Manual therapy is a commonly recommended treatment of low back pain (LBP), yet few studies have directly compared the effectiveness of thrust (spinal manipulation) vs non-thrust (spinal mobilization) techniques. This study evaluated the comparative effectiveness of spinal manipulation and spinal mobilization at reducing pain and disability compared with a placebo control group (sham cold laser) in a cohort of young adults with chronic LBP.
This single-blinded (investigator-blinded), placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial with 3 treatment groups was conducted at the Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute at Ohio University from June 1, 2013, to August 31, 2017. Of 4903 adult patients assessed for eligibility, 4741 did not meet inclusion criteria, and 162 patients with chronic LBP qualified for randomization to 1 of 3 treatment groups. Participants received 6 treatment sessions of (1) spinal manipulation, (2) spinal mobilization, or (3) sham cold laser therapy (placebo) during a 3-week period. Licensed clinicians (either a doctor of osteopathic medicine or physical therapist), with at least 3 years of clinical experience using manipulative therapies provided all treatments.
Primary outcome measures were the change from baseline in Numerical Pain Rating Scale (NPRS) score over the last 7 days and the change in disability assessed with the Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire (scores range from 0 to 24, with higher scores indicating greater disability) 48 to 72 hours after completion of the 6 treatments.
A total of 162 participants (mean [SD] age, 25.0 [6.2] years; 92 women [57%]) with chronic LBP (mean [SD] NPRS score, 4.3 [2.6] on a 1-10 scale, with higher scores indicating greater pain) were randomized.
- 54 participants were randomized to the spinal manipulation group,
- 54 to the spinal mobilization group,
- 54 to the placebo group.
There were no significant group differences for sex, age, body mass index, duration of LBP symptoms, depression, fear avoidance, current pain, average pain over the last 7 days, and self-reported disability. At the primary end point, there was no significant difference in change in pain scores between spinal manipulation and spinal mobilization (0.24 [95% CI, -0.38 to 0.86]; P = .45), spinal manipulation and placebo (-0.03 [95% CI, -0.65 to 0.59]; P = .92), or spinal mobilization and placebo (-0.26 [95% CI, -0.38 to 0.85]; P = .39). There was no significant difference in change in self-reported disability scores between spinal manipulation and spinal mobilization (-1.00 [95% CI, -2.27 to 0.36]; P = .14), spinal manipulation and placebo (-0.07 [95% CI, -1.43 to 1.29]; P = .92) or spinal mobilization and placebo (0.93 [95% CI, -0.41 to 2.29]; P = .17). A comparison of treatment credibility and expectancy ratings across groups was not statistically significant (F2,151 = 1.70, P = .19), indicating that, on average, participants in each group had similar expectations regarding the likely benefit of their assigned treatment.
The authors concluded that in this randomized clinical trial, neither spinal manipulation nor spinal mobilization appeared to be effective treatments for mild to moderate chronic LBP.
This is an exceptionally well-reported study. Yet, one might raise a few points of criticism:
- The comparison of two active treatments makes this an equivalence study, and much larger sample sizes are required or such trials (this does not mean that the comparisons are not valid, however).
- The patients had rather mild symptoms; one could argue that patients with severe pain might respond differently.
- Chiropractors could argue that the therapists were not as expert at spinal manipulation as they are; had they employed chiropractic therapists, the results might have been different.
- A placebo control group makes more sense, if it allows patients to be blinded; this was not possible in this instance, and a better placebo might have produced different findings.
Despite these limitations, this study certainly is a valuable addition to the evidence. It casts more doubt on spinal manipulation and mobilisation as an effective therapy for LBP and confirms my often-voiced view that these treatments are not the best we can offer to LBP-patients.
One of the many issues that needs addressing about chiropractic is its safety. On this blog, we have had dozens of posts and debates on this topic. Today, I want to try and summarise them by providing a fictitious dialogue between a critic and a chiropractor.
Here we go:
Critic (CR): It seems to me that most of the chiros I talk to are convinced that their hallmark therapy, spinal manipulation, is risk-free.
Chiro (CH): Hallmark therapy? Not true! Osteopaths, physios, doctors they all use spinal manipulation.
CR: I know, but name me a profession that employs it more regularly than you chiros.
CH: In any case, it is as good as risk-free; nothing is totally devoid of risk, but chiropractic spinal manipulation (CSMT) is generally very safe, because we are better trained at it than the others.
