Some Parents Swear By It, But Chiropractic Treatment For Kids 'Unsafe And Unwarranted' Says AMA
The president of Victoria's peak medical body has blasted the controversial practice of chiropractic spinal manipulation on children as "unsafe and unwarranted".
It comes as the nation's first review into the practice on children under 12 years old closes its call for submissions.
AMA Victoria President Dr. Julian Rait OAM told 10 daily there was little scientific research to back up chiropractic claims it helped kids, and plenty of evidence to say it could actively harm them.
"There's no evidence that it's appropriate, and we think it's also dangerous, because there have been studies shown that in a developing spine, that manipulation carries some risks to the neurological system," Rait said.
One study, published in the journal of the American Academy of Paediatrics, even found a handful of cases where children suffered brain haemorrhages or paraplegia after undergoing spinal manipulation.
Yet thousands of Australians swear by the practice, with parents happy to take their young children to see the chiropractor for everything from infantile colic to general well-being.
In February, Australians were shocked when Melbourne chiropractor Andrew Arnold posted a video to his Facebook page, showing him manipulating a young baby's back, hips and collarbone.
The practice is not illegal, but Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos described the video as "deeply disturbing". (Arnold was banned by the Chiropractic Board of Australia from treating children.)
It prompted the Andrews government to order a review from Safer Care Victoria into the practice of spinal manipulation, the first stage of which finishes this week.
"We won't rest until babies are protected from practices we know to be harmful, and that we can be sure children under 12 are not being exposed to harm," Mikakas said when the review was launched.
"The risks of spinal manipulations on newborn babies outweigh any benefits, but more needs to be known about children under 12.
"We need a national approach and that may involve changes to the law if necessary."
As an interim measure, the Chiropractic Board of Australia advised chiropractors to not perform spinal manipulations on children under two years of age until the outcomes of the review were made known.
It said this was to "protect the public" and acknowledged there is "no current clinical guideline, or peer-reviewed publication" to guide practitioners in treating infants and young children -- particularly in regards to spinal manipulation.
A spokesperson told 10 daily it was "cooperating fully with the review, including providing access to data and detailed briefings" and awaits the findings, expected later this year.
One Queensland-based chiropractor, Matthew Pope, who has been registered for more than six years, told 10 daily he wouldn't personally manipulate a child under 12 years old, but feels it would be appropriate if there was a "legitimate reason".
Pope said he views chiropractic work as a profession, not a one-off treatment, and views things like massage or rehab advice as being under the chiro umbrella.
"There's so much grey area," he told 10 daily.
"Sometimes the confusion can be where people try to apply chiropractic work as a single intervention, as oppose to a profession."
There are more than 5,400 registered chiropractors in Australia, according to the most recently available data from the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
So why -- largely against medical advice -- do parents take their children to see them?
One mum, Josephine Bitar, told 10 daily she swears by taking her four boys -- ages 16, 14, 11 and 10 -- to a chiropractor once a month, for helping with their growth spurts and keeping their health in check. It costs her around $160 in total.
"It's been good for my boys," she said.
She began taking her youngest son, Marcus, when he was just four years old, after "constant" ear infections didn't appear to be responding to multiple rounds of antibiotics.
After "five or six" sessions with a chiropractor, however, she said the symptoms went away -- and never came back.
"He wasn't waking up in the middle of the night anymore, there were no more fevers, the general cold and flu symptoms subsided," she said.
She said that while she was initially "apprehensive" of chiropractic treatment for children, the practitioner she saw was "very gentle".
"It was nothing like I had thought. As adults, we get a lot of cracking and adjusting, but they do that with children no way near as much. Now, I'm not concerned at all," she said.
However, anecdotal evidence doesn't stand up to scientific studies, Dr. Rait said, adding that ear infections can often go away on their own.
"The trouble with much of chiropractic therapy is it's never been subjected to properly conducted, randomised trials, where the treatment is assessed in an objective way against a control group," he said.
"That's the key to doing things scientifically, so you're actually comparing apples to apples."
Submissions to Safer Care Victoria's review close on Friday, with findings and recommendations expected to be made public by the end of the year.
Mikakos will present the report to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council.
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