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

symptom-relief

The BBC stands for reliable information, at least that’s what I used to believe. After reading a recent article published on the BBC website, I have my doubts, however. See for yourself; here are a few excerpts:

On a holiday to Kerala on India’s south-western Malabar Coast, Shilpa Iyer decided to visit Kotakkal, a town that became famous after the establishment of Arya Vaidya Sala, Kerala’s best-known centre for the practice of Ayurveda, in 1902. Seven days later, she left the historical treatment centre after completeing panchakarma, a cleansing and rejuvenating programme for the body, mind and consciousness.

“There was nothing really wrong, but I was always busy with the demands of modern life and plagued with continual aches and pains. So, I decided to focus on my own health,” Iyer says.

Panchakarma, a holistic Ayurvedic therapy, involves a series of detoxifying procedures. It integrates herbal medicines, cleansing therapies, personalised diet plans and wellness activities to eliminate the root cause of disease, revive and rejuvenate the body, and ensure health and longevity.

Iyer says she left “feeling lighter, healthier and better than ever before”. She isn’t the only one who signed up for an Ayurvedic treatment in Kerala; the holistic system of medicine is a way of life in this coastal paradise.

… Ayurveda translates to “knowledge of life” and originated in India more than 3,000 years ago. It is based on the ideology that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, spirit and environment, and places great emphasis on preventive strategies rather than curative ones. The ancient system of medicine is centred on the idea of universal interconnectedness between prakriti (the body’s constitution) and doshas (life forces). Varied combinations of the five elements — aakash (sky), jal (water), prithvi (earth), agni (fire) and vayu (air) – create the three doshas.

Kerala Tourism Ayurveda places great emphasis on preventive strategies rather than curative ones (Credit: Kerala Tourism)

Dr Gaurang Paneri, an Ayurveda practitioner, explains every person has the three doshas, vatapitta and kapha, in varying strength and magnitude. “The predominant dosha determines their prakriti. Diseases arise when doshas are affected because of an external or internal stimulus (typically linked to eating habits, lifestyle or physical exercise). Ayurveda works to ensure harmony between the three,” he says…

The small state has more than 100 Ayurvedic government-run hospitals, 800 Ayurvedic pharmaceutical factories and 800 Ayurvedic medicine dispensaries. As many as 120 holiday resorts and private wellness centres offer specialised treatments such as kasti vvasti, an oil-based treatment for back pain and inflammation in the lumbosacral region; elakkizhi, a treatment with heated herbal poultices to tackles aches, pains and muskoskeletal trauma; njavara kizhi, a massage therapy for arthritis or chronic musculoskeletal discomfort; and shirodhara, a restorative therapy to ease stress and anxiety and that involves pouring warm, medicated oil over the forehead.

Most treatment centres offer therapies and treatments for a range of health issues, including immunity, mental health, anxiety, pain management, weight loss, skin and health care, sleep issues, psoriasis, eczema, eye care, arthritis, sciatica, gastric problems and paralysis. The treatments typically include dietary changes, herbal medicines, massage therapies, poultices, meditation and breath exercises…

___________________________

I find such advertisements disguised as journalism disturbing:

  • No mention that the treatments in question lack conclusive evidence of effectiveness.
  • Not a word about the fact that many can be outright dangerous.
  • No mention of the often exorbitant fees visitors are asked to pay.

Please do better next time you report about health matters, BBC!

This systematic review and meta-analysis investigated the effectiveness and safety of manual therapy (MT) interventions compared to oral or topical pain medications in the management of neck pain.
The investigators searched from inception to March 2023, in Cochrane Central Register of Controller Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, Allied and Complementary Medicine (AMED) and Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL; EBSCO) for randomized controlled trials that examined the effect of manual therapy interventions for neck pain when compared to oral or topical medication in adults with self-reported neck pain, irrespective of radicular findings, specific cause, and associated cervicogenic headaches. Trials with usual care arms were also included if they prescribed medication as part of the usual care and they did not include a manual therapy component. The authors used the Cochrane Risk of Bias 2 tool to assess the potential risk of bias in the included studies, and the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluations (GRADE) approach to grade the quality of the evidence.

