Yes, this post is yet again about the harm chiropractors do.
No, I am not obsessed with the subject – I merely consider it to be important.
This is a case presentation of a 44-year-old male who was transferred from another emergency department for left homonymous inferior quadrantanopia noted on an optometrist visit. He reported sudden onset left homonymous hemianopia after receiving a high-velocity cervical spine adjustment at a chiropractor appointment for chronic neck pain a few days prior.
The CT angiogram of the head and neck revealed bilateral vertebral artery dissection at the left V2 and right V3 segments. MRI brain confirmed an acute infarct in the right medial occipital lobe. His right PCA stroke was likely embolic from the injured right V3 but possibly from the left V2 as well. As the patient reported progression from a homonymous hemianopia to a quadrantanopia, he likely had a migrating embolus.
The authors discussed that arterial dissection accounts for about 2% of all ischemic strokes, but maybe between 8–25% in patients less than 45 years old. Vertebral artery dissection (VAD) can result from trauma from sports, motor vehicle accidents, and chiropractor neck manipulations to violent coughing/sneezing.
It is estimated that 1 in 20,000 spinal manipulation results in vertebral artery aneurysm/dissection. Patients who have multiple chronic conditions are reporting higher use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), including chiropractic manipulation. Education about the association between VAD and chiropractor maneuvers can be beneficial to the public as these are preventable acute ischemic strokes. In addition, VAD symptoms can be subtle and patients presenting to chiropractors may have distracting pain masking their deficits. Evaluating for appropriateness of cervical manipulation in high‐risk patients and detecting early clinical signs of VAD by chiropractors can be beneficial in preventing acute ischemic strokes in young patients.
Here we have a rare instance where the physicians who treated the chiro-victim were sufficiently motivated to present their findings and document them in the medical literature. Their report was published in 2021 as an abstract in conference proceedings. In other words, the report is not easy to find. Even though two years have passed, the full article does not seem to have emerged, and chances are that it will never be published.
The points I am trying to make are as follows:
- Complications after chiropractic manipulation do happen and are probably much more frequent than chiros want us to believe.
- They are only rarely reported in the medical literature because the busy clinicians who end up treating the victims do not consider this a priority and because many cases are settled in or out of court.
- Normally, it would be the ethical/moral duty of the chiros who have inflicted the damage to do the reporting.
- Yet, they seem too busy ripping off more patients by doing neck manipulations that do more harm than good.
- And then they complain that the evidence is insufficient!!!
I came across an article that seems highly relevant to our recurring debates about the dangers of chiropractic. Since few of us might be readers of the Louisville Courier, I take the liberty of reproducing here a shortened version of it:
Amber Burgess, then 33, had never set foot in a chiropractor’s office when she went to Dr. Adam Fulkerson’s Heartland Family Chiropractic in Elizabethtown on May 18, 2020. In contrast, Becca Barlow, 31, had seen Dr. Leah Wright at Louisville Family Chiropractic 29 times for adjustments over three years when she went there on Jan. 7, 2019, seeking relief for “nursing mother’s neck.” Both say they will never see a chiropractor again. “That visit was my first – and last,” said Burgess, a former utility bucket-truck assembler.
In separate lawsuits, they claim they suffered strokes after chiropractic adjustments; Barlow, herself a nurse, said she realized she was having one before she even left the office and told Wright’s staff to call 911.
Citing studies on human cadavers and other research, chiropractors claim adjustments are physically incapable of causing tears to arteries that in turn cause strokes by blocking the flow of blood to the brain and other organs. In an opening statement in the trial of Barlow’s suit last March, attorney John Floyd Jr., counsel for Wright and the National Chiropractic Mutual Insurance Co., said no one has ever proved adjustments cause the tears – known as dissection – only that there is an “association” between them. “We associate the crowing of roosters with sunrise,” he told the jury. “But that doesn’t mean roosters cause the sun to come up.” Floyd also cited studies he said prove that when a patient strokes out immediately after adjustments, like Barlow, it is because they already were suffering from artery injuries when they sought treatment from their chiropractor.
