MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

osteopathy

Craniosacral therapy (CST) is a widely taught component of osteopathic medical education. It is included in the standard curriculum of osteopathic medical schools, despite controversy surrounding its use. This paper seeks to systematically review randomized clinical trials (RCTs) assessing the clinical effectiveness of CST compared to standard care, sham treatment, or no treatment in adults and children.

A search of Embase, PubMed, and Scopus was conducted on 10/29/2023 with no restriction placed on the date of publication. Additionally, a Google Scholar search was conducted to capture grey literature. Backward citation searching was also implemented. All RCTs employing CST for any clinical outcome were included. Studies not available in English as well as any studies that did not report adequate data for inclusion in a meta-analysis were excluded. Multiple reviewers were used to assess for inclusions, disagreements were settled by consensus. PRISMA guidelines were followed in the reporting of this meta-analysis. Cochrane’s Risk of Bias 2 tool was used to assess for risk of bias. All data were extracted by multiple independent observers. Effect sizes were calculated using a Hedge’s G value (standardized mean difference) and aggregated using random effects models.

The primary study outcome was the effectiveness of CST for selected outcomes as applied to non-healthy adults or children and measured by standardized mean difference effect size. Twenty-four RCTs were included in the final meta-analysis with a total of 1,613 participants. When results were analyzed by primary outcome, no significant effects were found. When secondary outcomes were included, results showed that only Neonate health, structure (g = 0.66, 95% CI [0.30; 1.02], Prediction Interval [-0.73; 2.05]) and Pain, chronic somatic (g = 0.34, 95% CI [0.18; 0.50], Prediction Interval [-0.41; 1.09]) showed statistically significant effects. However, wide prediction intervals and high bias limit the real-world implications of this finding.

The authors concluded that CST did not demonstrate broad significance in this meta-analysis, suggesting limited usefulness in patient care for a wide range of indications.

To this, one should perhaps add that CST is one of those forms of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) that is utterly implausible; there is not conceivable mechanism by which CST might work other than a placebo effects. Therefore, the finding that it is ineffective (positive effects on secondary outcomes are most likely due to residual bias and possibly fraud) is hardly surprising. The most sensible conclusion, in my view, is that CST too ridiculous to merit further research because that would, in effect, be an unethical waste of resources.

The WHO has just released guidelines for non-surgical management of chronic primary low back pain (CPLBP). The guideline considers 37 types of interventions across five intervention classes. With the guidelines, WHO recommends non-surgical interventions to help people experiencing CPLBP. These interventions include:

  • education programs that support knowledge and self-care strategies;
  • exercise programs;
  • some physical therapies, such as spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) and massage;
  • psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy; and
  • medicines, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines.

The guidelines also outline 14 interventions that are not recommended for most people in most contexts. These interventions should not be routinely offered, as WHO evaluation of the available evidence indicate that potential harms likely outweigh the benefits. WHO advises against interventions such as:

  • lumbar braces, belts and/or supports;
  • some physical therapies, such as traction;
  • and some medicines, such as opioid pain killers, which can be associated with overdose and dependence.

As you probably guessed, I am particularly intrigued by the WHO’s positive recommendation for SMT. Here is what the guideline tells us about this specific topic:

Considering all adults, the guideline development group (GDG) judged overall net benefits [of spinal manipulation] across outcomes to range from trivial to moderate while, for older people the benefit was judged to be largely uncertain given the few trials and uncertainty of evidence in this group. Overall, harms were judged to be trivial to small for all adults and uncertain for older people due to lack of evidence.

The GDG commented that while rare, serious adverse events might occur with SMT, particularly in older people (e.g. fragility fracture in people with bone loss), and highlighted that appropriate training and clinical vigilance concerning potential harms are important. The GDG also acknowledged that rare serious adverse events were unlikely to be detected in trials. Some GDG members considered that the balance of benefits to harms favoured SMT due to small to moderate benefits while others felt the balance did not favour SMT, mainly due to the very low certainty evidence for some of the observed benefits.

The GDG judged the overall certainty of evidence to be very low for all adults, and very low for older people, consistent with the systematic review team’s assessment. The GDG judged that there was likely to be important uncertainty or variability among people with CPLBP with respect to their values and preferences, with GDG members noting that some people might prefer manual
therapies such as SMT, due to its “hands-on” nature, while others might not prefer such an approach.

Based on their experience and the evidence presented from the included trials which offered an average of eight treatment sessions, the GDG judged that SMT was likely to be associated with moderate costs, while acknowledging that such costs and the equity impacts from out-of-pocket costs would vary by setting.