Nine trials  with a total of 779 participants were included in the meta-analysis.

  • low certainty of evidence was found that MT interventions may be more effective than oral pain medication in pain reduction in the short-term (Standardized Mean Difference: -0.39; 95% CI -0.66 to -0.11; 8 trials, 676 participants),
  • moderate certainty of evidence was found that MT interventions may be more effective than oral pain medication in pain reduction in the long-term (Standardized Mean Difference: −0.36; 95% CI −0.55 to −0.17; 6 trials, 567 participants),
  • low certainty evidence that the risk of adverse events may be lower for patients who received MT compared to the ones that received oral pain medication (Risk Ratio: 0.59; 95% CI 0.43 to 0.79; 5 trials, 426 participants).

The authors conluded that MT may be more effective for people with neck pain in both short and long-term with a better safety profile regarding adverse events when compared to patients receiving oral pain medications. However, we advise caution when interpreting our safety results due to the different level of reporting strategies in place for MT and medication-induced adverse events. Future MT trials should create and adhere to strict reporting strategies with regards to adverse events to help gain a better understanding on the nature of potential MT-induced adverse events and to ensure patient safety.

Let’s have a look at the primary studies. Here they are with their conclusions (and, where appropriate, my comments in capital letters):

  1. For participants with acute and subacute neck pain, spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) was more effective than medication in both the short and long term. However, a few instructional sessions of home exercise with (HEA) resulted in similar outcomes at most time points. EXERCISE WAS AS EFFECTIVE AS SMT
  2.  Oral ibuprofen (OI) pharmacologic treatment may reduce pain intensity and disability with respect to neural mobilization (MNNM and CLG) in patients with CP during six weeks. Nevertheless, the non-existence of between-groups ROM differences and possible OI adverse effects should be considered. MEDICATION WAS BETTER THAN MT
  3. It appears that both treatment strategies (usual care + MT vs usual care) can have equivalent positive influences on headache complaints. Additional studies with larger study populations are needed to draw firm conclusions. Recommendations to increase patient inflow in primary care trials, such as the use of an extended network of participating physicians and of clinical alert software applications, are discussed. MT DOES NOT IMPROVE OUTCOMES
  4. The consistency of the results provides, in spite of several discussed shortcomings of this pilot study, evidence that in patients with chronic spinal pain syndromes spinal manipulation, if not contraindicated, results in greater improvement than acupuncture and medicine. THIS IS A PILOT STUDY, A TRIAL TESTING FEASIBILITY, NOT EFFECTIVENESS
  5. The consistency of the results provides, despite some discussed shortcomings of this study, evidence that in patients with chronic spinal pain, manipulation, if not contraindicated, results in greater short-term improvement than acupuncture or medication. However, the data do not strongly support the use of only manipulation, only acupuncture, or only nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs for the treatment of chronic spinal pain. The results from this exploratory study need confirmation from future larger studies.
  6. In daily practice, manual therapy is a favorable treatment option for patients with neck pain compared with physical therapy or continued care by a general practitioner.
  7. Short-term results (at 7 weeks) have shown that MT speeded recovery compared with GP care and, to a lesser extent, also compared with PT. In the long-term, GP treatment and PT caught up with MT, and differences between the three treatment groups decreased and lost statistical significance at the 13-week and 52-week follow-up. MT IS NOT SUPERIOR [SAME TRIAL AS No 6]
  8. In this randomized clinical trial, for patients with chronic neck pain, Chuna manual therapy was more effective than usual care in terms of pain and functional recovery at 5 weeks and 1 year after randomization. These results support the need to consider recommending manual therapies as primary care treatments for chronic neck pain.
  9. In patients with chronic spinal pain syndromes, spinal manipulation, if not contraindicated, may be the only treatment modality of the assessed regimens that provides broad and significant long-term benefit. SAME TRIAL AS No 5
  10. An impairment-based manual physical therapy and exercise (MTE) program resulted in clinically and statistically significant short- and long-term improvements in pain, disability, and patient-perceived recovery in patients with mechanical neck pain when compared to a program comprising advice, a mobility exercise, and subtherapeutic ultrasound. THIS STUDY DID NOT TEST MT ALONE AND SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN INCLUDED