CR: Do you say that because you believe it or because you know it?
CH: I know it.
CR: That means you have the evidence to prove it?
CH: Yes, of course. Over the years, I have treated over a thousand patients and never heard of any problems.
CR: Without a monitoring system of adverse events that occur after chiropractic spinal manipulation, this is pretty meaningless.
CH: Monitoring systems do not establish causality.
CR: No, but they are a start and can tell you whether there is a problem that requires looking into.
CH: Let me remind you please that the question of safety is foremost an issue for conventional medicine; this is why a monitoring system is useful for drugs. We actually do not need one, because CSMT is safe.
CR: Are you sure?
CR: The much-cited paper by Dabbs and Lauretti is out-dated, poor quality, and heavily biased. It provides no sound basis for an evidence-based judgement on the relative risks of cervical manipulation and NSAIDs. The notion that cervical manipulations are safer than NSAIDs is therefore not based on reliable data. Thus, it is misleading and irresponsible to repeat this claim. Is there not a better comparison for supporting your point?
CH: Not as far as I know. But you can trust our collective experience: CSMT is safe!
CR: Don’t you think that the issue is too important to rely purely on experience? Your collective experience can be very misleading, you know.
CH: Then tell me why chiros pay only a fraction of the insurance premium compared to doctors.
CR: Yes, that is the argument many chiros love. But it also is a very poor one: doctors treat patients who are often very ill, while chiros treat mostly sore backs. Don’t you think that explains a lot about the difference in insurance premiums?
CH: Perhaps, but if you claim CSMT to be harmful, how about you supporting your claim with evidence?
CR: Sure, the best is to review systematically all prospective studies on the topic; and if you do this, the conclusion is that data from prospective studies suggest that minor, transient adverse events occur in approximately half of all patients receiving spinal manipulation. The most common serious adverse events are vertebrobasilar accidents, disk herniation, and cauda equina syndrome. Estimates of the incidence of serious complications range from 1 per 2 million manipulations to 1 per 400,000. Given the popularity of spinal manipulation, its safety requires rigorous investigation.
CH: I bet these are studies done by people who are against chiropractic.
CR: No, actually the primary studies were all done by chiropractors.
CH: Minor transient problems! These are merely what we expect; things often need to get worse before they get better.
CR: Imagine that a drug company claims such BS about the side-effects of a new drug.
CH: But that’s different!
CR: In what way?
CH: Big Pharma is only out to make money.
CR: And chiros?
CH: That’s different too.
CR: What about the serious adverse events like vertebrobasilar accidents, disk herniation, and cauda equina syndrome? Are you going to deny they exist?
CH: Some of those serious complications, while rare, are conditions that existed prior to CSMT being performed with the practitioner missing it upon initial examination.
CR: How do you know?
CH: I know this from experience.
CR: I already told you that experience is unreliable.
CH: Then show me the evidence that I am wrong.
CR: No, you have to come up with the evidence; the burden of proof is evidently on your shoulders.
CH: Whatever! As long as there is no good evidence, I cannot accept that serious complications are a real problem.
CR: That’s just fine: you say “as long as there is no good evidence…” and, at the same time, you prevent good evidence from emerging by preventing a decent AE monitoring system.
CH: I always knew that one cannot have a reasonable discussion with you. I consider that I have won this debate; this issue is now closed.
On this blog, I have discussed the adverse events (AEs) of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) with some regularity, and we have seen that ~ 50% of patients who receive SMT from a chiropractor experience some kind of AE. In addition there are many serious complications. In my book, I discuss, apart from the better-known vascular accidents followed by a stroke or death, the following:
- atlantoaxial dislocation,
- cauda equina syndrome,
- cervical radiculopathy,
- diaphragmatic paralysis,
- disrupted fracture healing,
- dural sleeve injury,
- haemorrhagic cysts,
- muscle abscess,
- muscle abscess,
- neurologic compromise,
- oesophageal rupture
- soft tissue trauma,
- spinal cord injury,
- vertebral disc herniation,
- vertebral fracture,
- central retinal artery occlusion,
- Wallenberg syndrome,
- loss of vision,
- Horner’s syndrome.
Considering this long list, we currently have far too little reliable information. A recent publication offers further information on this important topic.
The aim of this study was to identify beliefs, perceptions and practices of chiropractors and patients regarding benign AEs post-SMT and potential strategies to mitigate them. Clinicians and patients from two chiropractic teaching clinics were invited to respond to an 11-question survey exploring their beliefs, perceptions and practices regarding benign AEs post-SMT and strategies to mitigate them.
