Baby lucky to survive fractured vertebrae during chiropractic treatment

According to the Sydney Morning Herald (Sept 29, 2013) a four month old baby in Australia narrowly survived a fractured vertebrae.

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.

It seems like there might be a bit of a scandal brewing down under over this and other Chiro practices.

The injury was reported to the Chiropractic Board of Australia, which closed the case without reporting it to the public and allowed the chiropractor to keep practising as long as they undertook education with an ”expert in the field of paediatric chiropractic”.

The Sun-Herald has also seen evidence that chiropractors have been entering Sydney hospitals, including neo-natal intensive care wards and surgical wards, to treat patients without the required permission.

NSW Health has warned that any chiropractor working in a hospital without permission could put patients at risk, while the Australian Medical Association NSW says the behaviour is “outrageous”.

According to Doubtful News, chiropractic adjustment of infants produces no benefits and carries great risks. They also point to a closed Facebook group in which some Australian chiropractors defend unauthorized practice in hospitals. Doubtful News says this:

Just a reminder, chiropractic is based on the idea that ”subluxations“, a misalignment of the spine that allegedly interferes with nerve signals from the brain are the cause of most illnesses. After decades of modern medical science, this theory has no supporting scientific evidenceTheir “subluxations” don’t show up on x-rays. That’s a HUGE red flag to show that the foundation of chiropractic is nonsense and should be disregarded as well as the practices that stem from it. We also see significant evidence that chiropractors not only promote their own pseudoscience but support other nonsense such as anti-vax and homeopathy.

I don’t pretend to be an expert, but there is often a difference between various conditions medical doctors identify as subluxations (and then treat) and use of the term by chiropractors in reference to misalignments of the spine. Here in the Lethbridge area, Harper Chiropractic in Coaldale says this (bold added by yours truly):

 These subluxations are caused by physical, chemical and mental stress. Research shows that such subluxations are commonly caused as early as birth and can continue throughout one’s lifetime. Only Doctors of Chiropractic are trained to locate and correct vertebral subluxations.

That is a pretty bold statement given the amount that mainstream medical science knows about the body! So, are these vertabral subluxations a real thing or are they an invented condition to sell a remedy? According to Stephen Barrett in an article on Quackwatch, there is some disagreement among chiropractors about whether subluxations are detectable by x-rays.

“Straight” chiropractors tend to believe that they cause nerve interference, are readily visible, and that virtually everyone gets them. Most other chiropractors (commonly referred to as “mixers”) define subluxations loosely and see them when it suits their convenience. Chiropractors who reject subluxation theory consider them invisible but have been forced to acknowledge them to get paid by Medicare. When a respected chiropractic researcher was asked whether he had ever seen a subluxation on an x-ray film, he smiled and jokingly replied, “With my eyes closed.” (referring to Weiss R. “Bones of contention”. Health 7(4): 44-53, 1993.)

Samuel Homola in Skeptical Inquirer (2010), asks “Should Chiropractors Treat Children?” and writes that treatment of “cerebral palsy, epilepsy, myasthenia gravis, uveitis, ADHD, and Tourette’s syndrome” by correcting subluxations is sometimes recommended. He adds:

Considering the damage that manipulation might do to cartilaginous growth centers, there is no known justification for using spinal manipulation on an infant or a preadolescent child. Yet, many chiropractors recommend that the spine of a newborn baby be adjusted at birth to correct subluxations. According to the ICA Council on Chiropractic Pediatrics, “chiropractic care can never start too early” (ICA Home 2009).

A little later he writes:

Of all the claims made by chiropractors, I regard the claims made by those who treat children to be the most problematic. I have always advised against manipulating the spine of a small child or a newborn baby for any reason. Manipulation of the spine of an adolescent child under the age of eighteen should be done in concert with an evaluation and a diagnosis provided by an orthopedist, preferably a pediatric orthopedic specialist. Caring for children is very different from caring for adults and requires a special expertise. Board-certified medical and osteopathic pediatricians are best qualified to provide appropriate care based on a correct diagnosis.

Some Lethbridge area practitioners emphasize the treatment of young children. And while I do have a problem with many aspects of chiropractic ideas, I don’t want to tar all with the same brush, but some around town don’t seem to inspire any confidence in their medical knowledge. Able Body Health Clinic  “specializes” in treating children.

Chiropractors have long advocated that children should have their spines examined as early as possible after birth to diagnose and correct vertebral subluxation… This condition causes interference to the nervous system and disrupts normal transmission of nerve energy to the tissues of the body.

There seems to be lot of Chiropractic emphasis in treating subluxations caused by birth and what some call “traumatic birth syndrome.” Birth is apparently important. Indeed, one pro-chiro site says, “Birth is a normal, natural process that’s been around since almost the beginning of humanity” (emphasis added). They leave unexplained how pre-birth humans got into the world.

Anyway, the aforementioned Harper Chiropractic also claims that they can help infertile women make babies. While they appeal to science and research on their site, they hardly seem in step with real science at all. They say that their sitelinks to some of the best health sites on the internet“. There are, in fact, only six sites listed, one is to the online store of a “natural health center”. Another leads to America’s most trusted “wellness” doctor (a claim made by the doctor) and his online store. Most chilling are the final two links, both to anti-vaccine sites.

Parascak Family Chiropractic in Lethbridge write on their Facebook page:

Now let’s see, why should every newborn baby be checked for vertebral subluxations (or whatever you want to label them). A picture is worth a 1,000 words!!!

Get your kids checked by your local CHIROPRACTOR!

Photo by Chiropractic Journal, found at

Parascak also has a link to an anti-vaccine poster.

What bothers me the most about the fiddle-with-a-baby’s-back rhetoric is the claim to special knowledge about a condition that should be detectable by specialized equipment available to paediatricians, and the unique ability to cure it. It smacks of marketing a problem to sell a cure. In my opinion, treatment of infants should be done with consultation with specialists, and I’m not sure that chiropractors typically qualify as “specialists” in the care of infants. Now, I’m certain that this is not representative of all Chiropractors, but when claims to heal babies of elusive problems are mixed with pseudo-medical rubbish like anti-vaccination or when advertisements for commercial operations are marked as the ‘best’ health advice, I think there is a serious problem.



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