Infant colic is a sensitive subject for chiropractors in the UK. In case you forgot, here is why. Consequently, the subject has featured regularly on this blog – and now there is new evidence:
A systematic review and meta-analysis were conducted on infantile colic studies that used SO-CALLED alternative medicine (SCAM) techniques as interventions. The outcome measures were hours spent crying and/or sleeping. The authors used the PubMed, Physiotherapy Evidence Database, Cochrane Library, Embase, Web of Science, Scopus, Osteopathic Medicine Digital Database, and Google Scholar databases from inception to 11 November 2022.
The methodological quality of the randomized control trials ranged from fair to high. The authors focused on five studies with 422 babies using the following interventions: cranial, visceral, or structural osteopathy or chiropractic manipulation or mobilization. These treatments failed to decrease the crying time (mean difference -1.08, 95% CI -2.17 to 0.01, I2 = 92%) and to increase the sleeping time (mean difference 1.11, 95% CI -0.20 to 2.41; I2: 91%), compared with no intervention. The quality of the evidence was rated as very low for both outcome measures.The authors concluded that osteopathy and chiropractic treatment failed to reduce the crying time and increase sleeping time in babies with infantile colic, compared to no additional intervention.The 5 included studies were the following:
- Miller JE, Newell D, Bolton JE. Efficacy of chiropractic manual therapy on infant colic: A pragmatic single-blind, randomized controlled trial. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2012;35(8):600–7.
- Castejón-Castejón M, Murcia-González MA, Todri J, Lena O, Chillón-Martínez R. Treatment of infant colic with craniosacral therapy. A randomized controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2022;71(February 2021).
- Olafsdottir E, Forshei S, Fluge G, Markestad T. Randomised controlled trial of infantile colic treated with chiropractic spinal manipulation. Arch Dis Child. 2001;84(2):138–41.
- Holm LV, Jarbøl DE, Christensen HW, Søndergaard J, Hestbæk L. The effect of chiropractic care on infantile colic: results from a single-blind randomised controlled trial. Chiropr Man Ther. 2021;29(1):1–11.
- Hayden C, Mullinger B. A preliminary assessment of the impact of cranial osteopathy for the relief of infantile colic. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2006;12(2):83–90.
This means that, in recent years, several new studies have emerged. I find this surprising: there is no plausible mechanism of action and the previous reviews were negative.
Why flog a dead horse?
But – come to think of it – this is a question one might ask about most of the research into cranial, visceral, or structural osteopathy or chiropractic manipulation or mobilization.
I was fascinated to find a chiropractor who proudly listed ‘the most common conditions chiropractors help kids with‘:
- Vision problems
- Skin conditions
- Sinus problems
- Loss of hearing
- Ear Infections
- Hip, leg, or foot pain
- Poor coordination
- Breastfeeding difficulties
- Arm, hand, or shoulder pain
- Anxiety and nervousness
The birth process, even under normal conditions, is frequently the first cause of spinal stress. After the head of the child appears, the physician grabs the baby’s head and twists it around in a figure eight motion, lifting it up to receive the lower shoulder and then down to receive the upper shoulder. This creates significant stress on the spine of the baby.
“Spinal cord and brain stem traumas often occur during the process of birth but frequently escape diagnosis. Infants often experience lasting neurological defects. Spinal trauma at birth is essentially attributed to longitudinal traction, especially when this force is combined with flexion and torsion of the spinal axis during delivery.” ~Abraham Towbin, MD
Growth patterns suggest the potential for neurological disorders is most critical from birth to two years of age, as this time is the most dynamic and important phase of postnatal brain development. Over sixty percent of all neurological development occurs after birth in the child’s first year of life. This is why it is so important to bring your child to a local pediatric chiropractor to have them checked and for your child to get a chiropractic adjustment during the first year of their life. Lee Hadley MD states “Subluxation alone is a rational reason for Pediatric Chiropractic care throughout a lifetime from birth.”
As our children continue to grow, the daily stresses can have a negative impact on an ever growing body. During the first few years of life, an infant often falls while learning to walk or can fall while tumbling off a bed or other piece of furniture. Even the seemingly innocent act of playfully tossing babies up in the air and catching them often results in a whiplash-like trauma to the spine, making it essential to get your baby checked by a pediatric chiropractor every stage of his/her development as minor injuries can present as major health concerns down the road if gone uncorrected.