A total of 39 clinicians (67% response rate) and 203 patients (82.9% response rate) completed the survey. The results show that:
- 97% of the chiropractors believed benign AEs occur.
- 82% reported their own patients have experienced an AE.
- 55% of the patients reported experiencing benign AEs post-SMT, with the most common symptoms being pain/soreness, headache and stiffness.
- 61.5% of the chiropractors reported trying a mitigation strategy with their patients.
- Yet only 21.2% of patients perceived their clinicians had tried any mitigation strategy.
- Chiropractors perceived that patient education is most likely to mitigate benign AEs, followed by soft tissue therapy and/or icing after SMT.
- Patients perceived stretching was most likely to mitigate benign AEs, followed by education and/or massage
The authors concluded that this is the first study comparing beliefs, perceptions and practices from clinicians and patients regarding benign AEs post-SMT and strategies to mitigate them. This study provides an important step towards identifying the best strategies to improve patient safety and improve quality of care.
The question that I have often asked before, and I am bound to ask again after seeing such results, is this:
If there were a drug that causes temporary pain/soreness, headache and stiffness in 55% of all patients (plus an unknown frequency of a long list of serious complications), while being of uncertain benefit, do you think it would still be on the market?
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.
When chiropractors try to play medical doctors, their patients are in danger. When they try to play epidemiologists, we might all be in danger. Already in April 2020, the Australian ‘Patrons of Chiropractic Science’ issued a press release on COVID 19 stating:
Good function of the body’s joints, particularly within the spine, may improve neurological function, which is important for an effective natural immune system. Treatment by a qualified and experienced chiropractor offers one of the most effective methods to improve and maintain good spinal joint function. The chiropractic profession attends to many patients, and like all other health workers, the profession truly cares for the welfare of every individual.
Now they have gone further. Their press release of 18/8/2020 states amongst other things:
- Approximately 1.5% of those infected with SARS-CoV-2 may die; all people with a compromised immune system, that being the aged or those suffering a co-morbidity;
- 98.5% of those infected with the COVID-19 virus suffer either no symptoms, mild symptoms or treatable symptoms no worse than seasonal influenza;
- COVID-19 positive test numbers are largely irrelevant, as 98.5% of those testing positive will simply develop natural immunity and recover as the virus moves through the population. Recent studies by the UK based Centre for Evidence Based Medicine confirms increased COVID testing is the primary reason for increased case numbers, which have little relationship to mortality. The focus on case numbers is again designed to engender public fear and compliance;
Patrons of Chiropractic Science demands that the Victorian Government and its senior health officials cease distorting facts, stop blaming Victorian non-compliance for the increased positive testing numbers, and assume full responsibility for the aged care deaths and the current economic damage.
Simple facts: it is critical and more effective to isolate and protect the high-risk groups, effectively quarantine return travellers, but cease the illogical isolation of the vast majority of the population who are not at risk as the virus naturally circulates, and allow them to recommence working to save many businesses and initiate economic recovery.
Implying that regular chiropractic manipulations improve immunity or protect people from the corona virus is bad enough. But the new press release is worse:
- It is not true that only people with impaired immune systems, of old age, or affected by other diseases die of COVID 19.
- It is not true that all of the 98.5% who do not die have treatable symptoms not worse than a flu; an undefined percentage of the survivors suffer from very severe and sometimes long-lasting conditions.
- It is not true that 98.5% of those testing positive will simply develop natural immunity and recover; many will not recover completely, and the question whether mildly affected individuals develop immunity and for how long is as yet unanswered.
- It is not true that COVID testing results are unrelated to mortality; the figures need, of course, careful interpretation; the percentage of positive tests per number of tests done, for instance, should be independent of the frequency of testing.
- It is not true that the vast majority of the population are not at risk, if the virus were to circulate naturally.
All this looks to me as though the ‘Patrons of Chiropractic Science’ are in urgent need of learning some science. Meanwhile, it would be most helpful, if they could keep quiet.
Tasuki is a sort of sash for holding up the sleeves on a kimono. It also retracts the shoulders and keeps the head straight up. By correcting the wearer’s posture, it might even prevent or treat neck pain. The greater the forward head posture, for example, the more frequent are neck problems. However, there is little clinical evidence to support or refute this hypothesis.
