Chiropractors' treatments questioned

17:00, Apr 09 2010

Chiropractors are making baseless claims about treating conditions such as asthma, ear infections and colic, new research reveals.

The research, which appears in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal, reviewed the websites of 200 chiropractors and nine chiropractic associations in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Britain and the United States.

Ninety-five per cent of websites made unsubstantiated claims of being able to treat at least one condition including asthma, migraine, infant colic, ear infections and whiplash.

Researchers sent an email to 13 New Zealand chiropractors – purportedly from a concerned parent about their child's asthma and recurrent ear infection – and all but one encouraged a consultation.

Nine suggested they could treat asthma and eight that they could treat ear infections.

The paper said there were no controlled, randomised or peer-reviewed studies suggesting these conditions could be treated by a chiropractor.


Unsupported claims were made about other conditions, including allergies, arthritis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cancer, epilepsy and infertility.

Only claims about lower back pain were supported by evidence.

The paper said widespread use of unproven claims was a public health issue that needed to be urgently addressed.

"If, for instance, a child suffering from severe asthma is treated with ineffective spinal manipulation instead of effective drug therapy, there is an increased chance that this patient's life might be lost," it said.

Co-author and Massey University lecturer Andrew Gilbey said he thought New Zealand chiropractors genuinely believed the claims they made.

However, claims should be backed by evidence to prove patient improvement was more than the placebo effect.

Gilbey said the use of the title "Dr" by chiropractors was misleading.

"They should be allowed to practise and do what they do, but when they start calling themselves `Dr' it misleads people into assuming they are more mainstream than they really are," he said.

"They have to be a bit more honest and upfront about what they can do."

Christchurch chiropractor Helen Roberts said a minority of practitioners were making claims that could tarnish the whole industry.

"It's very hard for colleagues to have any power to change what individual chiropractors do," she said.

"I have written letters to our association about it. It's a concern that people do that."

Roberts said she dealt mostly with musculoskeletal problems, including back and neck pain and related headaches.

She said there was some evidence to support the use of chiropractic on colic and migraines, but she had never treated asthma or ear infections in her 25 years in practice.

Christchurch man Robert Richardson said he was sceptical about chiropractors before visiting one because of chronic back pain.

The treatment involved several expensive visits where the chiropractor used a "tapping gun" and gave him information about his diet.

"The only assistance they gave me was they lightened my wallet quite significantly," he said.

Richardson visited another chiropractor on the recommendation of a friend and he was "fixed overnight".

"As far as back problems are concerned, if you go to the right person it's very good," he said.

A New Zealand Association of Chiropractors spokesman said he could not comment without reading the research.

The Press