On the Internet, similar texts can be found by the hundreds. I am sure that many new parents are sufficiently impressed by them to take their kids to a chiropractor. I have yet to hear of a single case where the chiropractor then checked out the child and concluded: “there is nothing wrong; your baby does not need any therapy.” Chiropractors always find something – not something truly pathological, but something to mislead the parent and to earn some money.
Often the treatment that follows turns out to be a prolonged and thus expensive series of sessions that almost invariably involve manipulating the infant’s fragile and developing spine. There is no compelling evidence that this approach is effective for anything. In addition, there is evidence that it can do harm, sometimes even serious harm.
And that’s the reason why I have mentioned this topic before and intend to continue doing so in the future:
- There is hardly a good reason for adults to consult a chiropractor.
- There is no reason to take a child to a chiropractor.
- There are good reasons for chiropractors to stop treating children.
But let’s be a bit more specific. Let’s deal with the above list of indications on the basis of the reliable evidence:
- Vision problems – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Skin conditions – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Bedwetting – some evidence that chiropractic manipulations are ineffective.
- Sinus problems – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- ADD/ADHD – some evidence that chiropractic manipulations are ineffective.
- Stomachaches – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Asthma – some evidence that chiropractic manipulations are ineffective.
- Allergies – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Loss of hearing – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Ear Infections – some evidence that chiropractic manipulations are ineffective.
- Hip, leg, or foot pain – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Constipation – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Poor coordination – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Breastfeeding difficulties – no good evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Arm, hand, or shoulder pain – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Anxiety and nervousness – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
- Colic – some evidence that chiropractic manipulations are ineffective.
- Scoliosis – no sound evidence that chiropractic manipulations are effective.
I rest my case.
I recently looked at the list of best-sellers in homeopathy on Amazon. To my surprise, there were several books that were specifically focused on the homeopathic treatment of children. Since we had, several years ago, published a systematic review of this subject, these books interested me. Here is what Amazon tells us about them:
Homeopathic remedies are increasingly being used to treat common childhood ailments. They are safe, have no side effects or allergic reactions, are inexpensive and, above all, effective. In this guide, Dana Ullman explains what homeopathy is, how it works and how you can use it correctly to enhance your child’s health. He recommends remedies for more than 75 physical and emotional conditions, including: allergies, grief, anxiety, headaches, asthma, measles, bedwetting, nappy rash, bites and stings, shock, burns, sunburn, colic, teething, coughs and colds and travel sickness
Without doubt, this is the most comprehensive book on homeopathic pediatrics. Included is a complete guide to the correct use of homeopathy, recommended remedies for the treatment of more than seventy-five common physical, emotional, and behavioral conditions, and valuable information on the essential medicines that all parents should have in their home medicine kits
Tricia Allen, a qualified homeopath, offers a host of practical advice on how to treat illness using natural, homeopathic remedies. Homeopathy differs from conventional medicine in that it does not only alleviate the individual symptoms of an illness, but treats the underlying state to ensure that the disease does not return, something which rarely occurs when using traditional remedies. This guide gives you advice on; what homeopathy is and how to use it; each stage of childhood and how to deal with the complaints that occur at that time of a child’s development; the most common childhood illnesses, how to take your own steps to treating them, which homeopathic remedies to use and when to seek medical help and first aid.
The Homeopathic Treatment of Children is indispensible at giving both a clear overall impression of the various major constitutional types, and also a detailed outline for reference at the end of each chapter. Not only does Paul Herscu draw from various sources (repertories and materia medica), he also adds indispensable original information from his successful practice.
The fact that such books exist is perhaps not all that surprising. Yet, I do find the fact that they are among the best-selling books on homeopathy surprising – or to be more precise, I find it concerning.
Simple: children cannot give informed consent to the treatments they receive. Thus, consent is given for them by their parents or (I suspect often) not at all. This renders homeopathic treatment of children more problematic than that of fully competent adults.
Homeopathy has not been shown to be effective for any pediatric condition. I know Dana Ullman disagrees and claims it works for children’s allergies, grief, anxiety, headaches, asthma, measles, bedwetting, nappy rash, bites and stings, shock, burns, sunburn, colic, teething, coughs and colds, and travel sickness. Yet, these claims are not based on anything faintly resembling sound evidence! Our above-mentioned systematic review reached the following conclusion: “The evidence from rigorous clinical trials of any type of therapeutic or preventive intervention testing homeopathy for childhood and adolescence ailments is not convincing enough for recommendations in any condition.”