This study was conducted to determine whether Tasuki-style posture supporter improves neck pain compared to waiting-list. It was designed as an individually-randomized, open-label, waiting-list-controlled study. Adults with non-specific chronic neck pain who reported 10 points or more on modified Neck Disability Index (mNDI: range, 0-50; higher points indicate worse condition) were enrolled. Participants were randomly assigned 1:1 to the intervention group or to a waiting-list control group. The primary outcome was the change in mNDI at 1 week.
In total, 50 participants were enrolled. Of these participants, 26 (52%) were randomly assigned to the intervention group and 24 to the waiting-list. Attrition rate was low in both groups (1/50). The mean mNDI change score at 1 week was more favourable for Tasuki than waiting-list (between-group difference, -3.5 points (95% confidence interval (CI), -5.3 to -1.8); P = .0002). More participants (58%) had moderate benefit (at least 30% improvement) with Tasuki than with waiting-list (13%) (relative risk 4.6 (95% CI 1.5 to 14); risk difference 0.45 (0.22 to 0.68)).
The author concluded that this trial suggests that wearing Tasuki might moderately improve neck pain. With its low-cost, low-risk, and easy-to-use nature, Tasuki could be an option for those who suffer from neck pain.
In the previous two posts, we discussed how lamentably weak the evidence for acupuncture and spinal manipulation is regarding the management of pain such as ‘mechanical’ neck pain. Here we have a well-reported study with a poor design (no control for non-specific effects) which seems to suggest that simply wearing a Tasuki is just as effective as acupuncture or spinal manipulation.
What is the lesson from this collective evidence?
Is it that we should forget about acupuncture and spinal manipulation for chronic neck pain?
Or is it that poor trial designs generate unreliable evidence?
Or is it that any treatment, however daft, will generate positive outcomes, if the researchers are sufficiently convinced of its benefit?
Yes, I think so.
If you had chronic neck pain, would you rather have your neck manipulated, needles stuck into your body, or get a Tasuki? (Spoiler: Tasuki is risk-free, the other two treatments are not!)
Non-specific chronic neck pain is a common condition. There is hardly a so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) that is not advocated for it. Amongst the most common approaches are manual therapy and therapeutic exercise. But which is more effective?
This study was aimed at answering the question by comparing the effects of manual therapy and therapeutic exercise. The short-term and mid-term effects produced by the two therapies on subjects with non-specific chronic neck pain were studied. The sample was randomized into three groups:
- spinal manipulation (n=22),
- therapeutic exercise (n=23),
- sham treatment (n=20).
The therapists were physiotherapists. Patients were not allowed any other treatments that the ones they were allocated to. Pain quantified by visual analogue scale, the pressure pain threshold, and cervical disability quantified by the Neck Disability Index (NDI) were the outcome measures. They were registered on week 1, week 4, and week 12.
No statistically significant differences were obtained between the experimental groups. Spinal manipulation improved perceived pain quicker than therapeutic exercise. Therapeutic exercise reduced cervical disability quicker than spinal manipulation. Effect size showed medium and large effects for both experimental treatments.
The authors concluded that there are no differences between groups in short and medium terms. Manual therapy achieves a faster reduction in pain perception than therapeutic exercise. Therapeutic exercise reduces disability faster than manual therapy. Clinical improvement could potentially be influenced by central processes.
The paper is poorly written (why do editors accept this?) but it laudably includes detailed descriptions of the three different interventions:
Group 1: Manual therapy
“Manual therapy” protocol was composed of three techniques based on scientific evidence for the treatment of neck pain. This protocol was applied in the three treatment sessions, one per week.
- 1.High thoracic manipulation on T4. Patients are positioned supine with their arms crossed in a “V” shape over the chest. The therapist makes contact with the fist at the level of the spinous process of T4 and blocks the patient’s elbows with his chest. Following this, he introduces flexion of the cervical spine until a slight tension is felt in the tissues at the point of contact. Downward and cranial manipulation is applied. If cavitation is not achieved on the first attempt, the therapist repositions the patient and performs a second manipulation. A maximum of two attempts will be allowed in each patient.
- 2.Cervical articular mobilization (2 Hz, 2 min × 3 series). The patient is placed on the stretcher in a prone position, placing both hands under his forehead. The therapist makes contact with his two thumbs on the spinous process of the patient’s C2 vertebra and performs grade III posteroanterior impulses at a speed of 2 Hz and for 2 min. There are 3 mobilization intervals with a minute of rest between each one of them .