Louisville attorney Brian Clare, who represents both Barlow and Burgess, previously settled two cases in Jefferson County, and has another suit pending in Warren Circuit Court. He said in an interview that “every time chiropractors perform adjustments on the neck they are playing with fire. They can go too far, too fast, turning the neck past therapeutic limits,” he said.
The jury in Barlow’s case emphatically rejected the chiropractic profession’s defenses. “We found those claims to be unbelievable,” said jury foreman Joseph Tucker, a lawyer, who noted Barlow had no symptoms before her adjustments. By a 9-3 vote, the jury awarded her $1,130,800, including $380,000 in medical expenses and $750,000 for pain and suffering.
Witnesses testified that Barlow fell off the table and vomited almost immediately after her adjustment, showing classic stroke symptoms, including vertigo, dizziness, numbness, and nausea. She lost consciousness, had to be intubated in an ambulance, then raced to Norton Brownsboro Hospital, where she underwent emergency surgery to restore the flow of blood to her arteries and save her life. Three of the four arteries in her neck had been dissected.
Burgess, in Elizabethtown, suffered a stroke in her spine that her expert, Dr. Louis Caplan, a neurology professor at Harvard University, said also was caused by her cervical manipulations. Caplan says he’s cared for more than 15,000 stroke patients over 45 years.
Fulkerson has denied liability; his lawyer, James Grohman, said he couldn’t comment because the case is pending; the trial is set for Aug. 28 in Hardin Circuit Court Caplan said in a report that Burgess’s stroke left her with partial but permanent paralysis in her arms and legs. She uses a wheelchair and walker with wheels to get around. She said she can’t work, can’t drive, and that while she can dress herself, it takes hours to get ready. She fears they will have to give up their plans to have a baby.
By any measure, strokes associated with adjustments are rare, although their incidence is disputed. The American Chiropractic Association says arteries are damaged in only one to three adjustments out of 100,000 But a 2001 report in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated dissections occur in 1 of 20,000 adjustments. And Dr. Alan Brafman, an Atlanta chiropractor, has said they occur more often than that. Brafman wrote that he’s consulted in 1,100 cases, including Barlow’s, and found in most of them, chiropractors were at fault, causing vascular damage that is “a tragic, life-altering situation for all parties involved.” Wright’s experts themselves divulged they had been retained in 200 cases, according to Clare, which he said suggests chiropractic-related strokes are more common than suspected. A survey at Stanford University in 2008 of 177 neurologists found 55 had patients who suffered strokes after seeing chiropractors, while a 2018 study in West Virginia found one in 48 chiropractors experienced such an event. Neurologists and other physicians point to a 2001 study in STROKE of 582 stroke patients that found they were five times more likely to have seen a chiropractor in the previous five days before their artery dissection than a control group without such injuries. The American Heart Association and other medical groups recommend that patients also be warned about the risks; Barlow said she never would have undergone her final manipulation if she had been informed.
Yet again, I am impressed by the number of cases that go to court where a settlement of some sort is reached and further reporting of the incident is prevented. As a consequence, these cases are not published in the medical literature. In turn, this means that chiropractors can continue to claim that these complications do not exist or are exceedingly rare.
- The truth, however, is that NOBODY can provide accurate incidence figures.
- The truth is that, even if such complications were rare, they are devastating.
- The truth is that neck manipulations do not generate any or very little benefit.
- The truth is that their risk/benefit balance is not positive.
- The truth is that we, therefore, have an ethical duty to tell potential patients about it.
I feel that I cannot repeat my warning often enough:
THEY CAUSE MORE HARM THAN GOOD!
It has been reported that a young woman’s visit to a chiropractor left her unable to walk due to a torn artery.