And what follows from this state of affairs?
I am afraid it is this:
Treating sick children with homeopathy amounts to child abuse.
I was alerted the these Chiropractic Paediatric Courses. After studying the material, I was truly stunned. Now that I have recovered, I feel I should share it with you:
Chiropaeds Australia is an approved and accredited provider of the Diplomate of Australian College of Chiropractic Paediatrics program.
Diplomate of Australian College of Chiropractic Paediatrics Offered for the first time in 2013, the Diplomate program is a two-year chiropractic paediatric course. This course is ideal for the family chiropractor wanting to improve his or her knowledge in chiropractic paediatrics. The emphasis is on conditions and management issues which are commonly seen by the family chiropractor.
The course is structured around 20 four-week modules over two years. Each module consists of required reading, exercises and at the end of each four-week module there is a six-hour seminar. Each six-hour seminar will reinforce the reading and develop the practical and management skills needed to feel confident in providing optimal chiropractic care for children…
Registration post 31 December – $AUD 6050 (includes GST) This covers the cost of all materials and seminars but does not include any books or texts you may decide to purchase.
To provide you with an impression of the content of the modules, I have chosen three of them. Here they are:
Neurological assessment of the infant
1. Neurological examination of the infant (Infanib)
2. Motor issues: diagnosis and chiropractic management
a. Gross motor developmental delay
b. Hyper/ hypotonia
c. Cerebral palsy
It is only by knowing how to assess the infant’s neurological system that you can start to fully appreciate and understand the immense impact of the subluxation. The information covered in this module allows you to demonstrate to your parents the impact the subluxation has on their infant’s nervous system. As a result your subluxation diagnosis, treatment and management with infants will be enhanced. We look at muscle function issues which occur in this age group with particular emphasis on gross motor developmental delay and hyper/hypotonia.
Neurological assessment of the pre-schooler and the school aged child
1. Gross motor function
2. Fine motor function
3. Cerebellar function
4. Assessment of higher cognitive functions
5. Visual processing
6. Auditory processing
7. Language development
1. Auditory processing syndromes
2. Visual processing syndromes
Chiropractic has a major role to play in treating and managing children with learning difficulties. Crucial to optimal outcomes is an ability to fully assess and determine the particular issues and neurological problems your patient experiences. This module is very practical: you will learn how to accurately test cortical and cerebellar function in preschool and school aged children to a very advanced level. Being able to perform extensive testing of learning ability in children will assist you to accurately find and monitor their learning difficulties. The interplay of higher cortical function, cerebellar function and the subluxation is explored and the impact of your consultation assessment routine on the subluxation is addressed. Management of learning difficulties is emphasised.
The child’s ear, nose and throat
1. Acute otitis media
2. Chronic otitis media
3. Serous otitis media
4. Nose and throat issues with children
5. Tonsillitis, epiglottitis, coup and neck abscesses
Chiropractors have a key role to play in the treatment and management of otitis media along with other conditions associated with recurrent viral infection as well as decreased or imbalanced immune system function. We cover the diagnosis of each condition along with chiropractic treatment and management, including the interaction of the subluxation and the immune system. Nutritional management is also covered. Key management issues are explored and literature based knowledge is provided to allow you to educate you patient’s parents. This fosters improved compliance with your care and permits you to expand the boundaries of your chiropractic care of children.
I wonder whether some chiropractor feels like defending this outright charlatanry.
I know of no evidence to assume that chiropractors can provide effective care for children. I see, however, many reasons to fear that they may cause considerable harm. I also see no reason to take a profession seriously that tolerates or even supports such extreme quackery.
I have expressed these concerns often enough, e.g.:
- The effectiveness of chiropractic spinal manipulations/mobilisation for children is unproven. TIME TO STOP TREATING KIDS!
- Chiropractic for kids: a ‘complete disregard for the evidence and scientific facts’
- Chiropractic for kids: a pack of offensive lies
- Chiropractic spinal care for children is dangerous, unwarranted and must cease immediately
- Don’t let a chiropractor near your kids!
- Chiro for kids? No!
In my view, it is high time to stop this dangerous nonsense.
