Chiropractic treatment of childhood ear infections – and the inability of a profession to reform

Chiropractic treatment of childhood ear infections – and the inability of a profession to reform

In 2010, we published an investigation of 200 chiropractor websites and 9 chiropractic associations’ World Wide Web claims in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The outcome measure was claims (either direct or indirect) regarding the eight reviewed conditions, made in the context of chiropractic treatment.

We found evidence that 190 (95%) chiropractor websites made unsubstantiated claims regarding at least one of the conditions. When colic and infant colic data were collapsed into one heading, there was evidence that 76 (38%) chiropractor websites made unsubstantiated claims about all the conditions not supported by sound evidence. Fifty-six (28%) websites and 4 of the 9 (44%) associations made claims about lower back pain, whereas 179 (90%) websites and all 9 associations made unsubstantiated claims about headache/migraine. Unsubstantiated claims were made about asthma, ear infection/earache/otitis media, neck pain.

At the time, we concluded that the majority of chiropractors and their associations in the English-speaking world seem to make therapeutic claims that are not supported by sound evidence, whilst only 28% of chiropractor websites promote lower back pain, which is supported by some evidence. We suggest the ubiquity of the unsubstantiated claims constitutes an ethical and public health issue.

Have things changed since?

I fear not! I regularly come across websites of chiropractors where they happily make bogus claims. On this website, for instance, chiropractor Karen Smith claims that muscles in the upper neck affect the ear canals. “We don’t actually treat the ear infection, or the symptoms. What we do is, we assist the body’s natural healing ability,” says Smith. “So if there’s something going on with the joints and the muscles soft tissue, the nerves coming out that supply those muscles, those muscles can’t relax, so then they’re almost tight and in spasm, so that can’t allow the drainage to happen properly.”

When fluid builds up in the ears, it’s a breeding ground for bacteria and infection. Smith says specific, gentle adjustments, can help the body drain those fluids through the nose. “What we do is we get some motion in the upper neck, with my hands, or I might use an instrument as well,” says Smith. “There’s a few other techniques that we can do. We can do some sinus drainage. We can drain some of the fluid in the ear.”

A simple ear pull technique can also help. “So what we do is, we just take the ear of the child and we do a little pull and that can actually drain the fluid as well,” says Smith. Smith says a child’s overall health and immune system impacts how quickly they see results from the treatment. In some cases, relief can be instant. “What we notice right after an adjustment is a lot of times you’ll actually see the fluid drain through the nose,” says Smith… Smith says she also treats adults who have had chronic ear issues as a child or who are experiencing pain in the ear.

When I or others expose such nonsense, the apologists say that these are just a few ‘rotten apples’, and that the chiropractic profession is fast progressing. Yet, I very much doubt this claim. For any fast progression, one would want to see the profession taking decisive and effective action against the ‘rotten apples’. This is clearly not happening, at least not to an extend that would stop such dangerous quackery.

What practical lesson can be learnt from such insights?

The only responsible advice I can think of is this: IF YOU OR YOUR CHILD IS ILL, AVOID CONSULTING A CHIROPRACTOR.

10 Responses to Chiropractic treatment of childhood ear infections – and the inability of a profession to reform

The problem of course is that they are too terrified to actually test things objectively, lest the entire house of cards fall down around their ears. So, like homeopathy, they have no mechanism for discarding false belief, and disagreement leads to schism not to shared and better understanding.

The only rational way for chiropractors who wish to treat non-musculo skeletal injuries and diseases to reform is for them to train and qualify as doctors (GMC registration as registered medical practitioner (RMPs) or MD in the US).
Then we would not be having these issues.

MB, BS/MD qualifications and registration systems were devised precisely to protect the public from unqualified medical practitioners. Just what is the problem with that?

‘Chiropractic’ as a ‘profession’ cannot reform without abandoning the sense of what it is that chiropractic represents – a belief system, a faith, that animal diseases and illnesses are caused by imbalance of and obstruction to the free flow of ‘innate’ – an internal ‘vital spirit’. i.e. ‘Vitalism’ – and that benefit may be derived from adjusting ‘subluxations of the vertebrae’.