- 3.Suboccipital muscle inhibition (3 min). With the patient lying supine, the therapist places both hands under the subject’s head, by contacting their fingers on the lower edge of the occipital bone, and exerts constant and painless pressure in the anterior and cranial direction for 3 min.
Group 2: Therapeutic exercise
“Therapeutic exercise” protocol: this protocol is based on a progression in load composed of different phases: at first, activation and recruitment of deep cervical flexors; secondly, isometric exercise deep and superficial flexors co-contraction, and finally, eccentric recruitment of flexors and extensors. This protocol, as far as we know, has not been studied, but activation of this musculature during similar tasks to those of our protocol has been observed. This protocol was taught to patients in the first session and was performed once a day during the 3 weeks of treatment, 21 sessions in total. It was reinforced by the physiotherapist in each of the three individual sessions.
Week 1: Exercises 1 and 2.
- 1.Cranio-cervical flexion (CCF) in a supine position with a towel in the posterior area of the neck (3 sets, 10 repetitions, 10 s of contraction each repetition with 10 s of rest).
- 2.CCF sitting (3 sets, 10 repetitions, 10 s of contraction each repetition with 10 s of rest)
Week 2: Exercises 1, 2, 3, and 4.
- 3.Co-contraction of deep and superficial neck flexors in supine decubitus (10 repetitions, 10 s of contraction with 10 s of rest).
- 4.Co-contraction of flexors, rotators, and lateral flexors. The patients performed cranio-cervical flexion, while the physiotherapist asked him/her to tilt, rotate, and look towards the same side while he/she opposes a resistance with his/her hand (10 repetitions, 10 s of contraction with 10 s of rest).
Week 3: Exercises 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
- 5.Eccentric for extensors. With the patient seated, he/she should perform cervical extension. Then, he/she must realize a CCF and finish doing a cervical flexion (10 repetitions).
- 6.Eccentric for flexors. The patients, placed in a quadrupedal and neutral neck position, should perform neck flexion; then, they must have done a cranio-cervical flexion and, maintaining that posture, extend the neck and then finally lose the CCF (10 repetitions).
Group 3: Sham treatment
For the “control” protocol, the patients were placed in the supine position, while the physiotherapist placed his hands without therapeutic intention on the patient’s neck for 3 min. The physiotherapist simulated the technique of suboccipital inhibition. Later, with the laser pointer off, patients were contacted without exerting pressure for 10 s. Patients assigned to the control group received treatment 1 or 2 after completing the study.
This study has many strengths and several weaknesses (for instance the small sample sizes). Its results are not surprising. They confirm what I have been pointing out repeatedly, namely that, because exercise is cheaper and has less potential for harm, it is by far a better treatment for chronic neck pain than spinal manipulation.
Spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) is frequently used to manage cervicogenic headache (CGHA). No meta-analysis has investigated the effectiveness of SMT exclusively for CGHA.
The aim of this review was to evaluate the effectiveness of SMT for cervicogenic headache (CGHA). Seven RCTs were eligible. At short-term follow-up, there was a significant, small effect favouring SMT for pain intensity and small effects for pain frequency. There was no effect for pain duration. There was a significant, small effect favouring SMT for disability. At intermediate follow-up, there was no significant effects for pain intensity and a significant, small effect favouring SMT for pain frequency. At long-term follow-up, there was no significant effects for pain intensity and for pain frequency.
The authors concluded that for CGHA, SMT provides small, superior short-term benefits for pain intensity, frequency and disability but not pain duration, however, high-quality evidence in this field is lacking. The long-term impact is not significant.
This meta-analysis can be criticised for a long list of reasons, the most serious of which, in my view, is that it is bar of even the tiniest critical input. The authors state that there has been no previous meta-analysis on this topic. This might be true, but there has been a systematic review of it (published in the leading journal on the subject) which the authors fail to mention/cite (I wonder why!). It is from 2011 and happens to be one of mine. Here is its abstract:
The objective of this systematic review was to assess the effectiveness of spinal manipulations as a treatment option for cervicogenic headaches. Seven databases were searched from their inception to February 2011. All randomized trials which investigated spinal manipulations performed by any type of healthcare professional for treating cervicogenic headaches in human subjects were considered. The selection of studies, data extraction, and validation were performed independently by 2 reviewers. Nine randomized clinical trials (RCTs) met the inclusion criteria. Their methodological quality was mostly poor. Six RCTs suggested that spinal manipulation is more effective than physical therapy, gentle massage, drug therapy, or no intervention. Three RCTs showed no differences in pain, duration, and frequency of headaches compared to placebo, manipulation, physical therapy, massage, or wait list controls. Adequate control for placebo effect was achieved in 1 RCT only, and this trial showed no benefit of spinal manipulations beyond a placebo effect. The majority of RCTs failed to provide details of adverse effects. There are few rigorous RCTs testing the effectiveness of spinal manipulations for treating cervicogenic headaches. The results are mixed and the only trial accounting for placebo effects fails to be positive. Therefore, the therapeutic value of this approach remains uncertain.
