By Bianca Nogrady
- Chiropractors Association of Australia says three out of four randomised controlled trials of chiropractic treatment for colic in babies have shown benefits
- Cochrane Collaboration review of six such trials has found studies were too small and of “insufficient quality”
- RACP Paediatric Policy and Advocacy Committee chair says there is no evidence that newborns commonly have problems with spinal symmetry after a vaginal birth
- RACP chair says parents considering treatment should ask about the risks
To first-time parents, handling their newborn child is like holding a tiny creature made of the most delicate porcelain — but is also as floppy as a water balloon, and utterly helpless.
It is a slightly terrifying experience, until you get the hang of it.
So what then are we to make of the chiropractic treatment of newborns, which involves cracking their spine the way you might crack your knuckles?
Spinal realignment in young children is touted as a treatment for infantile conditions such as poor breastfeeding, colic and sleeping troubles.
An online video of such a treatment being applied to a four-day-old baby by Melbourne chiropractor Ian Rossborough (which has since been made private) drew a strong response in Australia and internationally earlier this year. It makes for uncomfortable viewing: there is a loud crack, as the chiropractor pushes his two fingers into the baby’s back.
The treatment was intended to resolve the baby’s persistent crying and colic, and in later statements the chiropractor said the treatment was successful.
Dr Rossborough has since had restrictions placed on his practice.
But is there any truth to claims the process of vaginal birth mean newborns commonly have problems with spinal symmetry that require treatment?
Paediatrician Dr Jacqueline Small said no.
“There’s no evidence that there’s misalignment of the spine in the way that the chiropractors claim there is,” Dr Small said.
A baby sustaining physical trauma during childbirth would not only be highly unusual and rare, but it would also call for management by an appropriate medical specialist, she said.
Dr Small, who is chair of the Royal Australian College of Physicians’ (RACP) Paediatric Policy and Advocacy Committee and a member of the college’s Paediatrics and Child Health Division Council, said in the vast majority of otherwise healthy babies, there was no evidence of misalignment of the spinal cord.
“And there’s no evidence that this is related to any of the symptoms they might experience,” she said.
Addressing ‘imbalances in spinal symmetry’.
Manipulation of the spine is a mainstay of chiropractic therapy, according to the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia. Their website states that “the practice of chiropractic focuses on the relationship between structure (primarily the spine) and function (as coordinated by the nervous system) and how this relationship affects the preservation and restoration of health”.