I know that some readers say that chiropractic treatment has “helped” them, but the practice has no scientific basis, though for a simple one-time back-cracking it may be efficacious. But it’s used to treat general medical conditions, and it’s telling that even Wikipedia says this about the practice of “chiropractic” (my emphasis):
There is no good evidence that chiropractic is effective for the treatment of any medical condition, except perhaps for certain kinds of back pain. Generally, the research carried out into the effectiveness of chiropractic has been of poor quality. Numerous controlled clinical studies of treatments used by chiropractors have been conducted, with conflicting results Research published by chiropractors is distinctly biased. For reviews of SM for back pain chiropractic authors tend to have positive conclusions, while others did not show any effectiveness.
There is a wide range of ways to measure treatment outcomes. Chiropractic care, like all medical treatment, benefits from the placebo response [readers: note] It is difficult to construct a trustworthy placebo for clinical trials of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT), as experts often disagree about whether a proposed placebo actually has no effect. The efficacy of maintenance care in chiropractic is unknown.
See this paper, which supports that conclusion, even the uselessness of chiropractic for back and neck pain; and see this list of harms purported to be caused by chiropractors. Further, here’s a summary of dangerous procedures used by chiropractors who manipulate the spines of newborn humans.
The idea that adjusting spines can help all kinds of medical conditions, such as the “failure to thrive” of the tiger cub described below, is pure quackery. And it can be dangerous, as we learned recently when model Katie May died of a stroke after a chiropractor adjusted her neck after a fall. (Neck adjustments are particularly dicey because the cervical vertebrae, when manipulated, can damage the spinal cord or arteries.) In May’s case, as Orac concludes at Respectful Insolence, rapid adjustment of her neck caused that stroke. No reputable physician would have done what that chiropractor did. (See here for Orac’s other criticisms of chiropractic “medicine”, which he deems quackery—even for lower back problems.)
Now people who go to chiropractors have only themselves to blame for using a form of “alternative medicine” that, says science, produces no benefits. (And no, I don’t want comments from readers saying how chiropractic helped them. I could just as easily get similar letters from Chinese people who use “alternative medicine” like deer horns, or from Americans who use homeopathic “medicine”.) But animals have no choice. So when I saw this video (which I published recently) of a very young tiger cub at the Cincinnati Zoo getting chiropractic neck adjustment for “failure to thrive,” it made me sick. Also in the video is Thane Maynard, head of the Zoo, touting the quackery:
This chiropractor apparently has no experience with baby tigers, which aren’t the same as humans. (Need I add that the configuration of their spinal cord and brain is horizontal rather than vertical?). Look at the quack adjusting the cervical vertebrae of this thing, and listen to him assert that “there’s a lot of science behind what really happens behind chiropractic adjustment” (WRONG!) and that “if the first vertebra is out of alignment . . . you restore the nerve flow [???] to the rest of the body.” What, exactly, is “nerve flow”?
I am at a loss to know why a reputable zoo would consult a chiropractor with no animal experience to “adjust the neck” of a tiny tiger. Did they ask a vet first? Why not a human physical therapist? And to see Thane Maynard, head of the zoo, buying into this quackery shows that zoo people can buy into quackery as much as do ignorant laypeople.
I sent the email below to the Cincinnati zoo–twice–and asked for a response. Of course I have gotten none. I’d tweet my beef to Thane Maynard himself, but his tweets are “protected”, so I can’t. Here’s what I submitted on the form used to contact the zoo:
As an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, I want to register my objection to your having used a chiropractor to deal with one of your young tiger cubs, as documented in the YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylIjr1FkBOc
Do you seriously think that a quack adjusting the spine of a baby tiger would help it? What evidence is there that this kind of spinal manipulation, which can be dangerous (it’s killed people) would be efficacious? The chiropractor’s “scientific” explanation of adjusting the first cervical vertebra is totally ludicrous, saying that it’s ‘adjusting the nerve flow to the rest of the body.’
In all likelihood, this tiger would have gotten better by itself, but, at any rate, your publicizing the use of quack medicine for animals will only promote its further use on both animals and humans.
I would like your response about why you used this method in view of the lack of science behind it and the possibility it would endanger the cub.
Dept. Ecology & Evolution
The University of Chicago
Now what do you think the chances are that I’ll get a response? I’m not holding my breath, but I’m also tenacious.