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Could Chiropractic reduce colic in infants – Fact or Fiction?

Parents have brought infants with colic to Chiropractors for many years.  There is individual outcomes that would support the decision of the parents to seek a chiropractor to assist the infant’s body to improve digestive and feeding function.  

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When assessing a baby who has been diagnosed with colic by a GP or Paedatrition there is often common structural patterns.  There are often 4 evident areas that are not in the ideal range. 

  1. The baby will have a rigidity of the whole spine, and be upset when on their tummy. 
  2. The Skull will be sensitive to touch in areas and often show reduced symmetry
  3. The gag reflex is heightened
  4. There is a preference to feed on one side and the head will not rotate freely to both sides.  

All 4 patterns are often present, but commonly only 2 of these structural observations will be seen. 

As with many presentations seen in practice, the more there are concurrent structural and postural areas that are not in ideal range for that individual, the more acute the problems seem to be. 

When these structural patterns have been resolved, the mother will report improved feeding and easier digestion, with a significant drop in crying, especially after feeding. 

This has a significant benefit for everyone.  The baby is happier and the mother is less stressed. 

A 2009 study compared the long term effect of Chiropractic treatment of colicky babies with colicky babies not treated as infants.  There was a statistically significant outcome, that the babies who were treated for colic as infants were 2 times more likely to have better sleep and fewer tantrums as toddlers than the untreated group.   

J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2009 Oct ;32(8):635-8. PMID: 19836599

Another study in published in 2012 found that manual spinal adjustments reduced the duration of crying in babies who were adjusted.  There were 104 individuals in the study who were randomly assigned in to 3 groups: Baby adjusted parent aware, baby adjusted parent unaware and baby not adjusted and parent unaware.  

The results showed that there was no reporting bias on the part of the parents, so the results can be relied upon.  There is an opinion that believes that Chiropractic adjustments of babies are unwarranted and are not effective.                                         Full article here: J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2012 Oct ;35(8):600-7. PMID: 23158465

You may find this interesting, as there is research confirming the benefit of spinal adjustments for reducing crying associated with a colic diagnosis. Published as long ago as 1999 that randomised trial showed that 2 weeks of spinal adjustments were 2.5 times more effective than the drug dimethicone in reducing recorded hours of crying. 

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The crying time was reduced by 1 hour from days 4-7 in the dimethicone group and 2.4 hours in the adjusted group.  From days 8-11 the dimethicone group improvements had plateaued at 1hour while the adjusted group crying continued to decline to 2.7 hours.  

The adjusted group showed significant improvements from day 5.                          You can check out the original article here: J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1999 Oct ;22(8):517-22. PMID: 10543581

The exact mechanism of effect is not fully understood, however we can use functional observation and physiology to postulate how adjustments may cause the changes observed by so many parents. 

Where the gag reflex is hypersensitive the baby is unable to draw the nipple far enough into the mouth with consistency. The gag reflex when triggered will stop the baby swallowing.  There seems to be an increase in air swallowed as a result.  The gulping and swallowing air will cause stomach discomfort with distention and burping out the air.  The mother will note weak attachment and an increase in “chewing” the nipple. 

Chiropractors will note the asymmetric skull and neck Range of Movement are present with the hyper sensitive gag reflex. This pattern is more common when the mother reports poor feeding patterns, slow feeding,  weak attachment and small volume feeds.  

The rigid baby will often feed well but then have severe pain and discomfort for several hours after feeding.  When ideal spine flexibility is restored the post feeding crying and disturbance commonly declines.  

It is a great joy to work with babies and parents to assist in resolving the distress of the baby with a colic diagnosis.  All health professionals have the same goal and with a team approach great results are possible for both mother and baby.