I cannot bring myself to characterising this as an overall positive result for MT; anyone who can is guilty of wishful thinking, in my view. The small differences in favor of MT that (some of) the trials report have little to do with the effectiveness of MT itself. They are almost certainly due to the fact that none of these studies were placebo-controlled and double blind (even though this would clearly be possible). In contrast to popping a pill, MT involves extra attention, physical touch, empathy, etc. These factors easily suffice to bring about the small differences that some studies report.

It follows that the main conclusion of the authors of the review should be modified:

There is no compelling evidence to show that MT is more effective for people with neck pain in both short and long-term when compared to patients receiving oral pain medications.

 

Acute tonsillitis, which includes tonsillopharyngitis, is a common condition, particularly in childhood. It is mostly caused by a viral infection. Symptomatic treatment is of high importance. But which treatment is effective and which isn’t?

For this expert consensus, 53 physicians from Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, and Hungary with at least one year of experience in anthroposophic paediatric medicine were invited to participate in an online Delphi process. The process comprised 5 survey rounds starting with open-ended questions and ending with final statements, which need 75% agreement of experts to reach consensus. Expert answers were evaluated by two independent reviewers using MAXQDA and Excel.

Response rate was between 28% and 45%. The developed recommendation included 15 subtopics. These covered clinical, diagnostic, therapeutic and psychosocial aspects of acute tonsillitis. Six subtopics achieved a high consensus (>90%) and nine subtopics achieved consensus (75-90%). The panel felt that AM was an adequate therapy for acute tonsillitis.

The authors of this paper concluded that the clinical recommendation for acute tonsillitis in children aims to simplify everyday patient care and provide decision-making support when considering and prescribing anthroposophic therapies. Moreover, the recommendation makes AM more transparent for physicians, parents, and maybe political stakeholders as well.

I found it hard to decide whether to cry or to laugh while reading this paper.

Experience in anthroposophic paediatric medicine does not make anyone an expert in anything other than BS.

Expert consensus and clinical guidelines are not conducted by assembling a few people who all are in favour of a certain therapy while ignoring the scientific evidence.

AM for acute tonsillitis in children is nonsense, whatever these pseudo-experts claim.

Imagine we run a Delphi process with a few long-standing members of ‘the flat earth society’ and ask them to tell us about the shape of the earth …

…I rest my case.

We all have heard of so-called alternative therapies but few of us are aware of the fact that there are also alternative diagnoses. These are diagnoses used regularly by practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) that have no basis on science, or – to put it simply – that do not exist. They are nonetheless popular with SCAM practitioners and allegedly cause a wide range of non-specific symptoms such as:

  • anxiety,
  • brain fog,
  • constipation,
  • depression,
  • dizziness,
  • fatigue,
  • headaches,
  • heart palpitations,
  • insomnia,
  • irritability,
  • muscle and joint pain,
  • loss of appetite,
  • loss of libido,
  • weight gain.

In this series of posts, I will briefly discuss some of these diagnoses and list the treatments that SCAM practitioners might recommend for them.

Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal fatigue is not the same as adrenal insufficiency or Addison’s disease; it is a term coined by a chiropractor who claimed that the stresses of modern life tire out the adrenal glands. In turn, this phenomenon allegedly leads to generalised weariness.

There is not evidence that this is true, nor that adrenal fatigue even exists. A systematic review of the evidence concluded that “there is no substantiation that adrenal fatigue is an actual medical condition.”

Yet, SCAM practitioners advise to cure adrenal fatigue with a range of dietary supplements (e.g. fish oil, ashwagandha, rhodiola rosea, schisandra and holy basil, licorice, magnesium, various vitamins), special diets, lifestyle adjustments, stress management and many other SCAMs. They all have in common that their effectiveness is not supported by convincing evidence from rigorous clinical trials.