The GDG noted that the cost-effectiveness of SMT might not be favourable when patients do not experience symptom improvements early in the treatment course. The GDG judged that in most settings, delivery of SMT would be feasible, although its acceptability was likely to vary across
health workers and people with CPLBP.

The GDG reached a consensus conditional recommendation in favour of SMT on the basis of small to moderate benefits for critical outcomes, predominantly pain and function, and the likelihood of rare adverse events.

The GDG concluded by consensus that the likely short-term benefits outweighed potential harms, and that delivery was feasible in most settings. The conditional nature of the recommendation was informed by variability in acceptability, possible moderate costs, and concerns that equity might be negatively impacted in a user-pays model of financing.

___________________________

This clearly is not a glowing endorsement or recommendation of SMT. Yet, in my view, it is still too positive. In particular, the assessment of harm is woefully deficient. Looking into the finer details, we find how the GDG assessed harms:

WHO commissioned quantitative systematic evidence syntheses of randomized controlled
trials (RCTs) to evaluate the benefits and harms (as reported in included trials) of each of the
prioritized interventions compared with no care (including trials where the effect of an
intervention could be isolated), placebo or usual care for each of the critical outcomes (refer to Table 2 for the PICO criteria for selecting evidence). Research designs other than RCTs
were not considered.

That explains a lot!

It is not possible to establish the harms of SMT (or any other therapy) on the basis of just a few RCTs, particularly because the RCTs in question often fail to report adverse events. I can be sure of this phenomenon because we investigated it via a systematic review:

Objective: To systematically review the reporting of adverse effects in clinical trials of chiropractic manipulation.

Data sources: Six databases were searched from 2000 to July 2011. Randomised clinical trials (RCTs) were considered, if they tested chiropractic manipulations against any control intervention in human patients suffering from any type of clinical condition. The selection of studies, data extraction, and validation were performed independently by two reviewers.

Results: Sixty RCTs had been published. Twenty-nine RCTs did not mention adverse effects at all. Sixteen RCTs reported that no adverse effects had occurred. Complete information on incidence, severity, duration, frequency and method of reporting of adverse effects was included in only one RCT. Conflicts of interests were not mentioned by the majority of authors.

Conclusions: Adverse effects are poorly reported in recent RCTs of chiropractic manipulations.

The GDG did not cite our review (or any other of our articles on the subject) but, as it was published in a very well-known journal, they must have been aware of it. I am afraid that this wilfull ignorance caused the WHO guideline to underestimate the level of harm of SMT. As there is no post-marketing surveillance system for SMT, a realistic assessment of the harm is far from easy and needs to include a carefully weighted summary of all the published reports (such as this one).

The GDG seems to have been aware of (some of) these problems, yet they ignored them and simply assumed (based on wishful thinking?) that the harms were small or trivial.

Why?

Even the most cursory look at the composition of the GDG, begs the question: could it be that the GDG was highjacked by chiropractors and other experts biased towards SMT?

The more I think of it, the more I feel that this might actually be the case. One committee even listed an expert, Scott Haldeman, as a ‘neurologist’ without disclosing that he foremost is a chiropractor who, for most of his professional life, has promoted SMT in one form or another.

Altogether, the WHO guideline is, in my view, a shameful example of pro-chiropractic bias and an unethical disservice to evidence-based medicine.

 

As promised, here is my translation of the article published yesterday in ‘Le Figaro’ arguing in favour of integrating so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) into the French healthcare system [the numbers in square brackets were inserted by me and refer to my comments listed at the bottom].

So-called unconventional healthcare practices (osteopathy, naturopathy, acupuncture, homeopathy and hypnosis, according to the Ministry of Health) are a cause for concern for the health authorities and Miviludes, which in June 2023 set up a committee to support the supervision of unconventional healthcare practices, with the task of informing consumers, patients and professionals about their benefits and risks, both in the community and in hospitals. At the time, various reports, surveys and press articles highlighted the risks associated with NHPs, without pointing to their potential benefits [1] in many indications, provided they are properly supervised. There was panic about the “booming” use of these practices, the “explosion” of aberrations, and the “boost effect” of the pandemic [2].

