Infant getting chiropractic adjustment.

The Catalyst for Chiropractors’ Expansionary Ambitions

If you haven’t yet seen the latest episode of Catalyst that’s doing the rounds, then you really should have a watch.

The episode is somewhat of an exposé around the increase in chiropractors far-​​reaching claimed abilities. It explores what chiropractic actually is, how it came about, the state of the industry in Australia and the Chiropractic Association’s ambition to “become the new family doctor”.

Many of the medical professionals interviewed on Catalyst are fairly critical of this move, with quotes like:

“I am angered and I am embarrassed for the profession.” — Dr John Reggars (Chiropractor)

“Much of modern chiropractic, unfortunately, has descended into the realm of quackery.” — Emeritus Professor John Dwyer

“This is a great concern of the medical profession.” — Dr Steve Hambleton

While most people think of a chiropractor as someone who can help with back pain (this effect does have some limited evidence of efficacy), some chiropractors claiming to be the solution to a much wider range of health problems.

The themes addressed in the video include:

  • chiropractic efficacy being mostly anecdotal
  • use of chiropractic on infants (recent case of breaking an infant’s neck)
  • adverse chiropractic events (and their lack of reporting)
  • implausible claims (like curing deafness, asthma, colic, bed wetting, ear infections, ADHD, even HIV)
  • chiropractic theory (‘subluxations’)
  • lack of documentation, studies, experiments and rigorous scientific methodology
  • the placebo effect
  • strong prevalence of vaccine rejection within the chiropractic profession
  • quality of chiropractic training within the university system and whether it should be in the science faculties

The part in the video that most resonated with me was Dr Michael Vagg’s quite poignant statement:

“There is a lot wrong with mainstream medicine, but just because some planes crash doesn’t mean we should start using flying carpets. So you have to have a plausible alternative if there is a problem.”

My personal feelings towards this are that we need to help improve people’s faith in mainstream medicine and that while there may yet turn out to be some benefits of chiropractic they should definitely not be overstated and people’s safety must be the number one priority (followed by their pockets at a close number two). Many people seem disillusioned with modern medicine and this is concerning.

If you read Ben Goldacre’s book, Bad Pharma, you see just some of the legitimate concerns within the medical establishment. While we definitely need to improve the state of medicine, these concerns need to be put into perspective so that people realise the value of modern medicine and don’t run quickly to potentially dangerous and expensive alternatives.

All kinds of unproven alternatives to mainstream medicine are fighting to expand. They are very ambitious and I fear it will come at the cost of patient health. We really need to fix our sights on a science-​​based approach to medicine that is trusted by the public.

I see this as one of the (many) great challenges of our time.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by drneilgardner]