In 2008, the British Chiropractic Association sued Simon Singh because he disclosed that they were promoting chiropractic for infant colic. The BCA lost the case, plenty of money, and all its reputation. Ever since the issue is a very sore point for chiropractic pride. The data show that Simon was quite correct in stating that they are happily promoting bogus treatments without a jot of evidence. Here for instance is my systematic review:
Some chiropractors claim that spinal manipulation is an effective treatment for infant colic. This systematic review was aimed at evaluating the evidence for this claim. Four databases were searched and three randomised clinical trials met all the inclusion criteria. The totality of this evidence fails to demonstrate the effectiveness of this treatment. It is concluded that the above claim is not based on convincing data from rigorous clinical trials.
But chiropractors steadfastly refuse to accept defeat and keep on trying to find positive results. Now Danish chiropractors have made another attempt.
The purpose of this study is to evaluate the effect of chiropractic care on infantile colic. This multicenter, single-blind randomized controlled trial was conducted in four Danish chiropractic clinics, 2015–2019. Information was distributed in the maternity wards and by maternal and child health nurses. Children aged 2–14 weeks with unexplained excessive crying were recruited through home visits and randomized (1:1) to either chiropractic care or control group. Both groups attended the chiropractic clinic twice a week for 2 weeks. The intervention group received chiropractic care, while the control group was not treated. The parents were not present in the treatment room and unaware of their child’s allocation.
The primary outcome was change in daily hours of crying before and after treatment. Secondary outcomes were changes in hours of sleep, hours being awake and content, gastrointestinal symptoms, colic status and satisfaction. All outcomes were based on parental diaries and a final questionnaire.
Of 200 recruited children, 185 completed the trial (treatment group n = 96; control group n = 89). Duration of crying in the treatment group was reduced by 1.5 h compared with 1 h in the control group (mean difference − 0.6, 95% CI − 1.1 to − 0.1; P = 0.026), but when adjusted for baseline hours of crying, age, and chiropractic clinic, the difference was not significant (P = 0.066). The proportion obtaining a clinically important reduction of 1 h of crying was 63% in the treatment group and 47% in the control group (p = 0.037), and NNT was 6.5. We found no effect on any of the secondary outcomes.
The authors concluded that excessive crying was reduced by half an hour in favor of the group receiving chiropractic care compared with the control group, but not at a statistically significant level after adjustments. From a clinical perspective, the mean difference between the groups was small, but there were large individual differences, which emphasizes the need to investigate if subgroups of children, e.g. those with musculoskeletal problems, benefit more than others from chiropractic care.
This seems to be a rigorous trial. However, I don’t quite understand why the authors even mention that, before adjusting, the results seemed to favor chiropractic. This only makes a squarely negative study look positive! Why would anyone want to do that? Could this perhaps hint at a reason for this odd behavior? “The study was primarily funded by the Foundation for Chiropractic Research and Postgraduate Education.”
My new book has just been published. Allow me to try and whet your appetite by showing you the book’s introduction:
“There is no alternative medicine. There is only scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine supported by solid data or unproven medicine, for which scientific evidence is lacking.” These words of Fontanarosa and Lundberg were published 22 years ago. Today, they are as relevant as ever, particularly to the type of healthcare I often call ‘so-called alternative medicine’ (SCAM), and they certainly are relevant to chiropractic.
Invented more than 120 years ago by the magnetic healer DD Palmer, chiropractic has had a colourful history. It has now grown into one of the most popular of all SCAMs. Its general acceptance might give the impression that chiropractic, the art of adjusting by hand all subluxations of the three hundred articulations of the human skeletal frame, is solidly based on evidence. It is therefore easy to forget that a plethora of fundamental questions about chiropractic remain unanswered.
I wrote this book because I feel that the amount of misinformation on chiropractic is scandalous and demands a critical evaluation of the evidence. The book deals with many questions that consumers often ask:
- How well-established is chiropractic?
- What treatments do chiropractors use?
- What conditions do they treat?
- What claims do they make?
- Are their assumptions reasonable?
- Are chiropractic spinal manipulations effective?
- Are these manipulations safe?
- Do chiropractors behave professionally and ethically?
Am I up to this task, and can you trust my assessments? These are justified questions; let me try to answer them by giving you a brief summary of my professional background.
I grew up in Germany where SCAM is hugely popular. I studied medicine and, as a young doctor, was enthusiastic about SCAM. After several years in basic research, I returned to clinical medicine, became professor of rehabilitation medicine first in Hanover, Germany, and then in Vienna, Austria. In 1993, I was appointed as Chair in Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter. In this capacity, I built up a multidisciplinary team of scientists conducting research into all sorts of SCAM with one focus on chiropractic. I retired in 2012 and am now an emeritus professor. I have published many peer-reviewed articles on the subject, and I have no conflicts of interest. If my long career has taught me anything, it is this: in the best interest of consumers and patients, we must insist on sound evidence; not opinion, not wishful thinking; evidence.