But what are the real figures? Apart from osteopathy, we lack reliable data in France to confirm a sharp increase in the use of these practices [3]. In Switzerland, where it has been decided to integrate them into university hospitals and to regulate the status of practitioners who are not health professionals, the use of NHPs has increased very slightly [4]. With regard to health-related sectarian aberrations, referrals to Miviludes have been stable since 2017 (around 1,000 per year), but it should be pointed out that they are a poor indicator of the “risk” associated with NHPs (unlike reports). The obvious contrast between the figures and the press reports raises questions [5]. Are we witnessing a drift in communication about the risks of ‘alternative’ therapies? [6] Is this distortion of reality [7] necessary in order to justify altering the informed information and freedom of therapeutic choice of patients, which are ethical and democratic imperatives [8]?

It is the inappropriate use of certain NHPs that constitutes a risk, more than the NHPs themselves! [9] Patients who hope to cure their cancer with acupuncture alone and refuse anti-cancer treatments are clearly using it in a dangerous alternative way [10]. However, acupuncture used to relieve nausea caused by chemotherapy, as a complement to the latter, is recommended by the French Association for Supportive Care [11]. The press is full of the dangers of alternative uses, but they are rare: less than 5% of patients treated for cancer according to a European study [12]. This is still too many. Supervision would reduce this risk even further [13].

Talking about risky use is therefore more relevant than listing “illusory therapies”, vaguely defined as “not scientifically validated” and which are by their very nature “risky” [14]. What’s more, it suggests that conventional treatments are always validated and risk-free [15]. But this is not true! In France, iatrogenic drug use is estimated to cause over 200,000 hospital admissions and 10,000 deaths a year [16]. Yes, some self-medication with phytotherapy or aromatherapy does carry risks… just like any self-medication with conventional medicines [17]. Yes, acupuncture can cause deep organ damage, but these accidents occur in fewer than 5 out of every 100,000 patients [18]. Yes, cervical manipulations by osteopaths can cause serious or even fatal injuries, but these exceptional situations are caused by practitioners who do not comply with the decree governing their practice.[19] Yes, patients can be swindled by charlatans, but there are also therapeutic and financial abuses in conventional medicine, such as those reported in dental and ophthalmology centres. [20]

Are patients really that naive? No. 56% are aware that “natural” remedies can have harmful side-effects, and 70% know that there is a risk of sectarian aberrations or of patients being taken in by a sect [21]. In view of the strong demand from patients, we believe that guaranteeing safe access to certain NHPs is an integral part of their supervision, based on regulation of the training and status of practitioners who are not health professionals, transparent communication, appropriate research, the development of hospital services and outpatient networks of so-called “integrative” medicine combining conventional practices and NHPs, structured care pathways with qualified professionals, precise indications and a safe context for treatment.[22] This pragmatic approach to reducing risky drug use [17] has demonstrated its effectiveness in addictionology [23]. It should inspire decision-makers in the use of NHPs”.

  1. Reports about things going wrong usually do not include benefits. For instance, for a report about rail strikes it would be silly to include a paragraph on the benefits of rail transport. Moreover, it is possible that the benefits were not well documented or even non-existent.
  2. No, there was no panic but some well-deserved criticism and concern.
  3. Would it not be the task of practitioners to provide reliable data of their growth or decline?
  4. The situation in Switzerland is often depicted by enthusiasts as speaking in favour of SCAM; however, the reality is very different.
  5. Even if reports were exaggerated, the fact is that the SCAM community does as good as nothing to prevent abuse.
  6. For decades, these therapies were depicted as gentle and harmless (medicines douces!). As they can cause harm, it is high time that there is a shift in reporting and consumers are informed responsibly.
  7. What seems a ‘distortion of reality’ to enthusiasts might merely be a shift to responsible reporting akin to that in conventional medicine where emerging risks are taken seriously.
  8. Are you saying that informing consumers about risks is not an ethical imperative? I’d argue it is an imperative that outweighs all others.
  9. What if both the inappropriate and the appropriate use involve risks?
  10.  Sadly, there are practitioners who advocate this type of usage.
  11. The recommendation might be outdated; current evidence is far less certain that this treatment might be effective (“the certainty of evidence was generally low or very low“)
  12. The dangers depend on a range of factors, not least the nature of the therapy; in case of spinal manipulation, for instance, about 50% of all patients suffer adverse effects which can be severe, even fatal.
  13. Do you have any evidence showing that supervision would reduce this risk, or is this statement based on wishful thinking?
  14. As my previous comments demonstrate, this statement is erroneous.
  15. No, it does not.
  16. Even if this figure is correct, we need to look at the risk/benefit balance. How many lives were saved by conventional medicine?
  17. Again: please look at the risk/benefit balance.
  18. How can you be confident about these figures in the absence of any post-marketing surveillance system? The answer is, you cannot!
  19. No, they occur even with well-trained practitioners who comply with all the rules and regulations that exist – spoiler: there hardly are any rules and regulations!
  20. Correct! But this is a fallacious argument that has nothing to do with SCAM. Please read up about the ‘tu quoque’ and the strawman’ fallacies.
  21. If true, that is good news. Yet, it is impossible to deny that thousands of websites try to convince the consumer that SCAM is gentle and safe.
  22. Strong demand is not a substitute for reliable evidence. In any case, you stated above that demand is not increasing, didn’t you?
  23. Effectiveness in addictionology? Do you have any evidence for this or is that statement also based on wishful thinking?