Mariah Bond, 29, went to visit a chiropractor in the hope to get some relief from her neck pain. During the appointment, the chiropractor quickly twisted her neck from side to side. “It cracked both ways and I’d seen chiropractor videos so I thought it was normal but when I stood up I got super dizzy,” Mariah recalled. Next, Mariah started profusely vomiting and her hand began to tingle. Then she was rushed to a hospital.
It took a few hours before the doctors could find the diagnosis. “I was still throwing up constantly, it was non-stop. I couldn’t open my eyes because if I did I’d start throwing up because I was so dizzy,” Mariah said. “I was transferred via ambulance to another hospital where they did a CT scan and confirmed that I was having a stroke.”
It turned out that Mariah’s chiropractor dissected an artery in her neck which then limited the blood supply to the brain. Mariah was kept in the hospital for five days while her condition was monitored. During that time, she was left unable to walk. But slowly she did become able to rely on a zimmer frame to get around. “I couldn’t walk properly or correctly use my hands to eat, it was like I was a child. It was very weird. My brain was there but I couldn’t do it,” she stated. “My first stroke was a cerebral stroke and they were saying that I probably had a mini-stroke as I was having weird feelings in my legs. They were very confused because that wasn’t common with the stroke I had, so they said that I probably had two.”
Within a fortnight, Mariah was able to walk again but had to have physiotherapy for two months before she could return to work. After her last CT scan, she received the good news that the dissected vessel had completely healed. She said: “I was very strong-willed at the time because everyone was telling me how well I was handling this. I think my husband was more scared than I was, poor thing.”
Mariah has vowed never to visit a chiropractor again and is doing her best to raise awareness of the damage they can cause. “I was shocked because I’m so young and you don’t really hear about young people having strokes, especially from the chiropractor. I’m pretty paranoid with my neck now. I know I probably shouldn’t be but sometimes if I have a weird feeling in my head, it would probably be called PTSD, I automatically start thinking am I having a stroke? I start freaking out. I’d tell people not to go to a chiropractor. I’ve already told a million people not to do it. Just don’t go or at least don’t let them do your neck.”
I would be surprised if this case ever got written up as a proper case report and published in a medical journal. We did a survey years ago where we found over 35 cases of severe complications after chiropractic in the UK within a period of 12 months. The most amazing result was that none of these cases had been published. In other words, under-reporting was precisely 100%.
Mariah’s case might be a true rarety, or it might be a fairly common event. It might be a most devastating occurrence, or there could be far worse events.
We simply do not know because under-reporting is huge.
Meanwhile, chiropractors – the professionals who should long have made sure that under-reporting becomes minimal or non-existent – claim that there is no evidence that strokes happen at all or regularly or often. They can do this because the medical literature seems to confirm their opinion. The only reporting system that seems to exist, the “chiropractic patient incident reporting and learning system” (CPiRLS), is for several reasons woefully inadequate and also plagued by under-reporting.
So, what advice can I possibly give to consumers in such a situation? I feel that the only thing one can recommend is to
stay well clear of chiropractors
until they finally present us with sufficient and convincing data.
In one of my last posts, I was rather dismissive of veterinary chiropractic.
Was I too harsh?
I did ask readers who disagree with my judgment to send me their evidence.
Sadly, none arrived!
Therefore, I did several further literature searches and found a recent review of the topic. It included 14 studies; 13 were equine and one was a canine study. Seven of these were cohort studies and seven were randomized controlled clinical trials. . Study quality was low (n = 4), moderate (n = 7), and high (n = 3) and included a wide array of outcome parameters with varying levels of efficacy and duration of therapeutic effects, which prevented further meta-analysis. The authors concluded that it was difficult to draw firm conclusions despite all studies reporting positive effects. Optimal technique indications and dosages need to be determined to improve the standardization of these treatment options.
