, it seems fair to say that mobilization is the domain of osteopaths, while manipulation is that of chiropractors.
The researchers found:
- low-quality evidence suggesting that SMT does not result in a statistically better effect than sham SMT at one month,
- very low-quality evidence suggesting that SMT does not result in a statistically better effect than sham SMT at six and 12 months.
- low-quality evidence suggesting that, in terms of function, SMT results in a moderate to strong statistically significant and clinically better effect than sham SMT at one month. Exclusion of an extreme outlier accounted for a large percentage of the statistical heterogeneity for this outcome at this time interval (SMD −0.27, 95% confidence interval −0.52 to −0.02; participants=698; studies=7; I2=39%), resulting in a small, clinically better effect in favor of SMT.
- very low-quality evidence suggesting that, in terms of function, SMT does not result in a statistically significant better effect than sham SMT at six and 12 months.
This means that SMT has effects that are very similar to placebo (the uncertain effects on function could be interpreted as the result of residual de-blinding due to a lack of an optimal placebo or sham intervention). In turn, this means that the effects patients experience are largely or completely due to a placebo response and that SMT has no or only a negligibly small specific effect on back pain. Considering the facts that SMT is by no means risk-free and that less risky treatments exist, the inescapable conclusion is that SMT cannot be recommended as a treatment of chronic back pain.
This systematic review assessed the effect of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT), the hallmark therapy of chiropractors, on pain and function for chronic low back pain (LBP) using individual participant data (IPD) meta-analyses.
Of the 42 RCTs fulfilling the inclusion criteria, the authors obtained IPD from 21 (n=4223). Most trials (s=12, n=2249) compared SMT to recommended interventions. The analyses showed moderate-quality evidence that SMT vs recommended interventions resulted in similar outcomes on
- pain (MD -3.0, 95%CI: -6.9 to 0.9, 10 trials, 1922 participants)
- and functional status at one month (SMD: -0.2, 95% CI -0.4 to 0.0, 10 trials, 1939 participants).
Effects at other follow-up measurements were similar. Results for other comparisons (SMT vs non-recommended interventions; SMT as adjuvant therapy; mobilization vs manipulation) showed similar findings. SMT vs sham SMT analysis was not performed, because data from only one study were available. Sensitivity analyses confirmed these findings.
The authors concluded that sufficient evidence suggest that SMT provides similar outcomes to recommended interventions, for pain relief and improvement of functional status. SMT would appear to be a good option for the treatment of chronic LBP.
In 2019, this team of authors published a conventional meta-analysis of almost the same data. At this stage, they concluded as follows: SMT produces similar effects to recommended therapies for chronic low back pain, whereas SMT seems to be better than non-recommended interventions for improvement in function in the short term. Clinicians should inform their patients of the potential risks of adverse events associated with SMT.
Why was the warning about risks dropped in the new paper?
I have no idea.
But the risks are crucial here. If we are told that SMT is as good or as bad as recommended therapies, such as exercise, responsible clinicians need to decide which treatment they should recommend to their patients. If effectiveness is equal, other criteria come into play:
Can any reasonable person seriously assume that SMT would do better than exercise when accounting for costs and risks?
I very much doubt it!
The objective of this systematic review was to assess the effects and reliability of sham procedures in manual therapy (MT) trials in the treatment of back pain (BP) in order to provide methodological guidance for clinical trial development. Different databases were screened up to 20 August 2020. Randomised clinical trials involving adults affected by BP (cervical and lumbar), acute or chronic, were included. Hand contact sham treatment (ST) was compared with different MT (physiotherapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, massage, kinesiology, and reflexology) and to no treatment. Primary outcomes were BP improvement, the success of blinding, and adverse effect (AE). Secondary outcomes were the number of drop-outs. Dichotomous outcomes were analysed using risk ratio (RR), continuous using mean difference (MD), 95% CIs. The minimal clinically important difference was 30 mm changes in pain score.
A total of 24 trials were included involving 2019 participants. Different manual treatments were provided:
- SM/chiropractic (7 studies, 567 participants).
- Osteopathy (5 trials, 645 participants).
- Kinesiology (1 trial, 58 participants).
- Articular mobilisations (6 trials, 445 participants).
- Muscular release (5 trials, 304 participants).