My conclusion after analysing this article in detail is that it is poorly argued, based on misunderstandings, errors, and wishful thinking. It cannot possibly convince rational thinkers that SCAM should be integrated into conventional healthcare.

PS

The list of signatories can be found in the original paper.

Due to the common adverse effects of motion sickness pharmaceuticals (e.g., drowsiness), medication options to treat the condition are limited. Thus many non-pharmacological therapies are being advocated for it. One of them is osteopathy.

The purpose of this study was to explore the potential utility of a nonpharmaceutical method for motion sickness prevention, specifically an osteopathic manipulative technique (OMT). A novel OMT protocol for the reduction of motion sickness symptoms and severity was evaluated using a sham-controlled, counterbalanced, between-subjects study design. The independent variable was OMT treatment administered prior to the motion sickness-inducing procedure (rotating chair). The primary dependent measures were total and subscale scores from the Motion Sickness Assessment Questionnaire.

The OMT treatment group experienced significantly fewer gastrointestinal (mean scores postprocedure, treatment M = 20.42, sham M = 41.67) and sopite-related (mean scores postprocedure, treatment M = 12.81, sham M = 20.68) symptoms than the sham group while controlling for motion sickness susceptibility. There were no differences between groups with respect to peripheral and central symptoms.

The authors concluded that the results suggest that the treatment may prevent gastrointestinal (nausea) and sopite-related symptoms (sleepiness). These preliminary findings support further exploration of OMT for the prevention of motion sickness. A more precise evaluation of the mechanism of action is needed. Additionally, the duration of the effects needs to be investigated to determine the usefulness of this technique in training and operational settings.

Motion sickness is one of those conditions for which many forms of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) have been tried and found in dodgy studies to be promissing, e.g.:

And now even OMT!

But before we rush into doing further research on this topic, we should perhaps ask whether the trial really does show OMT to be effective. Unfortunately, the article is behind a paywall, and I can therefore only speculate and ask whether the sham procedure was credible. Was the success of patient-blinding tested? I suspect it wasn’t. If that is so, it could mean that the OMT itself was not the reason for the results but that patient expectation caused the reported outcomes.

In any case, if nothing else, this paper shows yet again that the notion of OMT being an option purely for spinal problems is fantasy. Its advocates try everything to get it accepted as a cure all.

 

The purpose of this systematic review was to assess the effectiveness and safety of conservative interventions compared with other interventions, placebo/sham interventions, or no intervention on disability, pain, function, quality of life, and psychological impact in adults with cervical radiculopathy (CR), a painful condition caused by the compression or irritation of the nerves that supply the shoulders, arms and hands.

A multidisciplinary team autors searched MEDLINE, CENTRAL, CINAHL, Embase, and PsycINFO from inception to June 15, 2022 to identify studies that were:

  1. randomized trials,
  2. had at least one conservative treatment arm,
  3. diagnosed participants with CR through confirmatory clinical examination and/or diagnostic tests.

Studies were appraised using the Cochrane Risk of Bias 2 tool and the quality of the evidence was rated using the Grades of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation approach.

Of the 2561 records identified, 59 trials met the inclusion criteria (n = 4108 participants). Due to clinical and statistical heterogeneity, the findings were synthesized narratively.

There is very-low certainty evidence supporting the use of:

  • acupuncture,
  • prednisolone,
  • cervical manipulation,
  • low-level laser therapy

for pain and disability in the immediate to short-term, and

  • thoracic manipulation,
  • low-level laser therapy

for improvements in cervical range of motion in the immediate term.

There is low to very-low certainty evidence for multimodal interventions, providing inconclusive evidence for pain, disability, and range of motion.

There is inconclusive evidence for pain reduction after conservative management compared with surgery, rated as very-low certainty.

The authors concluded that there is a lack of high-quality evidence, limiting our ability to make any meaningful conclusions. As the number of people with CR is expected to increase, there is an urgent need for future research to help address these gaps.

I agree!

Yet, to patients suffering from CR, this is hardly constructive advice. What should they do vis a vis such disappointing evidence?