This, I think, can hardly be called good evidence. But I also found this more recent paper:
Chiropractic care is a common treatment modality used in equine practice to manage back pain and stiffness but has limited evidence for treating lameness. The objective of this blinded, controlled clinical trial was to evaluate the effect of chiropractic treatment on chronic lameness and concurrent axial skeleton pain and dysfunction. Two groups of horses with multiple limb lameness (polo) or isolated hind limb lameness (Quarter Horses) were enrolled. Outcome measures included subjective and objective measures of lameness, spinal pain and stiffness, epaxial muscle hypertonicity, and mechanical nociceptive thresholds collected on days 0, 14, and 28. Chiropractic treatment was applied on days 0, 7, 14, and 21. No treatment was applied to control horses. Data was analyzed by a mixed model fit separately for each response variable (p < 0.05) and was examined within each group of horses individually. Significant treatment effects were noted in subjective measures of hind limb and whole-body lameness scores and vertebral stiffness. Limited or inconsistent therapeutic effects were noted in objective lameness scores and other measures of axial skeleton pain and dysfunction. The lack of pathoanatomical diagnoses, multilimb lameness, and lack of validated outcome measures likely had negative impacts on the results.
Great! So, we finally have an RCT of chiropractic for horses. Unfortunately, the study is less than convincing:
- It included just 20 polo horses plus 18 horses active in ridden or competitive work all suffering from lameness.
- The authors state that ‘horses were numerically randomized to treatment and control groups’; yet I am not sure what this means.
- Treatment consisted of high-velocity, low-amplitude, manually applied thrusts to sites of perceived pain or stiffness with the axial and appendicular articulations. Treatment was applied on days 0, 7, 14, and 21 by a single examiner. The control group received no treatment and was restrained quietly for 15 min to simulate the time required for chiropractic treatment. In other words, no placebo controls were used.
- The validity of the many outcome measures is unknown.
- The statistical analyses seem odd to me.
- No correction for multiple statistical tests was done.
- Most of the outcomes show no significant effect.
- Overall, there were some small positive treatment effects based on subjective assessment of lameness, but no measurable treatment effects on objective measures of limb lameness.
- The polo horses began their competition season at the beginning of the study which would have confounded the outcomes.
What does all this tell us about veterinary chiropractic?
Not a lot.
All we can safely say, I think, is that veterinary chiropractic is not evidence-based and that claims to the contrary are certainly ill-informed and most probably of a promotional nature.
This study examined the incidence and severity of adverse events (AEs) of patients receiving chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy (SMT), with the hypothesis that < 1 per 100,000 SMT sessions results in a grade ≥ 3 (severe) AE. A secondary objective was to examine independent predictors of grade ≥ 3 AEs.
The researchers retrospectively identified patients with SMT-related AEs from January 2017 through August 2022 across 30 chiropractic clinics in Hong Kong. AE data were extracted from a complaint log, including solicited patient surveys, complaints, and clinician reports, and corroborated by medical records. AEs were independently graded 1–5 based on severity (1-mild, 2-moderate, 3-severe, 4-life-threatening, 5-death).
Among 960,140 SMT sessions for 54,846 patients, 39 AEs were identified, two were grade 3, both of which were rib fractures occurring in women age > 60 with osteoporosis, while none were grade ≥ 4, yielding an incidence of grade ≥ 3 AEs of 0.21 per 100,000 SMT sessions (95% CI 0.00, 0.56 per 100,000). There were no AEs related to stroke or cauda equina syndrome. The sample size was insufficient to identify predictors of grade ≥ 3 AEs using multiple logistic regression.
The authors concluded that, in this study, severe SMT-related AEs were reassuringly very rare.
This is good news for all patients who consult chiropractors. However, there seem to be several problems with this study:
- Data originated from 30 affiliated chiropractic clinics with 38 chiropractors (New York Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Center, EC Healthcare, Hong Kong). These clinics are integrated into a larger healthcare organization, including several medical specialties and imaging and laboratory testing centers that utilize a shared medical records system. The 38 chiropractors represent only a little more than 10% of all chiropractors working in Hanh Kong and are thus not representative of all chiropractors in that region. Is it possible that the participating chiropractors were better trained, more gentle, or more careful than the rest?
