Chiropractors have been treating childrens spines for more than a 100 years. Many common childhood ailments will respond to this safe, natural form of health care. More and more parents – especially those who are already chiropractic patients themselves – are seeking chiropractic care for their children.

In this article I will attempt to answer the questions asked by many parents about their childrens spinal health.

What is Chiropractic?
Chiropractic is based on the important relationship between the spine and the nervous system. One of the most basic ideas in chiropractic is that dysfunction in the spine and its joints can lead to dysfunction within the nervous system – and since the nervous system controls and coordinates all of the systems of the body, spinal dysfunction can have wide ranging effects on the bodys health.

Chiropractors are trained to evaluate and treat this dysfunction within the spine and other joints.

Why do my kids need chiropractic?
A child has many physical stresses to deal with during their growing years, and problems in childrens spines can occur at almost any point in their development and growth.

Probably the earliest challenge a growing spine faces is the position it is forced to adopt in utero. Many women will have heard of foetal positions which can cause problems with the labour (brow, breech, transverse, posterior etc), but what is less well known is that these can also cause problems in the babys spine as well. Spinal segments can be pushed out of place or jammed by the position of the baby in the womb, and if this position is less than optimal, it can result in a longer and more difficult trip through the birth canal, which can compound these problems. In this way, even natural birthing methods can stress an infants spine and nervous system – not to mention interventions such as induction, forceps, vonteuse suction or ceasarean section. The latter (which account for an alarmingly large percentage of births in Australia), while seeming to offer a less traumatic birth for the child, can actually create a whole new set of problems.

The cause of many newborn health complaints such as colic, reflux, breastfeeding difficulties, sleep disturbances, allergic reactions and chronic infections can often be traced to irritation to the nervous system caused by these spinal and cranial misalignments.

Since significant spinal trauma can occur at, or prior to birth, many parents elect to have their newborns spine checked right away. Many developmental milestones such as learning to hold up the head, sitting upright, crawling and walking are all activities that affect spinal alignment and are important times to have a child checked by a chiropractor, not to mention the falls, sports injuries, playground bumps and heavy school bags to which they are subjected in later years.

What does treatment involve?
When I tell people that I treat a lot of children and babies at my clinic, their initial reaction is often one of horror as they assume that I use the same techniques on them as I do on adults. Chiropractic treatment has to be tailored to the individual and their particular spine, and children are no exception.

The first thing a chiropractor will do is to conduct a thorough history of your childs health and any complaints, which is followed by a complete physical examination of the childs spine. Most chiropractors are trained to evaluate paediatric spinal problems, and will use gentle, specific skills to find and treat any involved spinal areas.

Spinal adjustments for infants and young children involve very light fingertip pressure to correct spinal misalignments. This amount of force is usually sufficient to restore mobility to spinal joints which have become locked and are causing interference to the normal function of the nervous system. Frequently, the adjustments will make a popping sound when the spinal joints are moved, however this is not always heard when childrens spines are adjusted. Other techniques that I use involve an instrument called an Activator that delivers a light consistent force to the spinal segment, as well as cranial procedures which gently mobilise the bones of the skull.

Does it hurt?
In general, chiropractic treatment of children is painless, except in cases where the child has an actual injury where some discomfort can be caused by moving the injured parts.

Very young infants can sometimes be startled by the movement of the adjustment, and may cry for a short time. Most parents report that their children enjoy their spinal adjustments, and that they look forward to their next visit.

I will often advise parents to expect an unsettled night after a treatment, especially with newborns, however the baby can also sleep more soundly than normal.

How long will it take?
A childs spine will generally respond much faster than an adults to treatment, and will often require only a few adjustments to restore normal function.

The actual number of adjustments, however, will vary depending on many factors such as the length of time the problem has been present.

What risks are involved?
The risks of a child suffering permanent injury from a spinal adjustment are extremely rare. Chiropractors have been adjusting childrens spines for over a 100 years and have an excellent safety record.

A recent check of some of the largest insurance companies who provide malpractice insurance to chiropractors in the United States has identified that not one claim for injury to a child has been filed within the last five years.

How can I tell if my child has spinal problems?
Unless a child has an obvious problem it can be difficult for a parent to recognise when a childs spine is not working correctly. There are some signs, however, which can indicate spinal problems. These include:

  • disturbed sleeping patterns
  • breastfeeding difficulties in the very young
  • restricted head or neck movement to one side
  • one shoulder higher than the other

Common childhood disorders can also be linked with spinal dysfunction, these include:

  • recurrent ear infections
  • persistent sore throats and colds
  • colic/reflux
  • asthma
  • scoliosis
  • headaches
  • bedwetting and/or constipation
  • growing pains
  • ADHD

One of the most common reasons for parents to seek chiropractic care for their child is trauma from an injury of some sort. The spinal misalignments that may occur at the time of the injury will not necessarily result in immediate pain or symptoms.

Regular chiropractic checkups can identify potential spinal dysfunction resulting from these traumas, and help to avoid many of the back problems and health complaints seen later as adults.