They might speak to a orthopedic surgeon; but often there is no indication for an operation. What then?

Patients are bound to try some of the conservative options – but which one?

  • Acupuncture?
  • Prednisolone?
  • Cervical manipulation,?
  • Low-level laser therapy?

My advice is this: be patient – the vast majority of cases resolves spontaneously regardless of therapy – and, if you are desperate, try any of them except cervical manipulation which is burdened with the risk of serious complications and often makes things worse.

This study was aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of osteopathic visceral manipulation (OVM) combined with physical therapy in pain, depression, and functional impairment in patients with chronic mechanical low back pain (LBP).
A total of 118 patients with chronic mechanical LBP were assessed, and 86 who met the inclusion criteria were included in the randomized clinical trial (RCT). The patients were randomized to either:

  • Group 1 (n=43), who underwent physical therapy (5 days/week, for a total of 15 sessions) combined with OVM (2 days/week with three-day intervals),
  • or Group 2 (n=43), which underwent physical therapy (5 days/week, for a total of 15 sessions) combined with sham OVM (2 days/week with three-day intervals).

Both groups were assessed before and after treatment and at the fourth week post-treatment.

Seven patients were lost to follow-up, and the study was completed with 79 patients. Pain, depression, and functional impairment scores were all improved in both groups (p=0.001 for all). This improvement was sustained at week four after the end of treatment. However, improvement in the pain, depression, and functional impairment scores was significantly higher in Group 1 than in Group 2 (p=0.001 for all).

The authors concluded that the results suggest that OVM combined with physical therapy is useful to improve pain, depression, and functional impairment in patients with chronic mechanical low back pain. We believe that OVM techniques should be combined with other physical therapy modalities in this patient population.

OVM was invented by the French osteopath, Jean-Piere Barral. In the 1980s, he stated that through his clinical work with thousands of patients, he discovered that many health issues were caused by our inner organs being entrapped and immobile. According to its proponents, OVM is based on the specific placement of soft manual forces that encourage the normal mobility, tone and function of our inner organs and their surrounding tissues. In this way, the structural integrity of the entire body is allegedly restored.

I am not aware of good evidence to show that OVM is effective – and this, sadly, includes the study above.

In my view, the most plausible explanation for its findings have little to do with OVM itself: sham OVM was applied “by performing light pressure and touches with the palm of the hand on the selected points for OVM without the intention of treating the patient”. This means that most likely patients were able to tell OVM from sham OVM and thus de-blinded. In other words, their expectation of receiving an effective therapy (and not the OVM per se) determined the outcome.

 

According to Healthcare.gov, a primary care provider in the US is “a physician (MD or DO), nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist or physician assistant, as allowed under state law, who provides, coordinates or helps a patient access a range of healthcare services.” A growing movement exists to expand who can act as a primary care privider (PCP). Chiropractors have been a part of this expansion, but is that wise? This is the question recently asked by Katie Suleta of THE AMERICAN COUNCIL ON SCIENCE AND HEALTH In it, she explains that:

  • chiropractors would like to act as PCPs,
  • chiropractors are not trained in pharmacology,
  • chiropractors receive some training in supplements,
  • chiropractors wish to avoid pumping the body full of “synthetic” hormones and substances.

Subsequently, she adresses the chiropractic profession’s stance on vaccines.

First, look at similar professional organizations to establish a reasonable expectation. The American Medical Association has firmly taken a stance on vaccines and provides resources for physicians to help communicate with patients. There is no question about where they stand on the topic, whether it be vaccines in general or COVID-19 vaccines specifically. Ditto the American Osteopathic Association and American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine. There is a contingent of vaccine-hesitant MDs and DOs. There is also an anti-vax contingent of MDs and DOs. The vaccine hesitant can be considered misguided and cautious, while anti-vaxxers often have more misinformation and an underlying political agenda. The two groups pose a threat but are, thankfully, the minority. They’re also clearly acting against the recommendations of their professional organizations.

Let’s now turn to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA). Unlike the American Medical Association or American Osteopathic Association, they seem to take no stance on vaccines. None. Zip. Zilch. As of this writing, if you go to the ACA website and search for “vaccines,” zero results are returned. Venturing over to the ACA-CDID, there is a category under their “News and Articles” section for ‘Vaccines.’ This seems promising! However, when you click on it, it returns one article on influenza vaccines from Fox News from 2017. It’s not an original article. It’s not a perspective piece. No recommendations are to be found—nothing even on the COVID-19 vaccines. Basically, there is effectively nothing on ACA-CDID’s website either. We’re oh for two.