- Data regarding AEs was obtained from a detailed complaint log that was routinely aggregated from several sources by a customer service department. One source of AEs in this log was a custom survey administered to patients after their 1st, 2nd, and 16th visits. Additional AEs derived from follow-up phone calls by a personal health manager. This means that not all AE might have been noted. Some patients might not have complained, others might have been too ill to do so. And, of course, dead patients cannot complain. The authors state that “the response to the SMS questionnaire was low. It is possible that severe AEs occurred but were not reported or recorded through these or other methods of ascertainment”.
- The 39 AEs potentially related to chiropractic SMT included increased symptoms related to the patient’s chief complaint (n = 28), chest pain without a fracture on imaging (n = 4), jaw pain (n = 3), rib fracture confirmed by imaging (n = 2), headache and dizziness without evidence of stroke (n = 1), and new radicular symptoms (n = 1). Of the 39 AEs, grade 2 were most common (n = 32, 82%), followed by grade 1 (n = 5, 13%), and grade 3 (n = 2, 5%). There were no cases of stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), vertebral or carotid artery dissection, cauda equina syndrome, or spinal fracture. Yet, headache and dizziness could be signs of a TIA.
- Calculating the rate of AEs per SMT session might be misleading and of questionable value. Are incidence rates of AEs not usually expressed as AE/patient? In this case, the % rate would be almost 20 times higher.
Altogether, this is a laudable effort to generate evidence for the risks of SMT. The findings seem reassuring but sadly they are not fully convincing.
The McTimoney College of Chiropractic just announced that it has established a new four-year program in veterinary chiropractic for college students:
It means that those without a prior degree can undertake the training and education necessary to enter this coveted career. To date, animal chiropractors were required to have a prior qualification in human chiropractic or a degree in the relevant sciences.
Applications for the new program are being accepted from September 2023. Students will attend Abingdon-based University, Oxford, and a variety of practical locations, enabling the development of academic knowledge and the application of practical skills together . Modules include anatomy and physiology, veterinary science, practice and professionalism, and clinical skills, with a research dissertation running over the four-year course.
University director Christina Cunliffe said the new program was an exciting step in the development of chiropractic care for animals.
“Building on our decades of experience graduating confident, competent, and highly-skilled animal chiropractors, now is the time to open up this exciting career opportunity to college students.”
For the past 50 years, McTimoney College of Chiropractic has been training and educating human chiropractors to the highest regulatory standards. Over the past 20 years, animal chiropractic has developed to meet the requirements for this gentle, holistic treatment in the veterinary world.
Prospective students are invited to a Open House at McTimoney College of Chiropractic in Abingdon on February 16.
McTimoney Chiropractic for Animals identifies areas of stiffness, asymmetry, and poor range of motion within the skeletal system, particularly the spine and pelvis. This affects the muscles that surround these structures, as well as the nerve impulses that pass from the central nervous system to the periphery of the body. The adjustments are very light and fast, stimulating an instant response in the affected soft tissues and joints, promoting relaxation of muscle spasms, improving nerve function, and helping the skeletal structure regain better symmetry and movement again.
In many cases, animals suffer from underlying conditions such as arthritic changes or degenerative diseases that force them to compensate in their posture and movement in an attempt to remain comfortable. However, these offsets become increasingly entrenched and can be painful or uncomfortable, requiring chiropractic care to provide some relief. In other cases, the animals are working hard or competing and as such accumulate tension and asymmetries due to the demands of their work. Once again, chiropractic care helps relieve pain and promote performance, whether it’s faster speeds over hurdles for racehorses and events, better jumping style in showjumpers, or more extravagant movements for dressage stars.
Two recent graduates of the school’s Master of Animal Handling (Chiropractic) program did not hesitate to recommend the university. Natalie McQuiggan said that she had wanted to do McTimoney Chiropractic from a very young age, “but the process of doing it always seemed really daunting.
