Chiropractor Ian Rossborough shown here mid-rationalization
In January, Melbourne chiropractor Ian Rossborough uploaded a video to YouTube of himself treating a 4-day-old premature infant. The video, one of many that can be found on his “Chiropractic Excellence” channel, is for educational purposes only, intended to teach the world about the miraculous benefits of chiropractic care for a wide variety of conditions. Although the cynical among us may proclaim that his videos are just more examples of chiropractic practice building shenanigans, Rossborough claims that he simply wants to “enable natural healthy living, without resorting to drugs or surgery.”
Australian physicians respond
Well, there are apparently a lot of angry and cynical Australians, particularly journalists and physicians. In late April, the video, which features Rossborough manipulating the newborn’s thoracic spine hard enough to cause a loud cracking sound and a cry of pain went viral after it was featured in a story on Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio National. Rossborough, and the treatment of children by chiropractors, has since come under intense scrutiny.
According to the Australian press, “doctors have declared war on chiropractors” in response to the realization that newborns and young infants are undergoing unnecessary spinal manipulation for problems such as colic, acid reflux, and excessive crying as well as for nebulous benefits like boosting the immune system and improved growth and development. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the largest medical college in Australia with a membership of over 30,000 rural and urban primary care physicians, has even requested that members refrain from referring patients to chiropractors. They want the federal government and private insurers to stop paying for nonsense such as infant chiropractic.
Frank Jones MD, president of the RACGP, has made the media rounds, describing infant and toddler adjustments as “seemingly almost cruel” and lacking any supporting evidence. He has also called for the Chiropractic Board of Australia to shape up in order to have any chance of being accepted as a legitimate scientific discipline. Jones thinks that chiropractors like Rossborough and his ilk don’t know what they are doing and are putting patients at risk. He reminds the public that a physician’s job is to advocate for patients and to try to reduce exposure to practices where the risk far exceeds any potential benefit. I like this guy.
Infant colic, while not a deadly disease by any stretch of the imagination, is an extremely troubling entity. Not only can it be quite distressing to caregivers, it is also a well-established risk factor for neglect and abuse of the child. Excessive crying in general, whether diagnosed as infant colic or not, is a frequent impetus for seeking advice from medical professionals. How science-based providers approach the evaluation of babies with excessive crying, and the management of infant colic if diagnosed, can have a powerful impact on how families perceive the health of their child and on future interactions with the healthcare system.
Infant crying is about as bread and butter as it gets in pediatrics. It is a problem which we are constantly exposed to during our training. We discuss it with families in our continuity clinics, where we learn how to truly be primary care providers. We address it on the inpatient wards, where children often cry because of illness or pain, and during our months of service in the newborn nursery. We frequently are called upon to talk anxious parents through it while taking overnight phone calls, and we learn over time with variable success the seemingly preternatural ability to understand what babies are trying to tell us with their cry.
Crying happens for a variety of reasons in young infants, ranging from the benign and expected to the life threatening. Discussing excessive crying, regardless of why it occurs, requires effective communication skills. And the evaluation of unexplained excessive crying often tests the limits of our ability to practice non-defensive medicine, avoiding unnecessary laboratory testing and imaging. Because of all this, I believe that infant crying, and in particular the entity known as infant colic, serves as a useful entry point into a discussion of the differences between a science-based approach to medicine and one based on pseudoscience like chiropractic.
Readers of this blog should be well aware of the push by alternative medical practitioners for recognition as primary care providers, with the chiropractic community leading the charge. In this post I will compare and contrast the common understanding of the etiology and treatment of infant colic held by conventional medical doctors and doctors of chiropractic. You will see that in some ways they do not differ as much as we might expect, but have little in common where it truly matters. (more…)