The last one we’ll try is DABCI University. No, it’s not a professional organization, but it does train DCs. The words ‘university’ and ‘internist’ are involved, so they must talk about vaccines…right? Wrong again. While there is a lot of content available only to paying members and students, the sections of their website that are publicly available are noticeably short on vaccine information. There is a section dedicated to articles, currently including five whole articles, and not a single one talked about vaccines. One report addresses the pharmacokinetics of coffee enemas, but none talks about one of the most fundamental tools PCPs have to help prevent illness.

Why It’s Important

Chiropractic was defined by DD. Palmer, its founder, as “a science of healing without drugs.” It relies on spinal manipulation. In traditional chiropractic, there is no room for medications at all. A rift has developed within the profession, and some chiropractors, those seeking that internal medicine certification, “try to avoid pumping the body with synthetic hormones and other prescriptions.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, several prominent chiropractors publicly pushed anti-vaccine views. To highlight just a few prominent examples: Vax Con ’21Mile Hi Chiro, and Ben Tapper. Vax Con ’21 was organized and orchestrated by the Chiropractic Society of Wisconsin. It featured Judy Mikovits, of Plandemic fame, as a speaker and touted her book with a forward written by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. It offered continuing education units (CEUs) to DCs to attend this anti-vaccine conference that peddled misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines and other prevention measures. Healthcare providers are often required to complete a certain number of continuing education units to maintain licensure, ensuring that they stay current and sharp as healthcare evolves or, in this case, devolves.

This conference was not unique in this either. Mile Hi Chiro was just held in Denver in September of this year, had several questionable speakers (including RFK and Ben Tapper of Disinformation Dozen fame), and offered continuing education. If professional conferences offer continuing education units for attendees and push vaccine misinformation, that should concern everyone. Especially if the profession in question wants to act as PCPs.

Despite training in a system that believes “the body has an innate intelligence, and the power to heal itself if it is functioning properly, and that chiropractic care can help it do that,” without medications, but frequently with supplements, roughly 58% of Oregon’s chiropractors were vaccinated against COVID-19. That said, their training and inclination, along with the silence of their professional organizations and the chiropractic conferences featuring anti-vaccine sentiment, make them a profession that, at the very least, doesn’t consider vaccinations or medications viable health alternatives. We’re now talking about an entire profession that wants to be PCPs.

Irrespective of your belief about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccination, the germ theory of disease remains unchallenged. Anyone unwilling to work to treat and prevent infectious diseases within their community with the most effective means at our disposal should not be allowed to dispense medical advice. Chiropractors lack the basic training that a PCP should have. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I want healthcare accessible for everyone. But, if you’re looking for a PCP, consider going to an MD, DO, NP, or PA – they come fully equipped for your primary care needs.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I have discussed the thorny issue of chiros and vaccinations many times before, e.g.:

I agree with Katie Suleta that the issue is important and thank her for raising it. I also agree with her conclusion that, if you’re looking for a PCP, consider going to an MD, DO, NP, or PA – they come fully equipped for your primary care needs.

Do not consult chiropractors. 

The concept that the outcomes of spinal manipulation therapy (SMT) – the hallmark intervention of chiropractors which they use on practically every patient – are optimized when the treatment is aimed at a clinically relevant joint is commonly assumed and central to teaching and clinical use of chiropractic. But is the assumption true?

This systematic review investigated whether clinical effects are superior when this is the case compared to SMT applied elsewhere. Eligible study designs were randomized controlled trials that investigated the effect of SMT applied to candidate versus non-candidate sites for spinal pain.

The authors obtained studies from four different databases. Risk of bias was assessed using an adjusted Cochrane risk of bias tool, adding four items for study quality. Between-group differences were extracted for any reported outcome or, when not reported, calculated from the within-group changes. Outcomes were compared for SMT applied at a ‘relevant’ site to SMT applied elsewhere. The authors prioritized methodologically robust studies when interpreting results.

Ten studies were included. They reported 33 between-group differences; five compared treatments within the same spinal region and five at different spinal regions.

None of the nine studies with low or moderate risk of bias reported statistically significant between-group differences for any outcome. The tenth study reported a small effect on pain (1.2/10, 95%CI – 1.9 to – 0.5) but had a high risk of bias. None of the nine articles of low or moderate risk of bias and acceptable quality reported that “clinically-relevant” SMT has a superior outcome on any outcome compared to “not clinically-relevant” SMT. This finding contrasts with ideas held in educational programs and clinical practice that emphasize the importance of joint-specific application of SMT.