Very low evidence quality suggests clinically insignificant pain improvement in favour of MT compared with ST (MD 3.86, 95% CI 3.29 to 4.43) and no differences between ST and no treatment (MD -5.84, 95% CI -20.46 to 8.78).ST reliability shows a high percentage of correct detection by participants (ranged from 46.7% to 83.5%), spinal manipulation being the most recognised technique. Low quality of evidence suggests that AE and drop-out rates were similar between ST and MT (RR AE=0.84, 95% CI 0.55 to 1.28, RR drop-outs=0.98, 95% CI 0.77 to 1.25). A similar drop-out rate was reported for no treatment (RR=0.82, 95% 0.43 to 1.55).
Forest plot of comparison ST versus MT in back pain outcome at short term. MT, manual therapy; ST, sham treatment.
The authors concluded that MT does not seem to have clinically relevant effect compared with ST. Similar effects were found with no treatment. The heterogeneousness of sham MT studies and the very low quality of evidence render uncertain these review findings. Future trials should develop reliable kinds of ST, similar to active treatment, to ensure participant blinding and to guarantee a proper sample size for the reliable detection of clinically meaningful treatment effects.
Essentially these findings suggest that the effects patients experience after MT are not due to MT per see but to placebo effects. The review could be criticised because of the somewhat odd mix of MTs lumped together in one analysis. Yet, I think it is fair to point out that most of the studies were of chiropractic and osteopathy. Thus, this review implies that chiropractic and osteopathy are essentially placebo treatments.
The authors of the review also provide this further comment:
Similar findings were found in other reviews conducted on LBP. Ruddock et al included studies where SM was compared with what authors called ‘an effective ST’, namely a credible sham manipulation that physically mimics the SM. Pooled data from four trials showed a very small and not clinically meaningful effect in favour of MT.52
Rubinstein et al 53 compared SM and mobilisation techniques to recommended, non-recommended therapies and to ST. Their findings showed that 5/47 studies included attempted to blind patients to the assigned intervention by providing an ST. Of these five trials, two were judged at unclear risk of participants blinding. The authors also questioned the need for additional studies on this argument, as during the update of their review they found recent small pragmatic studies with high risk of bias. We agree with Rubinstein et al that recent studies included in this review did not show a higher quality of evidence. The development of RCT with similar characteristic will probably not add any proof of evidence on MT and ST effectiveness.53
If we agree that chiropractic and osteopathy are placebo therapies, we might ask whether they should have a place in the management of BP. Considering the considerable risks associated with them, I feel that the answer is obvious and simple:
Multiple sclerosis (MS) causes a range of different symptoms. Patients with MS have looked for alternative therapies to control their MS progress and treat their symptoms. Non-invasive therapeutic approaches such as massage can have benefits to mitigate some of these symptoms. However, there is no rigorous review of massage effectiveness for patients suffering from MS.
The present systematic review was aimed at examining the effectiveness of different massage approaches on common MS symptoms, including fatigue, pain, anxiety, depression, and spasticity.
A total of 12 studies met the inclusion criteria. The authors rated 5 studies as being of fair and 7 studies of good methodological quality. Fatigue was improved by different massage styles, such as reflexology, nonspecific therapeutic massage, and Swedish massage. Pain, anxiety, and depression were effectively improved by reflexology techniques. Spasticity was reduced by Swedish massage and reflexology techniques.
Clinical trials of massage therapy face formidable obstacles including:
- difficulties in obtaining funding,
- difficulties in finding expert researchers who are interested in the subject,
- difficulties to control for placebo effects,
- difficulties in blinding patients,
- impossibility of blinding therapists,
- confusion about the plethora of different massage techniques.
Thus, the evidence is often less convincing than one would hope. This, however, does not mean that massage therapy does not have considerable potential for a range of indications. One could easily argue that this situation is similar to spinal manipulation. Yet, there are at least three important differences:
- massage therapy is not as heavily burdened with frequent adverse effects and potentially life-threatening complications,
- massage therapy has a rational basis,
- the existing evidence is more uniformly encouraging.
Consequently, massage therapy (particularly, classic or Swedish massage) is more readily being accepted even in the absence of solid evidence. In fact, in some countries, e.g. Germany and Austria, massage therapy is considered to be a conventional treatment.
