Hands on baby's back

Chiropractic Treatment

Chiropractic treatment is a popular and established form of alternative medicine that uses spinal manipulation to increase joint mobility and the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which protects the brain and spinal cord and supplies nutrients to tissues in the nervous system. Anecdotal reports and clinical research have shown it to be a promising treatment for children with sensory processing symptoms, including children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), ADHD and apraxia.

“Chiropractic” is derived from the Greek words cheir (“hand”) and praktos (“done”), i.e., “done by hand.” Daniel David (“D.D.”) Palmer invented the discipline in the 1890s in Davenport, Iowa. Palmer was a magnetic healer (a form of alternative medicine that subjects parts of the body to magnetic fields) and incorporated the folk medicine practice of bonesetting to develop his methods of spinal manipulation. Palmer’s son, B.J., popularized the treatment, and by the 1930s thirty-nine states had licensed chiropractors.

Today, the American Chiropractic Association estimates that 22 million Americans seek chiropractic care annually. Chiropractors often work in tandem with conventional medicine providers and may incorporate other forms of complementary and alternative medicine, such as acupuncture and ice therapy. Chiropractic care is routinely covered by medical insurance.

Possible Uses

Given chiropractic care’s focus on the health of the nervous system, it’s no wonder many chiropractors have specialized in using the techniques to address developmental brain health in children.

Chiropractic neurology is a subspecialty that requires training additional to the four years of specialized training most chiropractors perform following an undergraduate degree. Chiropractic neurologists have “ an advanced knowledge of ‘functional neurology’ which is the study of the inter-relationships of an individual's nervous systems within the context of their overall health,” according to California Neurohealth, a chiropractic neurology practice in Redwood City, California.

Autism, ADHD and cerebral palsy all have well-documented reports of effective treatment through chiropractic care.

  • In an interview with Colby Ingram of Autism Parenting Magazine, Dr. Chad Johnson explains that chiropractic treatment relieves “pressure on the nerves that transmit signals between the body and the brain.” This relief can cure the constipation that many autistic children suffer from as well as other issues in the “sensory triad”: thinking, feeling, and body balance. Traumatic Birth Injury (TBI) may compress the nerves in the spinal cord, causing the developmental delay symptoms of autism. Chiropractic adjustments are thought to help realign the spinal cord, enabling the central nervous system to function optimally.
  • The International Chiropractic Pediatric Association collects anecdotal reports of successful treatment of ADHD in children who’ve undergone consistent chiropractic care, with many reporting improved grades, concentration and tapering off of medication.
  • The Journal of Pediatric, Maternal and Family Health Chiropractic has published several studies that report improved mobility and sleep of children with cerebral palsy following a series of chiropractic adjustments.
  • How It Works

    The foundational belief of chiropractic is that vertebral subluxation – the misalignment of the spinal column – is responsible for disease in the body through creating neuromusculoskeletal disorders and interfering with the nervous system’s ability to regulate organ function.

    Ontario-based chiropractic practice Chiro-Med explains how a chiropractor’s spinal manipulations, commonly referred to as “adjustments,” promote overall health: “Chiropractic adjustments help to reinforce healthy soft tissue formation in the subluxated regions. This new healthy tissue allows these areas to have normal, healthy motion. Chiropractic adjustments will dramatically increase CSF flow to help the blood flow properly around the brain, and to ensure proper distribution of neurotransmitters.”

    Pediatric chiropractor Dr. Warren Bruhl explains how vertebral subluxation may contribute to developmental delays in children:

    Causes and Components of Vertebral Subluxation:

  • TRAUMA: Causing abnormal position and motion of the bones of the spine; a cramped position in utero; a difficult pregnancy or childbirth, including use of forceps or breech presentation; accidents like falling off a swing or slipping on pavement; sports injuries, such as too many "headers" in soccer; incorrect posture at the computer. All these conditions can block normal nutrient delivery to the joints. Furthermore, inflammation in the tissues surrounding the spine adds to the disruption of nerve function and intensifies a spinal degenerative process.
  • TOXINS: Exposure to food additives, drugs, environmental pollutants and other toxins contribute to activity in the nervous system that damages the spine.
  • EMOTIONS: Unresolved emotions such as depression, anger, or fear related to conflict at home, school, or on the playground. Negative emotions cause the release of stress hormones that are just as harmful as chemicals.
  • There are many schools of chiropractic technique. Some of the most popular today include Activator technique, in which a spring-loaded handheld instrument delivers a pulsation to the spine; Gonstead technique, which focuses on joint realignment with a patient lying on the side of the body; and Thompson, or “drop table” technique, which requires a table that drops slightly as the chiropractor makes the thrusting motion for adjustments.

    In the early years of chiropractic, a schism developed between “straights,” those who believe that vertebral subluxation was the root of all illness and optimal health could only be achieved through chiropractic adjustments, and “mixers,” who support treating patients with a variety of outcomes-based treatments for optimal health.

    While the divide still exists, most of today’s chiropractors would classify themselves as mixers. Many are drawn to the profession because they believe in a holistic approach to treatment. One component of chiropractic’s effectiveness is practitioners’ willingness to examine the entire scope of the patient’s experience and recommend lifestyle, nutritional, and environmental changes to support wellness. Many chiropractors are committed to ongoing education in complementary and alternative medicine and incorporate acupuncture, heat and ice therapy, homeopathy and nutritional counseling into their practice.

    Things to Consider

    Licensing requirements and scope of treatment capabilities vary from state to state. In each state, chiropractors must pass extensive examinations that include diagnostic, x-ray imaging and case management topics. Some states also examine chiropractors on their ability to perform minor surgery and offer nutritional and massage therapy. You can find out more about your state’s scope of practice in this article.

    Overall, chiropractic care has a documented history as a child-friendly and effective form of treatment for children experiencing developmental challenges. In 2016, the American Chiropractic Association issued a statment summarizing pediatric chiropractic’s use and benefits, which read in part, “The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) affirms that the evaluation, diagnosis, care and management of the pediatric patient is within the scope of chiropractic care, and that pediatric chiropractic care, when administered properly, is effective, safe and gentle. ACA recognizes that the doctor of chiropractic is an important member of the integrative pediatric health care team.”