“But from the start, the staff and teachers were lovely and welcoming, and queries were answered promptly. I have really enjoyed my two years in the Master of Animal Handling (Chiropractic) program and would recommend anyone thinking of doing it to just do it.”
Pollyanna Fitzgerald said the university offered a supportive and welcoming learning environment, allowing her to grow and develop as a student and future professional. “There is always someone to talk to and offer encouragement when needed. As a student I have learned a lot and have been encouraged to believe in myself and it has been a wonderful place to learn.”
A free webinar, McTimoney’s Animal Chiropractic as a Careeron January 24 at 7:30 p.m. (GMT), is open to those who wish to learn more about the McTimoney technique and its application, and the training paths available to those interested in becoming a McTimoney Animal Chiropractor.
I think this announcement is puzzling on several levels:
- I was unable to find an ‘Abingdon-based University, Oxford’; could it be this institution that is a college and not a university?
- Christina Cunliffe seems to be (or has been?) affiliated with the McTimoney College of Chiropractic which is a bit odd, in my opinion.
- The college does not have ‘decades of experience’; it was founded only in 2001.
- Most importantly, I am unable to find a jot of good evidence that veterinary chiropractic is effective for any condition (see also here, here, and here). In case anyone is aware of any, please let me know. I’d be delighted to revise my judgment.
If I am right, the new course could be a fine example of quackademia where students are ripped off and taught to later rip off the owners of animals after the academically trained quacks have mistreated them.
The purpose of this review was to
- identify and map the available evidence regarding the effectiveness and harms of spinal manipulation and mobilisation for infants, children and adolescents with a broad range of conditions;
- identify and synthesise policies, regulations, position statements and practice guidelines informing their clinical use.
Two reviewers independently screened and selected the studies, extracted key findings and assessed the methodological quality of included papers. A descriptive synthesis of reported findings was undertaken using a level-of-evidence approach.
Eighty-seven articles were included. Their methodological quality varied. Spinal manipulation and mobilisation are being utilised clinically by a variety of health professionals to manage paediatric populations with
- adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS),
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
- autism spectrum disorder (ASD),
- back/neck pain,
- breastfeeding difficulties,
- cerebral palsy (CP),
- dysfunctional voiding,
- excessive crying,
- infantile colic,
- kinetic imbalances due to suboccipital strain (KISS),
- nocturnal enuresis,
- otitis media,
The descriptive synthesis revealed: no evidence to explicitly support the effectiveness of spinal manipulation or mobilisation for any condition in paediatric populations. Mild transient symptoms were commonly described in randomised controlled trials and on occasion, moderate-to-severe adverse events were reported in systematic reviews of randomised controlled trials and other lower-quality studies. There was strong to very strong evidence for ‘no significant effect’ of spinal manipulation for managing
- asthma (pulmonary function),
- nocturnal enuresis.
There was inconclusive or insufficient evidence for all other conditions explored. There is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions regarding spinal mobilisation to treat paediatric populations with any condition.
The authors concluded that, whilst some individual high-quality studies demonstrate positive results for some conditions, our descriptive synthesis of the collective findings does not provide support for spinal manipulation or mobilisation in paediatric populations for any condition. Increased reporting of adverse events is required to determine true risks. Randomised controlled trials examining effectiveness of spinal manipulation and mobilisation in paediatric populations are warranted.
Perhaps the most important findings of this review relate to safety. They confirm (yet again) that there is only limited reporting of adverse events in this body of research. Six reviews, eight RCTs and five other studies made no mention of adverse events or harms associated with spinal manipulation. This, in my view, amounts to scientific misconduct. Four systematic reviews focused specifically on adverse events and harms. They revealed that adverse events ranged from mild to severe and even death.