Candidiasis hypersensitivity

Most of us are infected by the fungus Candida albicans without being affected by it in any way. Yet, many SCAM practitioners claim that candidiasis hypersensitivity is a condition that causes symptoms like fatigue, premenstrual tension, gastrointestinal symptoms, and depression and therefore needs treating.

But, candidiasis hypersensitivity does not exist. An RCT concluded that, “in women with presumed candidiasis hypersensitivity syndrome, nystatin does not reduce systemic or psychological symptoms significantly more than placebo.”

This, however, does not stop SCAM practitioners to recommend numerous forms of SCAM to treat the condition, e.g.: dietary supplements containing probiotics, milk thistle, red thyme, barberry, garlic, or external applications of coconut oil, essential oils of peppermint oil, lavender oil, oregano oil,  and tea tree. No sound evidence exists to show that ant of these SCAMs can successfully treat the condition.

Chronic intoxications

Chronic intoxications do ecist, of course. But in the realm of SCAM, they are diagosed for the sole putpose of selling their various  ‘detox’ treatments. The alleged rationale is that our bodies are overloaded with all sorts ot harmful substances, for instance, from the environment, from our food, from modern drugs, or from our own metabolism.

To eliminate them, we need to ‘detox’. For that purpose, SCAM practitioners recommend a very wide range of SCAMs; in fact, it is hardly possible to identify a single form of SCAM that is not said to detoxify our bodies. Yet, for none of them is there compelling evidence that it eliminates toxins from our body. Some of the most popular detox regimen include:

Interim conclusion: non-existing diagnoses are perfect opportunities for SCAM practitioners to rip off gullible patients.

 

The Academy of Homeopathy Education is a US-based accredited teaching institution offering homeopathy education services to professional and medically licensed homeopathy students. This study reports on clinical outcomes from the teaching clinic from 2020 to 2021.

Data were collected using the patient-generated outcome measure, the Measure Yourself Concerns and Wellbeing (MYCaW). Mean MYCaW values for initial and subsequent consultations were analyzed for the degree of change across the intervention period in 38 clients. Each client listed up to two complaints. MYCaW scores between initial and subsequent consultations were analyzed for the degree of change (delta) across the intervention period.

A total of 95 body system-related symptoms were analyzed for change in intensity following the homeopathic intervention. Statistically significant improvements in the intensity of main symptoms were observed between initial and subsequent follow-ups. The main symptom scores showed a mean change in intensity (delta MYCaW) of −0.79 points (95% confidence interval (CI), −1.29 to −0.29; p = 0.003) at first follow-up, a mean change of −1.67 points (95% CI, −2.34 to −0.99; p = 0.001) at second follow-up compared with the initial visit, and a mean change of −1.93 points (95% CI, −3.0 to −0.86; p = 0.008) at third follow-up compared with the initial visit. For clients with four or more follow-ups, the mean delta MYCaW was −1.57 points (95% CI, −2.86 to −0.28; p = 0.039).

The authors concluded that statistically significant improvements as well as some clinically meaningful changes in symptom intensity were found across a diverse group of individuals with a variety of long-term chronic conditions. The improvement was evident across different body systems and different levels of chronicity. There are limitations to the generalizability of the study due to the research design. Further research and investigation are warranted given the promising results of this work.

There are, of course, not just limits to the generalizability of this study! I’d say there are limits to the interpretation of any of its findings.

What was the cause of the improvements?

Here are just a few questions that I asked myself while reading this paper:

  • Are the guys from the Academy of Homeopathy Education not aware of the fact that even chronic conditions often get better by themselves?
  • Have they heard of the placebo effect?
  • Are they trying to tell us that the patients did not also use conventional treatments for their chronic conditions?
  • What about regression towards the mean?
  • What about social desirability?
  • Why do they think that further research is needed?
  • Are these really results that look ‘promising for homeopathy?

To answer just the last question: No, these findings are in perfect agreement with the fact that highly diluted homeopathic remedies are pure placebos (to be honest, they would even be in agreement with such remedies being mildly harmful).