In critically assessing the issues related to chiropractic, I am guided by the most reliable and up-to-date scientific evidence. The conclusions I reach often suggest that chiropractic is not what it is often cracked up to be. Hundreds of books have been published that disagree. If you are in doubt who to trust, the promoter or the critic of chiropractic, I suggest you ask yourself a simple question: who is more likely to provide impartial information, the chiropractor who makes a living by his trade, or the academic who has researched the subject for the last 30 years?
This book offers an easy to understand, concise and dependable evaluation of chiropractic. It enables you to make up your own mind. I want you to take therapeutic decisions that are reasonable and based on solid evidence. My book should empower you to do just that.
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.
RE: Review of chiropractic spinal care for children under 12 years
The Australian Medical Association (AMA Victoria) appreciates the opportunity to respond to the Safer Care Victoria (SCV) consultation on chiropractic manipulation of children under 12 years.
The AMA is pleased that SCV has decided to review this practice which is manifestly unsafe and unwarranted.
Chiropractic spinal manipulation on children has received recent media attention and prompted community concerns about its safety, appropriateness and the professional duties of those undertaking it. Most notably, in February this year medical experts and the Victorian Government condemned the controversial practice of infant spine manipulation after footage emerged of a Melbourne chiropractor treating a two-week old baby on the chiropractor’s own site.
Treatment of infants and very young children
We are aware that chiropractors are treating children for problems such as “infantile colic” by manipulative therapies. There is no credible evidence for this, it is a dangerous practice in itself and it potentially impedes the proper assessment and management of an infant. Additionally, it preys on often tired parents by the promise of a frequently false unequivocal diagnosis and false “quick fix”. This is plainly unconscionable and dangerous behaviour.
In preparing our response, we engaged with doctors across many specialities who have offered valuable insights into the matters being considered as part of this review. It is our very firm view that the risk of undertaking spinal manipulation on small infants is of no benefit and is potentially extremely dangerous. Newborn babies are extremely fragile and AMA Victoria warns that damage done to a baby or infant may not be immediately obvious to parents, and may not manifest until many years later. This is supported by a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics  which found serious adverse events may be associated with paediatric spinal manipulation.1
Another critical issue is that it is very unlikely that parents are providing informed consent to such procedures. For parents to provide informed consent, they would need to be fully advised of the risks including, for example:
• the diagnosis of “infant colic” is a catch all for a range of symptoms with different aetiologies;
• the potential drastic short and long term consequences of spinal manipulation on their baby;
• there are no scientific safety and efficacy studies undertaken; and
• there is no credible scientific evidence for manipulation.
Chiropractors should also be directing parents to general practitioners for the proper holistic assessment and care of the child and family.
Additionally, infants and very young children cannot provide assent for a procedure for which there is no evidence they require and which may leave them with long term consequences. Consideration of whether such potentially dangerous therapies, which are not underpinned by a strong evidence-base, should be supported by private health insurance rebates is also warranted.
Treatment of children under 12 years of age
Although there is limited evidence that some musculoskeletal treatments are effective in adults, there is no credible scientific evidence that manipulation, mobilisation or any applied spinal therapy in children under 12 years of age is warranted or safe.
AMA Victoria does not support clinical interventions unless there is scientific evidence that such treatments are useful in treating the illness. AMA Victoria also supports patients being fully informed on the illness and the risks and benefits to any treatment. When the risks are to be borne by a non-assenting child, the requirement of evidence and consent is especially important.
AMA Victoria strongly advocates that chiropractic (and other health professionals) spinal care for children under 12 years of age is dangerous, unwarranted and must cease immediately.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of our response, please contact Ms Nada Martinovic, Senior Policy Advisor on (03) 9280 8773 or [email protected].
Associate Professor Julian Rait OAM AMA VICTORIA PRESIDENT
1 Sunita, V., et al., Adverse Events Associated with Pediatric Spinal Manipulation: A Systemic Review, Pediatrics, 2007: 119; 275-283.
I am truly delighted that the AMA Victoria agrees with many points I have tried to make previously (see for instance here, here and here). The statement is unsurpassed in its directness and strength. My congratulations to Prof Raith – very well done!