The key points here are:
- methodological quality of the primary studies was mostly poor;
- adequate control for placebo effect was achieved in 1 RCT only;
- this trial showed no benefit of SMT beyond a placebo effect;
- the majority of RCTs failed to provide details of adverse effects;
- this means they violate research ethics and should be discarded as not trustworthy;
- the therapeutic value of SMT remains uncertain.
The new paper was published by chiropractors. Its positive result is not clinically relevant, almost certainly due to residual bias and confounding in the primary studies, and thus most likely false-positive. The conclusions seem to disclose more the bias of the review authors than the truth. Considering the risks of SMT of the upper spine (a subject not even mentioned by the authors), I cannot see that the risk/benefit balance of this treatment is positive. It follows, I think, that other, less risky and more effective treatments are to be preferred for CGHA.
I have long cautioned that chiropractic overuse of X-rays is a safety problem. Is this still an issue? A recent paper was aimed at finding out.
The objective of this review was to determine the diagnostic and therapeutic utility of routine or repeat radiographs (in the absence of red flags) of the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spine for the functional or structural evaluation of the spine. Investigate whether functional or structural findings on repeat radiographs are valid markers of clinically meaningful outcomes. The research objectives required that the researchers determine the validity, diagnostic accuracy and reliability of radiographs for the structural and functional evaluation of the spine.
The investigators searched MEDLINE, CINAHL, and Index to Chiropractic Literature from inception to November 25, 2019. They used rapid review methodology recommended by the World Health Organization. Eligible studies (cross-sectional, case-control, cohort, randomized controlled trials, diagnostic and reliability) were critically appraised. Studies of acceptable quality were included in our synthesis.
Twenty-three papers were critically appraised. No relevant studies assessed the clinical utility of routine or repeat radiographs (in the absence of red flags) of the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spine for the functional or structural evaluation of the spine. No studies investigated whether functional or structural findings on repeat radiographs are valid markers of clinically meaningful outcomes. Nine low risk of bias studies investigated the validity (n = 2) and reliability (n = 8) of routine or repeat radiographs. These studies provided no evidence of clinical utility.
The authors’ conclusions are clear: We found no evidence that the use of routine or repeat radiographs to assess the function or structure of the spine, in the absence of red flags, improves clinical outcomes and benefits patients. Given the inherent risks of ionizing radiation, we recommend that chiropractors do not use radiographs for the routine and repeat evaluation of the structure and function of the spine.
In the paper, the authors provided further valuable information and background:
In the United States in 2010, the rate of spine radiographs within 5 days of presenting to a chiropractor was 204 per 1000 new patients. An analysis of national trends in the United States suggests that the rate of spinal radiography by chiropractors and podiatrists increased by 14.4% between 2003 and 2015. This increase occurred despite the publication of several evidence-based clinical practice guidelines and clinical prediction rules to assist chiropractors in determining the indication for spine radiographs to assist with diagnosing a pathology. Overall, guidelines suggest that radiographs are indicated when signs and symptoms of potentially serious underlying pathology (red flags) are identified through the clinical history and physical examination. However, on its own, an isolated “red flag” may have a high false positive rate for the diagnosis of underlying spinal pathology, such as cancer. For example, the presence of a solitary “red flag” such as age over 50 years may not be sufficient to warrant taking spine radiographs. Therefore, clinicians are encouraged to combine sound clinical judgement and the assessment of red flags when ordering radiographs.
