While the majority of research on chiropractic treatment focuses on adults with musculoskeletal conditions like neck and back pain, there is an emerging body of work on the benefits of gentle chiropractic care for the pediatric population, which makes up around .5% to 4% of most chiropractic practices. What does the current research say about gentle hands-on care for the youngest pediatric patient population?
Babies who are born pre-term or are ill and need around-the-clock care are often admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). In an article published in the journal Medicines, the authors reviewed data concerning the use of manual therapy techniques like soft tissue manipulation, balanced ligamentous tension, myofascial release, and cranial manipulation on outcomes for NICU patients. Researchers found that the application of these gentle techniques in addition to usual care sped up recovery and reduced NICU stays, which also lowered overall healthcare costs. Moreover, adjunctive manual therapies improved latching, suckling, swallowing, and breathing in these infants while reducing regurgitation, vomiting, milky bilious, bloody discharge, constipation, and complications from acquired pneumonia.
A systematic review that included ten studies looked at the benefits for manual therapies on two conditions that may present early on in a child’s life: congenital torticollis and positional plagiocephaly. Congenital torticollis is a condition characterized by abnormal, asymmetric position of the head and neck, likely caused by birth trauma and/or intrauterine faulty positioning pre-delivery. Positional plagiocephaly describes flattening of the baby’s head on one side. For both conditions, there’s evidence that gentle manual therapies and stretches can improve outcomes when added to usual care. Other conditions that may cause a parent to bring their young child to the chiropractor—often due to unsatisfactory results from usual care—include colic/irritability, motor development issues, gastrointestinal problems, sleeping difficulty, jaw/temporomandibular joint issues, and gait/walking problems.
Researchers who have looked at data on the use of manual therapies to manage many pediatric conditions note that while further research is certainly needed before guidelines can be updated, manual therapies can provide a safe, clinically effective, and cost-effective option, especially when other approaches have failed to yield satisfactory results. Many doctors of chiropractic take post-graduate courses on treating pediatric patients, though some may prefer to refer out children to peers who specialize in caring for the younger patients.