When Dustin Judd, a family chiropractor in Corsicana, Texas, posted a video of him using a vibracussor, a tool used in spinal adjustment, to soothe a colicky baby, the response went viral. The baby was only six days old. The caption on the TikTok video, which was viewed 1.2 million times, said the baby “got his 1st adjustment and loved it.” Not all the viewers loved it, however.
Some people — including pediatricians ─ were horrified watching Judd adjust the infant while others said their children received similar treatment for conditions like colic, constipation, and reflux.
“Moms burp their babies with more pressure than this,” said one viewer. “You guys are overreacting.”
According to The Washington Post, the evidence that chiropractic care can soothe babies is scant. But chiropractors say treatments for infants and toddlers are safe and gentle unlike the stronger adjustments given to adults.
But physicians worry that the popularization of infant chiropractic care in social media may prompt harmful treatments in the wrong hands with non-professionals trying to emulate the moves. Babies’ bones are softer, say doctors, making them more malleable under pressure, and joints are looser, making them prone to overstretching.
Dr. Sean Tabaie, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C, says his colleagues are shocked when he sends them Instagram or TikTok videos of infants receiving chiropractic care.
“Ultimately, there is no way you’re going to get an improvement in a newborn from manipulation,” Tabaie said, according to the Post. “The only thing you might possibly cause is harm.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not have an official policy on pediatric chiropractic care, but a 2017 report on alternative therapies stated “high-quality evidence” is lacking for spinal manipulation in infants and children for problems not caused by muscle or skeletal issues.
A 2021 study conducted in Denmark found that in a clinical trial with 185 colicky babies, applying light pressure on their spine and neck, wherever movement appeared to be constricted, seemed to soothe them slightly, but not significantly. A new study of 58 colicky babies in Spain found that babies given “light touch manual therapy” cried significantly less than those who received no treatment. But this trial was not double-blinded so parents knew if their infants were receiving treatment of not, which can skew the results.
However, parents who take their babies to a chiropractor believe in the effectiveness of treatment, says a 2019 article published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. An impressive 82% of 2,000 mothers polled in the U.K. reported a “definite improvement” in their children.
Judd points out that his pediatric adjustments are not covered by insurance, so parents pay out of pocket. If his treatments didn’t work, people would not pay the money, he says.
“I’m not people’s first stop. They’ve been to the pediatrician,” he adds.
The American Chiropractic Association’s (ACA) Council on Chiropractic Pediatrics states that “children are more than just little grown-ups. Physically, they are different — their bones are mostly made of cartilage, their ligaments are more flexible, and their joints are more hypermobile.” The Council encourages chiropractors to further their education on how to effectively treat children “toward a healthier tomorrow.”
But the ACA acknowledges that while treatments for children are safe and effective, more research is needed, says the Post.
“We still haven’t been able to demonstrate in the research the effectiveness that we’ve seen clinically,” said Jennifer Brocker, a chiropractor in Portland, Ore., and the president of the ACA’s Council on Chiropractic Pediatrics. “We can’t really say for sure what’s happening. But what we do know, clinically, what we’re doing is effective because we see a change in the symptoms of the child.”
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