In the absence of “red flags”, the use of spinal radiographs is not recommended. Nevertheless, factions of chiropractors, including the International Chiropractic Association promote the use of routine or repeat radiographs to assess the structure and function of the spine. This practice which dates back to 1910 was initiated when no evidence was available to guide the judicious use of spine radiographs. Historically, these groups of chiropractors have argued that radiographs are helpful to measure postural abnormalities, identify vertebral misalignment or subluxation and guide treatment with spinal manipulative therapy. The belief that radiographs are useful to detect and correct spine structure and function provides the foundation for many chiropractic technique systems that are still in use today. To our knowledge, approximately 23 chiropractic techniques use spine radiography (including full spine radiography) to guide the clinical management of patients. These include the Gonstead, Chiropractic BioPhysics®, Toggle-Recoil, and National Upper Cervical Chiropractic Association (NUCCA) techniques. Proponents of these techniques claim that the use of routine and repeat radiographs is supported by scientific evidence and have published a guideline to assist clinicians with the biomechanical assessment of spinal subluxation in chiropractic clinical practice using radiography. However, these claims have not yet been evaluated for their clinical utility, the benefit a patient gains from a test or treatment. This was a particular concern for the College of Chiropractors of British Columbia (CCBC) which regulates the practice of chiropractic in the province of British Columbia, Canada. The mission of the CCBC is to protect the public by regulating British Columbia’s doctors of chiropractic to ensure safe, qualified and ethical delivery of care.
The references from these two paragraphs can be found in the original paper. One reference the authors did not include was my article of 1998 which, at the time, received plenty of angry responses from chiropractors. Here is its conclusion: DATA SUGGEST AN OVERUSE OF RADIOGRAPHY BY THE CHIROPRACTIC PROFESSION. THIS CONSTITUTES A SAFETY PROBLEM THAT DESERVES TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AND REQUIRES FURTHER RESEARCH.
Twenty-two years later, do I get the impression that the chiropractic profession might not be the fastest in getting its act together?
As parts of Australia are going back into lock-down because of the increasingly high COVID-19 infection rates, the Chiropractic Board of Australia (CBA) has issued a statement on chiropractors’ claims regarding immunity:
The Board is particularly concerned that during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic there are claims in advertising that suggest spinal adjustments and/or manipulation can boost or improve general immunity or the immune system.
There is insufficient acceptable evidence to support such claims in advertising. Acceptable evidence mostly encompasses empirical data from formal research or systematic studies, in the form of peer-reviewed publications. Information about what constitutes acceptable evidence for advertising can be found in the Advertising resources section of the Ahpra website.
Advertising that there is a relationship between manual therapy (e.g. spinal adjustments and/or manipulation) and achieving general wellness or boosting or improving immunity contravenes the National Law and the Guidelines for advertising regulated health services.
Although many claims do not directly reference spinal adjustments and/or manipulation preventing or protecting from COVID-19, there is currently greater awareness of immunity issues and the public is seeking information on ways to prevent or protect themselves from the disease. Consequently, there is a greater risk that claims about spinal adjustments and/or manipulation boosting or improving general immunity may be interpreted to be claims about boosting or improving immunity to COVID-19.
Making claims in advertising that spinal adjustments and/or manipulation can boost or improve general immunity or the immune system is likely to result in regulatory action being taken by the Board.
“… IS LIKELY TO RESULT IN REGULATORY ACTION …”???
Come on, pull the other one!
Bogus claims have been made by chiropractors since ages.
Bogus claims are what chiropractors thrive on.
Without them, they would go bust.
Every now and then some regulator makes some noises reminding chiropractors that bogus claims are bogus. But have they EVER taken any action?
Have they ever even INTENDED to take action?
I doubt it.
In fact, statements of this nature seem to be the chiropractic way of sanctioning false claims. The somewhat paradoxical way this works is as follows: chiropractors make bogus claims all the time; we all got so much used to them that hardly anyone bats an eyelash. But every now and then the bogus nature of the claims become noticeable to the wider public – like now with COVID-19 – and some people or organisations take offence. This is clearly not good for the chiro-business or image. Therefore, the professional chiro organisations step in by issuing a statement – like the one above – condemning the claims and threatening action. All the chiros know, of course, what this is about and change absolutely nothing. The desired effect is guaranteed: chiros can carry on as before, but the image is saved and the business can continue.
I very much doubt that, in the coming weeks, the CBA will do much about the many Australian chiropractors who will continue to mislead the public about COVID-19 or any other issues.
Nice window dressing perhaps, but no substance at all.
If you disagree with my view, please send me the details of any decisive regulatory action which the CBA took regarding immunity claims, and I will delete this post.