‘Protect our babies and children’

Leading doctors and paediatric experts call for minimum age for chiropractic patients after latest controversy

A Melbourne chiropractor has come under fire after media outlets including 9News covered a Facebook video of him manipulating an infant (warning: video may distress some viewers).

The video shows Dr Andrew Arnold from Cranbourne Family Chiropractic and Wellness Centre manipulating the baby’s back, hips and collarbone, repeatedly tapping on his head, and holding him upside down by his legs.

It has since drawn criticism from members of the public, health practitioners and politicians.

“I have to say that I was very upset after watching this particular video image,” said Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos.

“The Chiropractic Board of Australia must condemn this practice as unprofessional and unacceptable and the AHPRA must act quickly to stop these rogue practitioners in their tracks,” she told 9News.

Ms Mikakos said the footage was “deeply disturbing” and that it was “appalling that young children and infants are being exposed to potential harm”.

However despite ongoing controversy and outcry from doctors, chiropractic treatment of babies and children is not banned in Australia.

In its 2017 statement on paediatric care, the Chiropractic Board of Australia says that: “Chiropractors receive extensive university education and training, including about caring for children.

“Parents typically seek chiropractic services for their children for musculoskeletal disorders. In caring for children chiropractors may provide a range of treatment modalities including manipulation, dietary and ergonomic advice, exercise, counselling and other manual therapies such as massage.”

With the renewed debate on the topic, consumer health watchdog Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM) has again called for limiting the scope of practice of chiropractors and to set a minimum age for their patients.

FSM President Associate Professor Ken Harvey reiterated concerns that “pseudoscientific, ineffective, dangerous and poorly regulated ‘treatments’ and ‘products’ are increasingly being inflicted on a public that is poorly served by regulators such as the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) who are supposed to protect them”.

“Why would you want to manipulate the very soft and moveable skull bones of neonates? Repeated requests to AHPRA and the Chiropractic Board to limit the age to protect our babies and children have fallen on deaf ears,” said Professor Harvey.

Paediatric expert Professor Don Cameron said: “The treatment demonstrated in the video is nothing more than ludicrous nonsense. It is inappropriate for any chiropractors to be treating infants as this is not without risk of significant harm.”

While Dr Arnold has not commented on the original video, he is featured in a video published on his YouTube channel in October 2013 entitled ‘Why should babies and Kids see a Chiropractor’.

In this video, Dr Arnold says: “What’s important here is to recognise that babies and children are going through enormous and rapid growth spurts that place a lot of stress on their bodies.

“There are as many as 10 developmental milestones in year one alone. All of these episodes in life place enormous stress on our growing body, and what’s important is to make sure that their spines and their neurology are evolving and growing and aligning as they should along the way.

“That doesn’t mean that anything is wrong. The question is: ‘How can we help you have a healthier baby and a healthier child?’” says Dr Arnold.

He continues: “There are numerous reasons why parents bring their kids in. With babies things like colic or irritability, not feeding one side, nappies being quite irregular, maybe skin rashes, cough and colds. We don’t you suggest you keep your GP out of the picture, we simply recommend that you look at a more non-suppressive approach, a natural approach.

“Essentially all we’re doing is helping your child’s own defences kick in and boost their immunity naturally. To do that we use no force with the techniques, it’s gentle touch, tapping, we stimulate reflexes that relate to the bowel, reflexes associated with reflux.

“We do various brain degration techniques with kids, to help speech, learning, memory, it also helps behaviour, bedwetting, things like this. These techniques are very, very safe, extremely gentle, and we actually show you a whole range of things that you can actually do at home.”

The Chiropractic Board of Australia says that best-practice approaches to providing chiropractic care to children are published in peer reviewed literature.

“This evidence should be used to guide clinical practice and ensure chiropractors provide safe care. Current research indicates that the incidence of serious adverse events, either directly from manual therapy or indirectly by delayed or mis-diagnosis, is rare but does occur. The Board considers that more research is required to better understand this.”

The Board’s Code of Conduct says chiropractors must place the interests and wellbeing of the child or
young person first.

However FSM representatives say this is not good enough.

“Chiropractors continue to pursue expanding their practices into paediatrics, in particular, neonates. The federal government should legislate that no child under 8 years can be treated by chiropractors” said FSM vice-president Professor Alastair MacLennan, a doctor with a background in obstetric, gynaecology and paediatrics.

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