 

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, systemic, polyarticular autoimmune inflammatory disease that destroys the capsule and synovial lining of joints. Antirheumatic treatment reduces disease activity and inflammation, but not all patients respond to treatment. Naturopathy is claimed to be effective, but there is little data on the effect on inflammation and disease activity in RA. The objective of this study was therefore to explore the effect of 12 weeks of integrated naturopathy interventions on disease-specific inflammatory markers and quality of life in RA patients.

A total of 100 RA patients were randomized into two groups:

  • the naturopathy group (integrated naturopathy interventions with routine medical therapy),
  • the control group (only with routine medical therapy).

Blood samples were collected pre- and post-intervention for primary outcome measurements of systemic inflammatory markers (ESR, CRP, and IL-6). Disease activity score (DAS-28) and quality of life were used to assess disease activity and functional status using SF-36, respectively, at pre- and post-intervention time points.

The results show a notable decrease in disease activity after 12 weeks of naturopathy intervention. As such, a significant decrease was found in levels of systemic inflammatory markers such as ESR (p = 0.003) and IL-6 (p < 0.001), RA disease activity score (DAS-28) (p = 0.02), and most of the components of health-related quality of life (SF 36 scores) (p < 0.05) except in vitality (p = 0.06).

The authors conclused that the findings of the present study suggest that integrated naturopathy treatments may have the ability to control persistent inflammation, maintain immune homeostasis, and lower disease activity.

The naturopathic treatments included:

  • acupuncture,
  • hot and cold-water application to the painful joints,
  • sauna baths,
  • enemas,
  • fasting,
  • mud therapy,
  • massage therapy.

The study was designed as an A+B versus B trial. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that subjective endpoints improved. A little more baffling are the changes in objective parameters. These could easily be due to the fasing interventions – there is reasonably sound evidence for such effects. Take this review, for instance:

Fasting is an act of restricting, for a certain length of time, food intake or intake of particular foods, and has been part of religious rituals for centuries. Religions such as Christianity and Islam use this practice as a form of sacrifice, self-discipline, and gratitude. However, in the past decade, fasting has penetrated the mainstream as a diet trend. There are several ways of fasting; existing fast mimicking eating methods promise accelerated weight loss, and many more benefits: lower cholesterol, prevention of type 2 diabetes and a longer lifespan. Even more, it has been proposed that fasting can downregulate the inflammatory process and potentially be used as a treatment regimen for several diseases. Here, we review the effects of fasting on immune and inflammatory pathways. Also, we present current knowledge about the role of fasting in the activity of inflammatory arthritides with a focus on rheumatoid arthritis.

What I am trying to say is this: some modalities used in naturopathy might well be effective in treating certain conditions. In my view, this is, however, no reason for condoning or recommening naturopathy as a whole. Or – to put it bluntly – naturopathy is a weird mixture of pure nonsense and some possibly reasonable interventions.

This study evaluated and compared the effectiveness of Reiki and Qi-gong therapy techniques in improving diabetic patients’ negative emotional states. This quas-experimental research design was carried out at the National Institute of Diabetes and Endocrinology’s Hospital in Cairo, Egypt. It included 200 Type 2 diabetes patients randomized into two equal groups, one for Qigong and one for Reiki techniques. A self-administered questionnaire with a standardized tool (Depression Anxiety Stress Scales [DASS[) was used in data collection. The intervention programs were administered in the form of instructional guidelines through eight sessions for each group.

The results showed that the two study groups had similar socio-demographic characteristics. After implementation of the intervention, most patients in the two groups were having no anxiety, no depression, and no stress. Statistically significant improvements were seen in all three parameters in both groups (p<0.001). The multivariate analysis identified the study intervention as the main statistically significant independent negative predictor of the patients’ scores of anxiety, depression, and stress. Reiki technique was also a statistically significant independent negative predictor of these scores.

The authors conclused that both Reiki and Qi-gong therapy techniques were effective in improving diabetic patients’ negative emotional states of anxiety, depression, and stress, with slight superiority of the Reiki technique. The inclusion of these techniques in the management plans of Type-2 diabetic patients is recommended.

This is an excellent example of how NOT to design a clinical trial!