In terms of therapeutic benefit, the review confirms the findings from the previous research, e.g.:
- Green et al (Green S, McDonald S, Murano M, Miyoung C, Brennan S. Systematic review of spinal manipulation in children: review prepared by Cochrane Australia for Safer Care Victoria. Melbourne, Victoria: Victorian Government 2019. p. 1–67.) explored the effectiveness and safety of spinal manipulation and showed that spinal manipulation should – due to a lack of evidence and potential risk of harm – be recommended as a treatment of headache, asthma, otitis media, cerebral palsy, hyperactivity disorders or torticollis.
- Cote et al showed that evidence is lacking to support the use of spinal manipulation to treat non-musculoskeletal disorders.
In terms of risk/benefit balance, the conclusion could thus not be clearer: no matter whether chiropractors, osteopaths, physiotherapists, or any other healthcare professionals propose to manipulate the spine of your child, DON’T LET THEM DO IT!
This study described osteopathic practise activity, scope of practice and the osteopathic patient profile in order to understand the role osteopathy plays within the United Kingdom’s (UK) health system a decade after the authors’ previous survey.
The researchers used a retrospective questionnaire survey design to ask about osteopathic practice and audit patient case notes. All UK-registered osteopaths were invited to participate in the survey. The survey was conducted using a web-based system. Each participating osteopath was asked about themselves, and their practice and asked to randomly select and extract data from up to 8 random new patient health records during 2018. All patient-related data were anonymized.
The survey response rate was 500 osteopaths (9.4% of the profession) who provided information about 395 patients and 2,215 consultations. Most osteopaths were:
- self-employed (81.1%; 344/424 responses),
- working alone either exclusively or often (63.9%; 237/371),
- able to offer 48.6% of patients an appointment within 3 days (184/379).
Patient ages ranged from 1 month to 96 years (mean 44.7 years, Std Dev. 21.5), of these 58.4% (227/389) were female. Infants <1 years old represented 4.8% (18/379) of patients. The majority of patients presented with musculoskeletal complaints (81.0%; 306/378) followed by pediatric conditions (5%). Persistent complaints (present for more than 12 weeks before the appointment) were the most common (67.9%; 256/377) and 41.7% (156/374) of patients had co-existing medical conditions.
The most common treatment approaches used at the first appointment were:
- soft-tissue techniques (73.9%; 292/395),
- articulatory techniques (69.4%; 274/395),
- high-velocity low-amplitude thrust (34.4%; 136/395),
- cranial techniques (23%).
The mean number of treatments per patient was 7 (mode 4). Osteopaths’ referral to other healthcare practitioners amounted to:
- GPs 29%
- Other complementary therapists 21%
- Other osteopaths 18%
The authors concluded that osteopaths predominantly provide care of musculoskeletal conditions, typically in private practice. To better understand the role of osteopathy in UK health service delivery, the profession needs to do more research with patients in order to understand their needs and their expected outcomes of care, and for this to inform osteopathic practice and education.
What can we conclude from a survey that has a 9% response rate?
If I ignore this fact, do I find anything of interest here?
Not a lot!
Perhaps just three points:
- Osteopaths use high-velocity low-amplitude thrusts, the type of manipulation that has most frequently been associated with serious complications, too frequently.
- They also employ cranial osteopathy, which is probably the least plausible technique in their repertoire, too often.
- They refer patients too frequently to other SCAM practitioners and too rarely to GPs.
To come back to the question asked in the title of this post: What do UK osteopaths do? My answer is
ALMOST NOTHING THAT MIGHT BE USEFUL.
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.
Yesterday, L’EXPRESS published an interview with me. It was introduced with these words (my translation):
Professor emeritus at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, Edzard Ernst is certainly the best connoisseur of unconventional healing practices. For 25 years, he has been sifting through the scientific evaluation of these so-called “alternative” medicines. With a single goal: to provide an objective view, based on solid evidence, of the reality of the benefits and risks of these therapies. While this former homeopathic doctor initially thought he was bringing them a certain legitimacy, he has become one of their most enlightened critics. It is notable as a result of his work that the British health system, the NHS, gave up covering homeopathy. Since then, he has never ceased to alert us to the abuses and lies associated with these practices. For L’Express, he looks back at the challenges of regulating this vast sector and deciphers the main concepts put forward by “wellness” professionals – holism, detox, prevention, strengthening the immune system, etc.