The authors concluded that the current evidence does not support that SMT applied at a supposedly “clinically relevant” candidate site is superior to SMT applied at a supposedly “not clinically relevant” site for individuals with spinal pain.

I came across this study when I searched for the published work of Prof Stephen Perle, a chiropractor and professor at the School of Chiropractic, College of Health Sciences, University of Bridgeport, US, who recently started trolling me on this blog. Against my expectation, I find his study interesting and worthwhile.

His data quite clearly show that the effects of SMT are non-specific and mainly due to a placebo response. That in itself is not hugely remarkable and has been suspected to some time, e.g.:

What is remarkable, however, is the fact that Perle and his co-authors offer all sorts of other explanation for their findings without even seriously considering what is stareing in their faces:

SPINAL MANIPULATIONS ARE PLACEBOS

CHIROPRACTIC IS A PLACEBO THERAPY

This might be almost acceptable, if chiropractic would not also be burdened with significant risks (as we have discussed ad nauseam on this blog) – another fact of which chiros like Perle are in denial.

What does all that mean for patients?

The practical implication is fairly straight forward: the risk/benefit balance of chiropractic is negative. And this surely means the only responsible advice to patients is this:

NEVER CONSULT A CHIRO!

The ‘University College of Osteopathy’ announced a proposal to merge with the AECC University College (AECC UC).  Both institutions will seek to bring together the two specialist providers to offer a “unique inter-disciplinary environment for education, clinical practice and research in osteopathy, chiropractic, and across a wide range of allied health and related disciplines”.

The partnership is allegedly set to unlock significant opportunities for growth and development by bringing together the two specialist institutions’ expertise and resources across two locations – in Dorset and central London.

As a joint statement, Chair of the Board of Governors at AECC UC, Jeni Bremner and Chair of the Board of Governors at UCO, Professor Jo Price commented:

“We believe the proposed merger would further the institutional ambitions for both of our organisations and the related professional groups, by allowing us to expand our educational offering, grow student numbers and provide a unique inter-disciplinary training environment, providing students the opportunity to be immersed in multi-professional practice and research, with exposure to and participation in multi-disciplinary teams.

“There is also an exciting and compelling opportunity to expedite the development of a nationally unique, and internationally-leading MSK Centre of Excellence for Education and Research, developed and delivered across our two sites.”

The announcement is accompanied by further uncritical and promotional language:

Established as the first chiropractic training provider in Europe, AECC UC has been at the forefront of evidence-based chiropractic education, practice and research for more than 50 years. The institution is on an exciting journey of growth and development, having expanded and diversified its academic portfolio and activity beyond its traditional core offering of chiropractic across a broad range of allied health courses and apprenticeships, working closely with NHS, local authority and other system partners across Dorset and the south-west. The proposed merger with UCO would allow AECC UC to enhance the breadth and depth of its offer to support the expansion and development of the health and care workforce across a wider range of partners.

Now in its 106th year, UCO is one of the UK’s leading providers of osteopathic education and research with an established reputation for creating highly-skilled, evidence-informed graduates. UCO research is recognised as world-leading, delivering value to the osteopathic and wider health care community.

Sharon Potter, Acting Vice-Chancellor of UCO, said:

“As an institution that has long been at the forefront of osteopathic education and research, we are committed to ensuring further growth and development of the osteopathic profession.

“UCO has been proactively considering options to future-proof the institution. Following a review of strategic options, UCO is delighted by the proposed merger, working closely with AECC UC to ensure that UCO and osteopathy thrives as part of the inter-professional health sciences landscape, both academically and clinically. There is significant congruence between UCO and AECC UC in our strong aligned values, commitment to and delivery of excellent osteopathic education, clinical care and research, and opinion leadership.

“AECC UC has a strong track record of respecting the differences in professions, evidenced by the autonomy across the 10 different professional groups supported by the institution. The merger will not only mean we are protecting UCO through preserving its osteopathic heritage and creating a sustainable future, but that our staff and students can collaborate with other professional groups such as physiotherapy, chiropractic, sport rehabilitation, podiatry and diagnostic imaging, in a multidisciplinary MSK and rehabilitation environment unlike anywhere else in the UK.”

Professor Lesley Haig, Vice-Chancellor of AECC UC, commented:

“Preserving the heritage of UCO and safeguarding its future status as the flagship osteopathy training provider in the UK will be critical, just as it has been to protect the chiropractic heritage of the AECC brand. UCO is seen as synonymous with, and reflective of, the success of the osteopathy profession and we fully recognise and respect the important role that UCO plays not only as a sector-leading provider of osteopathic education, research and clinical care, but as the UK’s flagship osteopathy educational provider.

