Can Chiropractic be used to treat non-musculoskeletal disorders?
There have been several claims over the years that chiropractic adjustments can be used to treat conditions such as infantile colic, asthma, hypertension, dysmenorrhea, and migraines (Cote, 2021). With the origin of these conditions being non-musculoskeletal or idiopathic in nature.
A 2021 systematic review examined if there was enough evidence to support these claims.
(A systematic review collects primary research that fits within their specific criteria set forth by the study. It is considered the highest level of quality in research.)
It is important to note that when evaluating studies that involve chiropractic adjustments, it is very difficult to create a “placebo or sham” adjustment. Evaluations may even differ between providers.
Cote and colleagues concluded that there was no evidence to support that chiropractic adjustments help to manage infantile colic, asthma, hypertension, dysmenorrhea or migraines. In addition, they challenge the theory that treating spinal dysfunctions can affect organs and their functions.
This is a very important study for the chiropractic field because this was the primary theory taught in schools for years. I’m sure you have had a chiropractor tell you, “oh if I adjust you here it will help with your liver, etc”.
While adjustments do impact the nervous system, it is due to the stretch reflex (Clark). As a result, the muscles will relax and release endorphins, and temporarily increase joint range of motion (Potter). There is no direct physiological impact on the other organ systems. This is why there is not sufficient evidence to support the claims above.
Chiropractic adjustments can be very beneficial and there are several accounts of anecdotal evidence when it comes to treating non-musculoskeletal conditions. However, at this time, there is no solid research to support these statements. When it comes to chiropractic care, your primary concern should be to treat musculoskeletal conditions. For internal health concerns, the patient should seek health and wellness counseling.
Clark, Brian C., et al. "Neurophysiologic effects of spinal manipulation in patients with chronic low back pain." BMC musculoskeletal disorders 12.1 (2011): 1-10.
Côté, P., Hartvigsen, J., Axén, I. et al. The global summit on the efficacy and effectiveness of spinal manipulative therapy for the prevention and treatment of non-musculoskeletal disorders: a systematic review of the literature. Chiropr Man Therap 29, 8 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12998-021-00362-9
Potter, Louise, C. H. R. I. S. T. O. P. H. E. R. McCARTHY, and Jacqueline Oldham. "Physiological effects of spinal manipulation: a review of proposed theories." Physical therapy reviews 10.3 (2005): 163-170.
Skyba, D. A., et al. "Joint manipulation reduces hyperalgesia by activation of monoamine receptors but not opioid or GABA receptors in the spinal cord." Pain 106.1-2 (2003): 159-168.