The interview itself is quite extraordinary, in my view. While UK, US, and German journalists usually are at pains to tone down my often outspoken answers, the French journalists (there were two doing the interview with me) did nothing of the sort. This starts with the title of the piece: “Homeopathy is implausible but energy healing takes the biscuit”.
The overall result is one of the most outspoken interviews of my entire career. Let me offer you a few examples (again my translation):
Why are you so critical of celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow who promote these wellness methods?
Sadly, we have gone from evidence-based medicine to celebrity-based medicine. A celebrity without any medical background becomes infatuated with a certain method. They popularize this form of treatment, very often making money from it. The best example of this is Prince Charles, sorry Charles III, who spent forty years of his life promoting very strange things under the guise of defending alternative medicine. He even tried to market a “detox” tincture, based on artichoke and dandelion, which was quickly withdrawn from the market.
How to regulate this sector of wellness and alternative medicines? Today, anyone can present himself as a naturopath or yoga teacher…
Each country has its own regulation, or rather its own lack of regulation. In Germany, for instance, we have the “Heilpraktikter”. Anyone can get this paramedical status, you just have to pass an exam showing that you are not a danger to the public. You can retake this exam as often as you want. Even the dumbest will eventually pass. But these practitioners have an incredible amount of freedom, they even may give infusions and injections. So there is a two-tier health care system, with university-trained doctors and these practitioners.
In France, you have non-medical practitioners who are fighting for recognition. Osteopaths are a good example. They are not officially recognized as a health profession. Many schools have popped up to train them, promising a good income to their students, but today there are too many osteopaths compared to the demand of the patients (knowing that nobody really needs an osteopath to begin with…). Naturopaths are in the same situation.
In Great Britain, osteopaths and chiropractors are regulated by statute. There is even a Royal College dedicated to chiropractic. It’s a bit like having a Royal College for hairdressers! It’s stupid, but we have that. We also have professionals like naturopaths, acupuncturists, or herbalists who have an intermediate status. So it’s a very complex area, depending on the state. It is high time to have more uniform regulations in Europe.
But what would adequate regulation look like?
From my point of view, if you really regulate a profession like homeopaths, it means that these professionals may only practice according to the best scientific evidence available. Which, in practice, means that a homeopath cannot practice homeopathy. This is why these practitioners have a schizophrenic attitude toward regulation. On the one hand, they would like to be recognized to gain credibility. But on the other hand, they know very well that a real regulation would mean that they would have to close shop…
What about the side effects of these practices?
If you ask an alternative practitioner about the risks involved, he or she will take exception. The problem is that there is no system in alternative medicine to monitor side effects and risks. However, there have been cases where chiropractors or acupuncturists have killed people. These cases end up in court, but not in the medical literature. The acupuncturists have no problem saying that a hundred deaths due to acupuncture – a figure that can be found in the scientific literature – is negligible compared to the millions of treatments performed every day in this discipline. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many cases that are not published and therefore not included in the data, because there is no real surveillance system for these disciplines.
Do you see a connection between the wellness sector and conspiracy theories? In the US, we saw that Qanon was thriving in the yoga sector, for example…
Several studies have confirmed these links: people who adhere to conspiracy theories also tend to turn to alternative medicine. If you think about it, alternative medicine is itself a conspiracy theory. It is the idea that conventional medicine, in the name of pharmaceutical interests, in particular, wants to suppress certain treatments, which can therefore only exist in an alternative world. But in reality, the pharmaceutical industry is only too eager to take advantage of this craze for alternative products and well-being. Similarly, universities, hospitals, and other health organizations are all too willing to open their doors to these disciplines, despite the lack of evidence of their effectiveness.