February 27, 2002
Pediatricians warn against chiropractors
Latest salvo in turf war: Children are being treated for asthma, colds, bedwetting
National Post, with files from The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - The Canadian Pediatric Society has advised doctors to warn parents not to allow chiropractors to treat their children for ear infections, bedwetting, asthma and other problems the alternative healers say they can cure.
In fact, the society said there is no scientific evidence that chiropractic methods should be used on children for any reason.
"Doctors need to learn all they can about these treatments so that they can have frank and open discussions with patients and their parents," said Dr. Linda Spigelblatt, a Quebec pediatrician and principal author of Chiropractic care for children: Controversies and issues.
The statement, released yesterday, is the latest salvo in a turf war between chiropractors and medical doctors. Recently, a group of 60 Canadian neurologists warned that neck manipulations can lead to strokes in an alarming number of cases. In response, chiropractors dismissed the allegation as "junk science."
The debate will escalate yet again when an Ontario coroner's inquest in April looks into the 1996 death of Lana Dale Lewis, who suffered a fatal stroke after visiting a Toronto chiropractic clinic.
Most Canadians think of chiropractic as an adult treatment, but in recent years the profession has pushed hard to expand its practice to include children. Youngsters who accompany their parents on chiropractic visits may be given free neck or back adjustments. Some offices give out chiropractic colouring books and pamphlets that urge parents to bring in their newborn babies for "gentle adjustment techniques."
Despite what the pediatric society says is a lack of scientific evidence showing chiropractic treatments benefit children, many chiropractors offer to cure asthma, colic, bedwetting and ear infections. Some offer to treat colds and flu.
"One of the effects that chiropractors find in clinical practice is that as we treat spinal problems, what we see is improvement generally in the health of patients across the board," says Stan Gorchynski, chairman of the Ontario Chiropractic Association.
"And as a result, parents will bring their children in."
Dr. Gorchynski said chiropractors are at a disadvantage because they must fund their own research to prove their techniques work, while medical studies are often funded by public grants or pharmaceutical companies. He points out many accepted medical treatments have no scientific basis, either.
But the pediatric society says medical trials that look at chiropractic methods for treating childhood asthma and colic have found no benefit.
Indeed, since neck manipulations can cause nerve damage or a stroke, the pediatric society warns it poses a risk, although there are few reports of such complications in children.
One of the hottest flashpoints between the two health professions is over immunization, which many chiropractors argue causes more disease than it cures.
Dr. Gorchynski says that although the Canadian Chiropractic Association accepts vaccinations as a preventive procedure, he points out drugless health care is a basic tenet of chiropractic. And with drug costs rising in Canada at a staggering rate, he argues chiropractic is an affordable option for the health system.
"I think there's absolute scientific evidence for the efficacy of vaccination," said Dr. Spigelblatt.
"If they [parents] are told by a chiropractor not to vaccinate, I think that has to be discussed in detail with them and every effort made [by their pediatrician] to show them that it's very effective means of treatment and prevention."
Another contentious area is X-rays. Although chiropractors may suggest a child be X-rayed to detect the spinal "subluxations" they consider the root cause of illness, medical doctors and radiologists say exposing children to unnecessary radiation is dangerous and should not be done.
Yesterday's statement is not the first time pediatricians have clashed with chiropractors.
In 1998, when York University considered establishing a chiropractic college on campus, the Canadian Pediatric Society joined university faculty to lobby -- successfully -- against the move.
National Post Online is a Hollinger / CanWest Publication