  • If your aim is to test the efficacy of Reiki, conduct a trial of Reiki versus sham-Reiki.
  • If your aim is to test the efficacy of Qi-gong, conduct a trial of Qi-gong versus sham-Qi-gong.
  • If you compare two therapies in one trial, one has to be of proven and undoubted efficacy.
  • Comparing two treatments of unproven efficacy cannot normally lead to a meaningful result.
  • It is like trying to solve a mathematical equasion with two unknowns.
  • A study that cannot produce a meaningful result is a waste of resorces.
  • It arguably also is a neglect of research ethics.
  • Even if we disregarded all these flaws and problems, recommending therapies for routine use on the basis of one single study is irresponsible nonsense.

All this is truly elementary and should be known by any researcher (not to mention research supervisor). Yet, in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), it needs to be stressed over and over again. The ‘National Institute of Diabetes and Endocrinology’s Hospital in Cairo’ (and all other institutions that produce such shameful pseudoscience) urgently need to get their act together:

you are doing nobody a favour!

Whenever a journalist wants to discuss the subject of acupuncture with me, he or she will inevitably ask one question:

DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK?

It seems a legitimate, obvious and simple question, particularly during ‘Acupuncture Awareness Week‘, and I have heard it hundreds of times. Why then do I hesitate to answer it?

Journalists – like most of us – would like a straight answer, like YES or NO. But straight answers are in short supply, particularly when we are talking about acupuncture.

Let me explain.

Acupuncture is part of ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ (TCM). It is said to re-balance the life forces that determine our health. As such it is seen as a panacea, a treatment for all ills. Therefore, the question, does it work?, ought to be more specific: does it work for pain, obesity, fatigue, hair-loss, addiction, anxiety, ADHA, depression, asthma, old age, etc.etc. As we are dealing with virtually thousands of ills, the question, does it work?, quickly explodes into thousands of more specific questions.

But that’s not all!

The question, does acupuncture work?, assumes that we are talking about one therapy. Yet, there are dozens of different acupuncture traditions and sites:

  • body acupuncture,
  • ear acupuncture,
  • tongue acupuncture,
  • scalp acupuncture,
  • etc., etc.

Then there are dozens of different ways to stimulate acupuncture points:

  • needle acupuncture,
  • electroacupuncture,
  • acupressure,
  • moxibustion,
  • ultrasound acupuncture,
  • laser acupuncture,
  • etc., etc.

And then there are, of course, different acupuncture ‘philosophies’ or cultures:

  • TCM,
  • ‘Western’ acupuncture,
  • Korean acupuncture,
  • Japanese acupuncture,
  • etc., etc.

If we multiply these different options, we surely arrive at thousands of different variations of acupuncture being used for thousands of different conditions.

But this is still not all!

To answer the question, does it work?, we today have easily around 10 000 clinical trials. One might therefore think that, despite the mentioned complexity, we might find several conclusive answers for the more specific questions. But there are very significant obstacles that are in our way:

  • most acupuncture trials are of lousy quality;
  • most were conducted by lousy researchers who merely aim at showing that acupuncture works rather that testing whether it is effective;
  • most originate from China and are published in Chinese which means that most of us cannot access them;
  • they get nevertheless included in many of the systematic reviews that are currently being published without non-Chinese speakers ever being able to scrutinise them;
  • TCM is a hugely important export article for China which means that political influence is abundant;
  • several investigators have noted that virtually 100% of Chinese acupuncture trials report positive results regardless of the condition that is being targeted;
  • it has been reported that about 80% of studies emerging from China are fabricated.

Now, I think you understand why I hesitate every time a journalist asks me:

DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK?

Most journalists do not have the patience to listen to all the complexity this question evokes. Many do not have the intellectual capacity to comprehend an exhaustive reply. But all want to hear a simple and conclusive answer.

So, what do I say in this situation?

Usually, I respond that the answer would depend on who one asks. An acupuncturist is likely to say: YES, OF COURSE, IT DOES! An less biased expert might reply:

IT’S COMPLEX, BUT THE MOST RELIABLE EVIDENCE IS FAR FROM CONVINCING. 

