Seattle mom Mikayla Herrick first reached out to a chiropractor to help prepare her body for being pregnant. She conceived soon after starting chiropractic at Tree of Life clinic in Wallingford. Her son, Mace, who is almost 2 years old, had his first chiropractic visit within a week of being born.
“Adjustments for Mace have helped him in many ways,” says Herrick. “We noticed he had bowlegs when he was younger, but he no longer has that issue. It has also helped during the times when he has a cold, when he’s had constipation, and I’ve noticed his sleep is usually improved after adjustments. He is a very active boy, so I know the adjustments help his nervous system—especially with all the ways he moves his body.”
Chiropractic before birth
Jessica Dolan was also introduced to chiropractic in pregnancy when she learned about the Webster Technique, an osteopathic adjustment aimed at improving pelvic and uterine function and used to turn breech babies head down into an optimal delivery position.
“I wanted to be sure my body was in the best position to give birth,” says Dolan, who, like Herrick, turned to Tree of Life for care.
“I love helping moms be ready to give birth,” says Dr. Shea Kramer, lead chiropractor at Tree of Life, who treated both moms. “The purpose of chiropractic is to help the body function better. Through the alignment of the spine, we can make the nervous system function better and help the body be better able to respond to external stressors.”
Dolan is certain the adjustments helped keep her body comfortable throughout her pregnancy:
“Everyone talked about aches and pains being ‘normal’ during pregnancy, but I didn’t experience that,” she says. “With my second pregnancy, I was able to play on the floor with my toddler all the way through without any problem.”
Adjustments in children
Dolan too has relied on Tree of Life to provide weekly adjustments to her kids, 2-year-old Josie and 4-month-old Wells. Both kids experienced medical complications at birth or after, Josie a brain bleed, Wells a tongue-tie that hindered his ability to breastfeed. The kids’ chiropractic treatments are encouraged by the family’s physician, who considers them part of their pediatric “preventative care” plan.
Data is lacking on whether or not chiropractic is effective for the myriad conditions it is reported to address. As with all medical specialties, there are different philosophies, techniques, and methods of practicing chiropractic and that variation may be a contributing factor in the dearth of rigorous research on whether chiropractic care is beneficial for kids. Still, there is quality research available for some issues. For example, in a 2021 study published in the journal Chiropractic & Manual Therapies investigating theeffectiveness for pediatric headache researchers found children who received spinal adjustments had significantly fewer days with headaches compared with a control group, which did not receive chiropractic treatment.
Is it safe and effective?
Research conflicts on the efficacy and safety of chiropractic treatment for kids. A 2020 report the journal Chiropractic & Manual Therapies examined the frequency of adverse effects from spinal manipulation in children under 10 was unable to determine the risks of receiving chiropractic adjustments. Conversely, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics concludes: “Published cases of serious adverse events in infants and children receiving chiropractic…therapy are rare.” An earlier study published in the Oxford journal Paediatrics & Child Health concurred with this finding.
More than 2,400 licensed chiropractors practice in Washington, one-third of them in King County. There are 214 chiropractors in Seattle alone. For families like Dolan’s, chiropractic care is an integral part of their health maintenance program.
“Chiropractic is super gentle. [In our experience] there’s never been a downside or more problems. Things have been resolved and lessened,” says Dolan.
A gentle approach with kids
In fact, most pediatric manipulations do not involve snap-crackle-popping spines. As a report compiled for the Australian government in 2019 explains, “Skilled chiropractic care requires the practitioner to modify the force applied based on the age and developmental stage of the child. This means that children, particularly very young children …are not likely to be receiving high impact manipulations.”
“There are many ways to adjust the body, not just manual techniques,” Kramer stresses.
Seattle mom Lindsay Kapek first visited a chiropractor to address her own escalating migraines during pregnancy. Now her entire family, including three kids, receive treatments.
“Our family uses eastern and western medicine. We have a traditional pediatrician, and I saw an OB during all three of my pregnancies. [In addition to the chiropractor] we also see a naturopath and a homeopath. All our providers are supportive of one another. They work as a team, and I appreciate being seen as a person, not a chart.”
Seeking referrals to chiropractic providers
Dr. Cora Collette Breuner, a champion of holistic, integrated pediatric care, says she does sometimes refer patients for chiropractic care.
Breuner is pediatrician, expert on adolescent medicine, and professor of pediatrics, orthopedics, and sports medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She advises parents to use caution in the search for a provider. And, pediatricians, she says, should always be ready with quality referrals to chiropractors they have vetted. She has five that she knows well and refers to.
“I would not go to the Yelp review world to find a provider to work on my child. It is on us as healthcare providers to help a family get the best information and resources possible, including quality research and the ability to recommend a chiropractor that you know, that you work with, that you’ve sent kids to in the past, who you trust.”