A case report was published of a 35-year-old Chinese man with no risk factors for stroke. He presented with a 2-day history of expressive dysphasia and a 1-day history of right-sided weakness. The symptoms were preceded by multiple sessions of the neck, shoulder girdle, and upper back massage for pain relief in the prior 2 weeks. A CT-scan of the brain demonstrated an acute left middle cerebral artery infarct and left internal carotid artery dissection. The MRI cerebral angiogram confirmed left carotid arterial dissection and intimal oedema of bilateral vertebral arteries. In the absence of other vascular comorbidities and risk factors, massage-induced internal carotid arterial dissection was deemed to be the most likely cause of the near-fatal cerebrovascular event.
INSIDER reported further details of the case: the patient told the doctors who treated him that he had seen the chiropractor for two weeks before he experienced trouble reading, writing and talking. After experiencing those symptoms for two days and one day of pain on his right side, a friend convinced the patient to consult a neurologist. This led to the hospital admission, the above-named tests, and diagnosis. After three months of therapy and rehab, the patient showed “significant improvement,” according to the doctors.
What remains unclear is the exact nature of the neck treatment that is believed to have caused the arterial dissection. A massage is mentioned but massages have rarely been associated with such problems. Neck manipulations, on the other hand, are the hallmark therapy of chiropractors and have, as I have pointed out regularly, often been reported to cause arterial dissections.
Chiropractors usually deny this fact; alternatively, they claim that only poorly trained practitioners cause these adverse events or that their frequency is exceedingly small. However, without a proper post-marketing surveillance system, this argument is hardly convincing.
Having recently mentioned that bullshit is accepted as a proper term in scientific circles, I hasten to add that chiropractors often excel in putting out bullshit. Most of us probably knew that but I was reminded of it when reading this paper by an Irish chiropractor who employs nit just spinal manipulations but also offers CranioSacral Technique, Counselling together with Neuro-developmental training, and Pre and Peri-natal education:
There are essential ethical elements required for a chiropractor to establish an authentic professional relationship in order to maintain the integrity of a healing relationship with their patients. Ethically, chiropractors also have an ongoing responsibility to do their own personal and professional development. Therapeutic presence is the capacity to hold a healing space for another person by developing trust and rapport and providing them with a safe energetic container influenced by one’s calm and centered state of being. The Polyvagal Theory provides a neurobiological narrative that focuses on the importance of ‘safety’ and the adaptive consequences of detecting risk on our physiological state, social behavior, psychological experience, and health to achieve presence. To fulfill our biological imperative of connectedness, our personal, professional and ethical agenda needs to be directed toward making patients feel safe in the moment and getting into right-relationship. Recognizing and interpreting the mother/baby dyad’s adaptive behaviors provides an insight into their pre & perinatal imprints which reflect the child’s Baby Body Language patterns.
And here are the rather pithy conclusions of this paper:
Practicing the principles of therapeutic presence requires patience, experience and ongoing commitment as it is an invaluable model or paradigm of conscious awareness for helping others. A chiropractor who chooses the path of self-development to help them be more present for others in each moment, in a space of caring and compassion, would enable them to receive as well as give. The ability to serve in presence for someone else’s healing brings the professional into a deeper state of grace and resonance.
When both the chiropractor and mother/child dyad respect their own individual body’s physiological responses, they move towards a more evaluative state in which they become more respectful of themselves and the treatment outcomes. The PVT provides the neuroscience in understanding the continuum between the physiological states of fight, flight, freeze and dissociation. The application of the ongoing evaluation of these states functionally contributes to the treatment and healing process and facilitates a sound basis for the ongoing connectedness of the mother/child dyad.
The way in which practitioners are grounded in themselves, open to others (while holding appropriate boundaries) and participate fully in the life of the mind and body, are important aspects of practicing therapeutic presence which is at the heart of relationships that help others to grow. This inside-out view helps chiropractors to see the ongoing personal development work they need to do as professionals to develop the essential receptive starting place of therapeutic presence for all clinical encounters.
After having read it several times and repeatedly drowned in this abundant mixture of bullshit and platitude, my main question is this:
DOES ANYONE UNDERSTAND WHAT IT MEANS?
If so, please explain.