Is Chiropractic Safe for Babies and Children?

Is chiropractic safe for my baby or my child? Is chiropractic safe during pregnancy?
The biggest concern parents have about taking their baby to the chiropractor is whether it is safe or not. In fact, this fear prevents a lot of parents from taking their baby for a check-up.
It is a common misconception that chiropractic for babies is unsafe, and causes pain to the child.
The most common comment I receive from parents after their first consultation is “That was the most thorough exam anyone has ever done,” and after watching their child’s first chiropractic treatment they say “Oh, was that it? I was expecting much worse” – some even ask “Have you done it already?!”

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). 

chiropractic baby spine

Adverse Events from Spinal Manipulation

In 2007, the journal Pediatrics published a review article of the adverse effects after spinal manipulation. They looked back at any article that reported an adverse reaction to manipulation – by chiropractors, physiotherapists, and medical doctors. Vohra, S., B. C. Johnston, et al. (2007). “Adverse Events Associated With Pediatric Spinal Manipulation: A Systematic Review.” Pediatrics 119(1): e275-283.

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!

chiropractor for babies safety

Let’s look at the Severe Adverse Effects one by one. 

1.    2001 (Germany) – a physiotherapist caused immediate death in a 3 month old baby. The technique involved several “strong rotation and reclination” movements to the neck, arm and thigh. The question in this case is WHY were they using such aggressive ways to manipulate a baby?

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

1.    1991 (Australia) – final year chiropractic students caused some paediatric patients aged 4-15 years to have headaches, a stiff neck, and some low back pain after spinal manipulation.

Minor Adverse Effects

1.    1999 (US) – chiropractors caused some midback soreness and irritability in children aged 6 months to 6 years, after spinal manipulation. One failed to diagnose a chronic ear infection. 

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. 

baby chiropractic colic

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.
Here is what was found: 
  • 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:

Published cases of serious adverse events in infants and children receiving chiropractic, osteopathic, physiotherapy, or manual medical therapy are rare. The 3 deaths that have been reported were associated with various manual therapists; however, no deaths associated with chiropractic care were found in the literature to date. Because underlying preexisting pathology was associated in a majority of reported cases, performing a thorough history and examination to exclude anatomical or neurologic anomalies before applying any manual therapy may further reduce adverse events across all manual therapy professions. (J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2014)
So from all the research, you can see that the serious adverse events in babies and children from all manual therapies have been due to improper history and examination. By choosing a chiropractor who has done postgraduate training in paediatrics, you are minimising the risk to your child. Baby chiropractor history and examinations are specifically designed for your child’s safety. Chiropractors want to help you raise healthy children. 

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. 

This is what was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald: “Melbourne paediatrician Chris Pappas cared for a four-month-old baby last year after one of her vertebrae was fractured during a chiropractic treatment for torticollis – an abnormal neck position that is usually harmless. He said the infant was lucky to make a full recovery.”
”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.

As reported in the Australian today, an earlier story by Sunday papers that a Chiropractor broke the neck of a baby was wrong. National President of the CAA, Dr Laurie Tassell (Chiropractor) said, “The Chiropractor could not and did not cause an injury to the child.”
The Australian has uncovered the expert report commissioned by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and the report shows the baby did not have a broken neck in the first place.  
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:

Kidney toxicity is found in 0.2-0.4% of children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis who take ibuprofen. 2-5% of children with asthma have NSAID-induced bronchospasm.

If you use common variety sunscreen on your child:

Allergy – usually in the form of dermatitis and light sensitivity – occurs in 1%

If you use a pram:

The annual rate of injury among children <1 year old was 184.4 per 100 000. Seventy-six percent of injuries resulted from a fall from the stroller.

Is baby chiropractic safe?


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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