Let’s hope that professional bodies of other regions and counties will swiftly follow suit with equal clarity.
In the latest issue of ‘Simile’ (the Faculty of Homeopathy‘s newsletter), the following short article with the above title has been published. I took the liberty of copying it for you:
Members of the Faculty of Homeopathy practising in the UK have the opportunity to take part in a trial of a new homeopathic remedy for treating infant colic. An American manufacturer of homeopathic remedies has made a registration application for the new remedy to the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) under the UK “National Rules” scheme. As part of its application the manufacturer is seeking at least two homeopathic doctors who would be willing to trial the product for about a year, then write a short report about using the remedy and its clinical results. If you would like to take part in the trial, further details can be obtained from …
END OF QUOTE
A homeopathic remedy for infant colic?
The British Homeopathic Association and many similar ‘professional’ organisations recommend homeopathy for infant colic: Infantile colic is a common problem in babies, especially up to around sixteen weeks of age. It is characterised by incessant crying, often inconsolable, usually in the evenings and often through the night. Having excluded underlying pathology, the standard advice given by GPs and health visitors is winding technique, Infacol or Gripe Water. These measures are often ineffective but fortunately there are a number of homeopathic medicines that may be effective. In my experience Colocynth is the most successful; alternatives are Carbo Veg, Chamomilla and Nux vomica.
SO, IT MUST BE GOOD!
But hold on, I cannot find a single clinical trial to suggest that homeopathy is effective for infant colic.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I see, that’s why they now want to conduct a trial!
They want to do the right thing and do some science to see whether their claims are supported by evidence.
How very laudable!
After all, the members of the Faculty of Homeopathy are doctors; they have certain ethical standards!
After all, the Faculty of Homeopathy aims to provide a high level of service to members and members of the public at all times.
Judging from the short text about the ‘homeopathy for infant colic trial’, it will involve a few (at least two) homeopaths prescribing the homeopathic remedy to patients and then writing a report. These reports will unanimously state that, after the remedy had been administered, the symptoms improved considerably. (I know this because they always do improve – with or without treatment.)
These reports will then be put together – perhaps we should call this a meta-analysis? – and the overall finding will be nice, positive and helpful for the American company.
And now, we all understand what homeopaths, more precisely the Faculty of Homeopathy, consider to be evidence.
Needle acupuncture in small children is controversial, not least because the evidence that it works is negative or weak, and because small children are unable to consent to the treatment. Yet it is recommended by some acupuncturists for infant colic. This, of course, begs the questions:
- Does the best evidence tell us that acupuncture is effective for infant colic?
- Are acupuncturists who recommend acupuncture for this condition responsible and ethical?
This systematic review and a blinding-test validation based on individual patient data from randomised controlled trials was aimed to assess its efficacy for treating infantile colic. Primary end-points were crying time at mid-treatment, at the end of treatment and at a 1-month follow-up. A 30-min mean difference (MD) in crying time between acupuncture and control was predefined as a clinically important difference. Pearson’s chi-squared test and the James and Bang indices were used to test the success of blinding of the outcome assessors [parents].
The investigators included three randomised controlled trials with data from 307 participants. Only one of the included trials obtained a successful blinding of the outcome assessors in both the acupuncture and control groups. The MD in crying time between acupuncture intervention and no acupuncture control was -24.9 min at mid-treatment, -11.4 min at the end of treatment and -11.8 min at the 4-week follow-up. The heterogeneity was negligible in all analyses. The statistically significant result at mid-treatment was lost when excluding the apparently unblinded study in a sensitivity analysis: MD -13.8 min. The registration of crying during treatment suggested more crying during acupuncture.
The authors concluded that percutaneous needle acupuncture treatments should not be recommended for infantile colic on a general basis.
The authors also provide this further comment: “Our blinding test validated IPD meta-analysis of minimal acupuncture treatments of infantile colic did not show clinically relevant effects in pain reduction as estimated by differences in crying time between needle acupuncture intervention and no acupuncture control. Analyses indicated that acupuncture treatment induced crying in many of the children. Caution should therefore be exercised in recommending potentially painful treatments with uncertain efficacy in infants. The studies are few, the analysis is made on small samples of individuals, and conclusions should be considered in this context. With this limitation in mind, our findings do not support the idea that percutaneous needle acupuncture should be recommended for treatment of infantile colic on a general basis.”
So, returning to the two questions that I listed above – what are the answers?
I think they must be: