It is a common misconception that chiropractic for babies is unsafe, and causes pain to the child.
What I plan to do with this article is go through, in detail, the published evidence on the safety and overall effectiveness of chiropractic adjustments in children. The good, the bad, and the ugly!
(I won’t be going into the research indicating the specific conditions chiropractic has been documented to help with – that is for another day).
Adverse Events from Spinal Manipulation
There are a couple of take home points from this first study. Firstly, a lot of these adverse events were in the 50s-70s, and we all know medical knowledge and diagnosis has excelled since then. Secondly, you will notice that many adverse events were by people other than chiropractors, however as a profession we bear the stigma of being unsafe. Thirdly, these articles do not indicate the level of training in paediatric care, or exactly what manipulations were given, and only highlight the need for you to do your research when choosing your baby’s chiropractor. Finally, there are a total of 7 cases of severe adverse events in children – covering chiropractors, physiotherapists and doctors combined! Those odds are pretty good!
Let’s look at the Severe Adverse Effects one by one.
2. 1992 (US) – a chiropractor failed to diagnose a spinal cord astrocytoma (tumour) in a 4 month old baby, and treated it for the congenital torticollis it had. The tumour caused quadriplegia. This is a case of failure to diagnose, or delayed diagnosis. Lesson – make sure you choose a well-trained chiropractor who is able to detect subtle abnormalities.
NB: The chances your baby has a spinal cord tumour is very rare. They occur with an incidence of 0.8 to 2.5 cases per 100,000 per year. The average age at diagnosis is between 35 and 40 years.
3. 1983 (Canada) – a 12 year old girl had reported paraplegia 2 WEEKS after a chiropractic adjustment. It was not mentioned what kind of adjustment was given. This girl also had a medical diagnosis of osteogenesis imperfecta (a bone disease that makes their bones very easy to break). Once again, this highlights the need for a well-trained chiropractor.
4. 1978 (US) – a 7 year old boy with headaches had spinal manipulations by a chiropractor, and a few hours after treatment had a severe headache, vomiting, facial weakness, and off-balance walking. The treatment was described as “rapid manual rotations of the head” – and poses the same questions – why was he using this force in a child? Was he trained in paediatrics?
5. 1969 (France) – three cases of neck bone (C1 and/or C2) dislocation – one by a chiropractor (18 year old patient) and the other two by unknown practitioners (5 and 6 year old patients). The style of manipulation was not reported and would be the primary concern in these cases.
6. 1966 (France) – a medical doctor performed a cervical spine examination on a 12 year old boy with recent minor head trauma, which lead to respiratory distress and the need for a tracheotomy. The doctor did not even manipulate the spine, he merely assessed the neck. This could have happened if the boy turned his head all by himself.
7. 1959 (US) – a chiropractor adjusted the head and neck of a 12 year old girl for torticollis. 6 days later, she was in hospital because of neck pain, poor coordination and drowsiness. There was a delayed diagnosis of congenital occipitalisation (she was born with neck vertebrae fused together). A case of delayed diagnosis, and a question of the level of training – particularly since this occurred in the late 50s.
So there you have it. The worst events caused by spinal manipulation. The common concerns being – delayed diagnosis of underlying conditions, questions about their level of training, and questions about the kind of treatment/manipulation provided. And most importantly, there are 7 adverse events reported, in the history of chiropractic!
Let’s move on to moderate and minor adverse reactions. These are likely to be under-reported, generally because they are mild to moderate in nature.
Moderate Adverse Events
Minor Adverse Effects
2. 1996 (Denmark) – a 10 year old patient fainted after the base of her neck (where it attaches to the shoulders) was adjusted by a chiropractor.
Another Study on Chiropractic Safety:
In 2008, a retrospective study was performed, assessing the adverse effects of spinal manipulation in children younger than 3 years. Miller JE and Benfield K(2008). “Adverse Effects of Spinal Manipulative Therapy in Children Younger Than 3 Years: A Retrospective Study in a Chiropractic Teaching Clinic.” Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics 31(6): 419-423.
- Six hundred ninety-seven children received a total of 5242 chiropractic treatments, with 85% of parents reporting an improvement.
- Seven parents reported an adverse effect. There was a reaction rate of approximately 1 child in 100, or one reaction reported for every 749 treatments.
- There were no serious complications resulting from chiropractic treatment (reactions lasting >24 hours or severe enough to require hospital care).
Conclusions from a 2014 study by chiropractor A.Todd and colleagues found:
Did a Chiropractor Cause a Baby’s Broken Neck?
In September 2013, it was reported in the media that a chiropractor broke a baby’s neck.
”Another few millimetres and there would have been a devastating spinal cord injury and the baby would have either died or had severe neurological impairment with quadriplegia,” he said.”
Once full investigations were underway, the chiropractor was cleared of any wrong-doing.
The Chiropractic Association of Australia media release in October stating this result was much less publicised, but very important. The following is an Excerpt From: 16 October, 2013 – CAA Media Release.
Chiropractor Cleared: Allegation of Neck ‘Break’ Wrong
AHPRA Expert Report Says Baby’s Neck Not Broken To Begin With.
The baby had a condition known as congenital spondylolysis, a malformation of the spine and it can run in families. The father of the baby had a similar congenital condition. The congenital condition is rare but it can be confused with “hangman’s fracture.”
The AHPRA commissioned independent expert found in any event: the Chiropractor did not apply sufficient force to cause a fracture.
Just for fun, let’s put this risk into perspective!
If you give your child ibuprofen:
If you use common variety sunscreen on your child:
If you use a pram:
Well, is chiropractic safe?
It is safe to conclude that the risk of your baby being hurt or seriously injured by a chiropractor is extremely low. If you take into consideration how much training your chiropractor has had, as well as how gentle they are with your child, the risks reduce even further. Relative to our day-to-day activities, chiropractic is equally as safe, if not more.
Will a chiropractic adjustment hurt my baby?
Have these questions and more answered in my FAQ section.
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