Chiropractors are the most commonly used alternative medicine providers for kids, and their popularity is growing. But is chiropractic care safe for kids? Does it work? Should families spend their money on chiropractic care as treatment for common childhood illnesses? Unfortunately, there are very few evidence-based research studies involving children to help answer these questions.
Chiropractic medicine is a form of alternative therapy established toward the end of the 1800s. It’s based on practices that date back to ancient Greece. The primary principle of chiropractic medicine is improving the body’s ability to heal itself through adjustments of the spine and nervous system. In addition to the adjustments most people think of, chiropractors also provide services like heat/massage therapy, nutritional counseling, and ultrasound therapy for musculoskeletal conditions.
Chiropractics in children used to be seen as an alternative treatment for kids with chronic conditions. But that practice has shifted. In a 2009 study, the primary reason for parents choosing chiropractic care for children was “wellness care.”
Chiropractic offices may operate on their own or as part of medical practices or hospital systems. Depending on the state in which you live, chiropractors can perform school physicals. Some chiropractors combine chiropractic techniques with other forms of alternative medicine such as acupuncture.
Doctor of Chiropractics (DCs) are not medical doctors, similar to dentists, psychologists, podiatrists, and optometrists. They have attended school specifically for chiropractic medicine. All 50 states license DCs to provide chiropractic care to children and adults. While any chiropractor may treat children, some take additional coursework to achieve pediatric certifications:
- Pediatric Fellow (FICCP)—a Diplomate chosen as a Fellow based on their years of experience, research papers, post-graduate teaching or other contributions.
- Pediatric Diplomate (DICPA or DICCP)—360 hours of coursework and exam, plus a research project.
- Pediatric Certified—May be CACCP, requiring 180 hours of coursework and exam (the current requirement) or FICPA, requiring 120 hours and exam.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, few studies have demonstrated that chiropractic medicine provides any benefit for children. While severe complications are possible, they seem to be rare. And more studies are needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of chiropractic care in children.
In the meantime, parents are cautioned not to rely only on chiropractic care for the treatment of conditions in children. In 2000, a study of 150 chiropractic practices in Boston found that “pediatric chiropractic care is often inconsistent with recommended medical guidelines.”
- More research is needed to determine safety and effectiveness of chiropractic care for kids.
- Chiropractors can become certified in pediatrics, but this is not a medical degree.
- Parents are advised not to rely only on chiropractic care for the health and wellness of their children.