Scientific evidence-based ‘Medicine’ as practiced by RMPs has found no evidence to support these notions, and does not recognise those who do as being able to make any substantial contribution to human health other than for some local MSK conditions.

My advice to a parent with an ill child needing attention is this: “Consult a registered medical practitioner.”
Why would any conscientious parent not do so?
(‘Real Secrets of Alternative Medicine’, from Amazon. Chapter 11).

@ Richard

Do you think chiropractic is defined by its theory (as you described above) or by its use of spinal manipulation?

Off this subject a little but -I only just discovered it.imagine that many followers of this blog know the story of the University of Wollongong doing its best to shatter its reputation by accepting in January a PhD thesis from an anti-vax fanatic called Judy Wilyman, who is associated with the Anti-Vaccination Network. And the attempts by her thesis advisor to accuse critics of ‘hysteria’ and of attempting to suppress academic freedom, and – the cheek of it – accusations that opponents of AVN are making unsupported claims. Oh, and of course there are the claims of ‘verbal abuse’, which in my experience usually mean ‘criticism’. I’ve been accused several times of being in the pay of Big Pharma -daft – but the woman Wilyman plumbs the depths-even for people of her type- by claiming that the parents of a child who died of whooping cough had maybe been paid to use their daughter’s death in order to promote vaccine. I would say to people who occasionally accuse opponents-on this site and others-of ‘bad manners’ that this would seem to be a case of VERY bad manners indeed.

Considering that the full aphorism is “A few rotten apples spoil the bunch,” you should thank those quacks for agreeing with you.

“For any fast progression, one would want to see the profession taking decisive and effective action against the ‘rotten apples’. This is clearly not happening, at least not to an extend that would stop such dangerous quackery.”
@Guy Chapman
Have to agree as well! I have had many similar conversations on chiropractic forums. Subluxationists fear research and fear change! If I go on a vitalist forum and question the faith I get blocked! Never been blocked on critical sites like this one which says volumes! Vitalists talk about keeping chiropractic “separate and distinct” to which a chiropractor replied “Separate and extinct”! Nailed it! Change and reform are necessary and they see this as a threat! Ultimately it has reached the point where reform will have to be shoved down their throats!

Critical_Chiro wrote: “Ultimately it has reached the point where reform will have to be shoved down their throats!”

Good luck with that. Some chiropractors think they can have it both ways…

“The chiropractic profession is at a critical juncture…When asked about schisms and apparent contradictions, my answer is simple: “Some chiropractors specialize in caring for patients with musculoskeletal problems. Others focus on wellness and quality-of-life issues. Our unique contribution is the adjustment of vertebral subluxations, which disturb the function of the nervous system.” …The question we must ask is, “Can other points of view be accommodated without compromising my constituent’s interests?” There will be contentious moments, and raised eyebrows and voices. The process will not be easy or painless. Yet the alternative remains unacceptable… True unity will occur naturally when common core values are defined and embraced. We’ve taken a few baby steps in this direction, such as adopting the ACC Paradigm. We still have a way to go…Legislation can be crafted that provides for the needs of chiropractors specializing in neuromusculoskeletal disorders, and chiropractors who offer subluxation-based wellness care. In fact, I have heard of patients who have two chiropractors; one to treat an injury and one for wellness care.”

Kent is pleading for “Unity with Diversity” like the CAA here! They are essentially saying don’t hold us accountable! Aint going to happen Christopher Kent old boy! The level of accountability and oversight is only going UP! Accept it, embrace it or go the way of the dinosaurs!
National standards and registration make reform inevitable here which scares the crap out of the vitalists! The dogs breakfast of state based standards makes it nigh on impossible in the USA. What is the situation in the UK Blue?

The situation in the UK is that anything goes – i.e. the legislative framework for the practice of chiropractic in the UK does not specify the style or the scope of practice. This has resulted in quackery running rampant for decades.

For example, although the UK chiropractors’ Code of Practice requires that the care they select and provide “must be informed by the best available evidence”, their regulator, the General Chiropractic Council, has declared that (quackery such as) craniosacral therapy and applied kinesiology both fall within its definition of evidence-based care.

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Author: topline

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