Based on these findings, researchers concluded that a pediatric chiropractor can improve young patients’ quality of life
When people think of chiropractic, they often picture an adult patient. This is reasonable given that one review of 337 articles revealed that the median age of people who utilize chiropractic services is 43.4 years. But a pediatric chiropractor, specifically trained to care for children of all ages, sees numerous patients throughout the year. In fact, a 2017 survey showed roughly two million children were treated by chiropractors in 2017.
In a Statement on Pediatric Chiropractic Care, the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) affirms that evaluating, diagnosing, and caring for pediatric patients is within this field’s scope of practice. And if you look at the research, you’ll find that chiropractic offers this demographic several potential benefits.
Is a pediatric chiropractor safe?
In the ACA’s Statement on Pediatric Chiropractic Care, it cites a couple of different studies that either found no serious adverse effects in infants and children who received chiropractic or reported that such effects were “exceedingly rare.”
The ACA adds that, since malpractice insurance rates are the same for practitioners caring for pediatric patients as those with adult patients, this further suggests that treating minors does not come with an increased level of risk.
“For more than 15 years I have been treating children with chiropractic care and seeing the chiropractic benefits for children firsthand,” wrote Allison Harvey, DC, on how a pediatric chiropractor can save lives, for Chiropractic Economics. “I’m currently a senior clinician and assistant professor of pediatrics and manage trimester 8-10 students in the pediatric rotation, one of the most coveted and competitive clinical rotations.”
Chiropractic benefits for infants and children
Kids often face unique health challenges when compared to adults. Here are a few conditions that can be positively affected by chiropractic care, along with the studies behind them.
- Colic. A 2021 single-blind randomized controlled trial involved infants between the ages of two and 14 weeks that had unexplained excessive crying consistent with infantile colic. Some of the infants received chiropractic and the rest served as a control. After two sessions per week for two weeks, infants in the treatment group cried a half-hour less per day than infants in the control. For almost two-thirds (63%) of the treatment infants, their time crying was reduced by one hour daily.
- Pulled elbow. Also called nursemaid’s elbow, pulled elbow is common in children aged one to four. In this condition, the child has a radial head subluxation which can occur when the child extends a pronated arm and the arm is pulled suddenly, or it may be due to axial traction. A 2019 systematic review indicates that chiropractic offers a moderate-positive effect on pulled elbow in patients under the age of 18.
- Low back pain. The 2019 systematic review mentioned above also found moderate-positive results for pediatric patients experiencing low back pain. This is important because another 2019 systematic review found that 16-37% of children and adolescents experience fluctuating low back pain, with between 1-10% of this population reporting repeated pain in their lower back.
- Lumbar hyperlordosis. A 2022 case report involved an 11-year-old female with confirmed lumbar hyperlordosis. After 57 chiropractic treatments over 11 months — which included spinal traction, spinal manipulative therapy, and corrective exercises — L1-L5 lordosis decreased by 13.4 degrees, sacral base angle decreased by 11.8 degrees, and anterior thoracic translation reduced by 13.8 mm. This resulted in the improvement of symptoms, some of which were related to pain in the lower back, hip, and lower leg joints, along with extremity weakness.
The usual chiropractic adjustment techniques don’t apply to babies and children, as pediatric care is a specialty all its own.
“Kid’s spines are different than ours. They’re softer; they adjust more easily,” said American Chiropractic Association Council on Chiropractic Pediatrics President Elise Hewitt, DC, CST, DICCP, FICC, a board-certified pediatric chiropractor. “You use 90% less force on babies and young children. The maneuver is quick, soft, and light.”
Adjustments on babies can also help with excessive crying.
“In newborns, spinal problems can be the cause of excessive crying,” writes Tessa Haanstra for The Pipe Chiropractic. “But why would something be wrong with a baby’s spinal joints? The answer is: birth. The birth process can be traumatic to a baby’s spine, especially the neck. During a natural birth the baby is under pressure from contractions and the mother’s pushing. This pressure increases if it’s a very fast or slow birth, and when the birthing position is less than ideal. The most natural way to give birth is to squat, but a lot of women give birth lying down. This decreases the pelvic opening and increases the pressure on the baby’s neck. Interventions like a C-section, or a forceps or vacuum-assisted delivery further increases the forces on the spine. Chiropractic care for babies is very gentle and safe, and it’s a good option if your general practitioner or pediatrician can’t find a cause for your baby’s crying.”
Chiropractic offers minor patients a higher quality of life
A pediatric chiropractor doesn’t just help improve certain pediatric health conditions and their related symptoms. They can also improve the child’s quality of life.
A 2018 survey looked at 881 parent-child sets, with the children ranging in age from 8-17 years. A majority of the time, the parents presented their children for chiropractic as a form of wellness care.
After controlling for certain factors and motivations, it was noted that the kids who engaged in chiropractic care were less likely to report depression and anxiety symptoms, fatigue, or pain interference. Based on these findings, researchers concluded that a pediatric chiropractor can improve young patients’ quality of life.
Chiropractic benefits to parents
Another study looked at chiropractic treatment outcomes as they relate to the parents. This piece of research involved mothers of children over the age of one.
After two weeks of their children receiving chiropractic care, these mothers reported that their levels of distress reduced by 48%. Their perceived difficulty in consoling their child (such as due to excessive crying) also reduced by 38%.
When these parents were asked to rate their level of satisfaction with chiropractic on a scale of 1-10, 96.3% gave this treatment a rating of eight or higher.
Sarah Monson is a mother and former chiropractic skeptic who blogs for the Rochester Mom website. She unsuccessfully “tried everything” for her crying baby before seeing a local chiropractor who, to her surprise, successfully treated her “colicky baby” issue.
“Now, both my husband and I are firm believers in the benefit of chiropractic care,” she wrote. “Babies can’t lie. The drastic change in my son’s behavior told us that something in his little body was not working properly and the chiropractor helped to fix it. We’ve had two other children since, and both have made a visit to the chiropractor shortly after birth. I think our middle child was a mere three days old.”
As noted by Christopher Kent, DC, JD, director of Evidence-Informed Curriculum and Practice, Sherman College of Chiropractic, “Misalignments in the spine may result from the birth process, falls, tumbles and stresses of childhood, resulting in interference with proper function of the nerve system. These are called vertebral subluxations. Doctors of chiropractic recognize the importance of locating and gently correcting vertebral subluxations so that the body may function at its best … For more than 100 years, doctors of chiropractic have been providing safe, effective care for infants and children.”