The aim of this study was to establish an international consensus regarding the use of spinal manipulation and mobilisation among infants, children, and adolescents among expert international physiotherapists. Twenty-six international expert physiotherapists in manual therapy and paediatrics voluntarily participated in a 3-Round Delphi survey to reach a consensus via direct electronic mail solicitation using Qualtrics®. Consensus was defined a-priori as ≥75% agreement on all items with the same ranking of agreement or disagreement. Round 1 identified impairments and conditions where spinal mobilisation and manipulation might be utilised. In Rounds 2 and 3, panelists agreed or disagreed using a 4-point Likert scale.

Eleven physiotherapists from seven countries representing five continents completed all three Delphi rounds. Consensus regarding spinal mobilisation or manipulation included:

● Manipulation is not recommended: (1) for infants across all conditions, impairments, and
spinal levels; and (2) for children and adolescents across most conditions and spinal levels.
● Manipulation may be recommended for adolescents to treat spinal region-specific joint
hypomobility (thoracic, lumbar), and pain (thoracic).
● Mobilisation may be recommended for children and adolescents with hypomobility, joint
pain, muscle/myofascial pain, or stiffness at all spinal levels.

The authors of this paper concluded that consensus revealed spinal manipulation should not be performed on infants regardless of condition, impairment, or spinal level. Additionally, the panel agreed that manipulation may be recommended only for adolescents to treat joint pain and joint hypomobility (limited to thoracic and/or lumbar levels). Spinal mobilisation may be recommended for joint hypomobility, joint pain, muscle/myofascial pain, and muscle/myofascial stiffness at all spinal levels among children and adolescents.

Various forms of spinal manipulations are the hallmark therapy of chiropractors. Almost 100% of their patients recieve these interventions. So, what will our friends, the chiros, say about the consensus? Might it be this:

  • Physiotherapists are not the experts on spinal manipulation.
  • Only chiropractors can do them properly.
  • And when WE do them, they are very good*!

 

 

 

(* for our income)

These days, it has become a rare event – I am speaking of me publishing a paper in the peer-reviewed medical literature. But it has just happened: Spanish researchers and I published a meta-analysis on the effectiveness of craniosacral therapy. Here is its abstract:

The aim of this study was to evaluate the clinical effectiveness of craniosacral therapy (CST) in the management of any conditions. Two independent reviewers searched the PubMed, Physiotherapy Evidence Database, Cochrane Library, Web of Science, and Osteopathic Medicine Digital Library databases in August 2023, and extracted data from randomized controlled trials (RCT) evaluating the clinical effectiveness of CST. The PEDro scale and Cochrane Risk of Bias 2 tool were used to assess the potential risk of bias in the included studies. The certainty of the evidence of each outcome variable was determined using GRADEpro. Quantitative synthesis was carried out with RevMan 5.4 software using random effect models.

Fifteen RCTs were included in the qualitative and seven in the quantitative synthesis. For musculoskeletal disorders, the qualitative and quantitative synthesis suggested that CST produces no statistically significant or clinically relevant changes in pain and/or disability/impact in patients with headache disorders, neck pain, low back pain, pelvic girdle pain, or fibromyalgia. For non-musculoskeletal disorders, the qualitative and quantitative synthesis showed that CST was not effective for managing infant colic, preterm infants, cerebral palsy, or visual function deficits.

We concluded that the qualitative and quantitative synthesis of the evidence suggest that CST produces no benefits in any of the musculoskeletal or non-musculoskeletal conditions assessed. Two RCTs suggested statistically significant benefits of CST in children. However, both studies are seriously flawed, and their findings are thus likely to be false positive.

So, CST is not really an effective option for any condition.

Not a big surprise! After all, the assumptions on which CST is based fly in the face of science.

Since CST is nonetheless being used by many healthcare professionals, it is, I feel, important to state and re-state that CST is an implausible intervention that is not supported by clinical evidence. Hopefully then, one day, these practitioners will remember that their ethical obligation is to treat their patients not according to their beliefs but according to the best available evidence. And, hopefully, our modest paper will have helped rendering healthcare a little less irrational and somewhat more effective.

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