“Overall it is clear that UCO and AECC UC already have a common values base, similar understanding of approaches to academic and clinical delivery, and positive relationships upon which a future organisational structure and opportunities can be developed. It’s an exciting time for both institutions as we move forward in partnership to create something unique and become recognised nationally and internationally as a centre of excellence.”

The proposed merger would continue the already founded positive relations between the institutions, where regular visits, sharing of good practice, and collaborative research work are already taking place. Heads of terms for the potential merger have now been agreed and both institutions are entering into the next phase of discussions, which will include wide consultation with staff, students and other stakeholders to produce a comprehensive implementation plan.

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In case this bonanza of platitudes and half-truths has not yet overwhelmed you,  I might be so bold as to ask 10 critical questions:

  1. What is an “evidence-based chiropractic education”? Does it include the messages that 1) subluxation is nonsense, 2) chiropractic manipulations can cause harm, 3) there is little evidence that they do more good than harm?
  2. How  an an “expansion and development of the health and care workforce” be anticipated on the basis of the 3 points I just made?
  3. What does the term “evidence-informed graduates” mean? Does it mean they are informed that you teach them nonsense but instruct them to practice this nonsense anyway?
  4. Do “options to future-proof the institution” include the continuation of misleading the public about the value of chiropractic/osteopathy?
  5. Does the”delivery of excellent osteopathic education, clinical care and research, and opinion leadership” account for the fact that the evidence for osteopathy is weak at best and for most conditions negative?
  6. By “preserving its osteopathic heritage”, do you intend to preserve also the reputation of your founding father, Andrew Taylor Still, who did many dubious things. In 1874, for instance, he was excommunicated by the Methodist Church because of his “laying on of hands”; specifically, he was accused of trying to emulate Jesus Christ, labelled an agent of the Devil, and condemned as practicing voodoo. Or do you prefer to white-wash the osteopathic heritage?
  7. You also want “to protect the chiropractic heritage”; does that mean you aim at white-washing the juicy biography of the charlatan who created chiropractic, DD Palmer, as well?
  8. “UCO and AECC UC already have a common values base” – what are they? As far as I can see, they mainly consist in hiding the truth about the uselessness of your activities from the public.
  9. How do you want to “recognised nationally and internationally as a centre of excellence”? Might it be a good idea to begin by critically assessing your interventions and ask whether they do more good than harm?
  10. Crucially, what is really behing the merger that you are trying to sell us with such concentrated BS?

This systematic review and meta-analysis was aimed at analyzing the effectiveness of craniosacral therapy in improving pain and disability among patients with headache disorders.

PubMed, Physiotherapy Evidence Database, Scopus, Cochrane Library, Web of Science, and Osteopathic Medicine Digital Library databases were searched in March 2023. Two independent reviewers searched the databases and extracted data from randomized clinical trials comparing craniosacral therapy with control or sham interventions. The same reviewers assessed the methodological quality and the risk of bias using the PEDro scale and the Cochrane Collaboration tool, respectively. Grading of recommendations, assessment, development, and evaluations was used to rate the certainty of the evidence. Meta-analyses were conducted using random effects models using RevMan 5.4 software.

The searches retrieved 735 papers, and 4 studies were finally included. The craniosacral therapy provided statistically significant but clinically unimportant change on pain intensity (Mean difference = –1.10; 95% CI: –1.85, –0.35; I2: 44%), and no change on disability or headache effect (Standardized Mean Difference = –0.34; 95% CI –0.70, 0.01; I2: 26%). The certainty of the evidence was downgraded to very low.

The authors concluded that very low certainty of evidence suggests that craniosacral therapy produces clinically unimportant effects on pain intensity, whereas no significant effects were observed in disability or headache effect.

I find it strange that researchers seem so frequently unable to formulate their conclusions clearly. Is it political correctness? Or are they somehow favorably inclined (i.e. biased) towards the treatment that they pretend to critically evaluate?

Let’s look at the facts related to this review:

  • Craniosacral therapy (CST) is utterly implausible.
  • Only 4 RCTs were found.
  • They were of poor quality.
  • They were published mostly by people who want to promote CST.
  • Therefore the overall statistically significant effect is most likely a false-positive result.
  • This means that the conclusion should be much more straight forward.

I suggest something along the following lines:

A critical evaluation of the existing RCTs failed to find convincing evidence that CST is an effective treatment for headache disorders.

 

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