A different kind of health care Can chiropractors fix your child? By Deborah Leigh WoodPhoto courtesy of Deborah Leigh Wood Chiropractor J. R. Barone performs a thermography scan to check spinal alignment on Andrij Kozch, 5, of Palatine.
The waiting rooms look like those of any family practice physician or pediatrician, with parents flipping the pages of magazines and kids playing with toys. But behind the scenes it's a whole different story. These are the offices of family practice chiropractors, where kids get treated in a different way.
The American Academy of Pediatrics takes no official stance on children and chiropractic; several pediatricians contacted for this story chose not to comment on the issue.
But the number of parents taking kids to chiropractors has grown steadily in the last 10 years, says Dr. Joan Fallon, chairperson of the pediatrics council of the International Chiropractors Association, headquartered in Arlington, Va. She attributes the increase to "the big upturn of alternative medication in general in the U.S., and along with that, parents looking for other ways of treating chronic conditions such as asthma and ear infections."
Also, "insurance companies have been more willing to pay for chiropractic care," Fallon says, and in some cases are even encouraging it as a means of preventive medicine.
A 1998 Boston survey found that children make "several million visits" to chiropractors in a year in the United States and Canada, according to Dr. Joel Alcantara, research director at the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association, headquartered in Media, Pa.
Dr. James B. Claussen, who runs Claussen Chiropractic Center in Naperville, estimates children make up 40 to 50 percent of his practice, including his own four kids.
Chiropractors say being out of alignment can cause everything from ear infections, asthma and sinus problems to ADD, learning disabilities and bedwetting. Not to mention more familiar problems, such as poor posture (commonly from wearing an overstuffed backpack) and muscle injuries (sports being the most common).
Posture and muscle spasms are understandable. But what's the connection between the spine and other seemingly unrelated problems such as bedwetting and ear infections?
"When the upper cervical vertebrae are twisted, it can cause tension in the muscles of the Eustachian tube, which makes the tube close so it doesn't drain properly," explains Dr. Elizabeth Erkenswick, who operates Chiropractic First in Evanston. "This causes pressure in the ear and the fluid to become stagnant, which can breed infection."
Bedwetting can result from an irritation along the spine near the bladder. "This can cause a loss of sensation, so the child has a problem of bladder control," she says.
Snapping kids? If you cringe at the thought of young'uns undergoing painful snap, crackle and pop spinal manipulation-what many of us conjure in our minds when we think of chiropractic-be assured that "there are more than 200 named chiropractic techniques, and most of them do not involve painful or force manipulations," says Erkenswick.
On the contrary, she says, current chiropractic care uses gentler methods to correct misalignment of the spine-what chiropractors call subluxation-all with the aim of allowing the body to heal itself from the inside out.
"When vertebrae move out of their proper position, as they often do because of an injury, even a mild one, it interferes with the body's ability to communicate with the brain and vice versa," says Dr. J.R. Barone of Barone Spinal Care in Schaumburg.
Although they're in the business of "fixing" the body, chiropractors are quick to credit the real power behind the cure: the patient.
"I'm not the healer; I just remove interference so the body can heal itself," says Claussen. "The body is a self-regulating machine. That's the remarkable thing."
When interference, such as that caused by injuries, throws the body off-course, it's time for outside help, chiropractors say.
Barone takes pressure off the nervous system by adjusting the first vertebra of the spine, which he says ultimately restores balance to the entire spinal column. Erkenswick uses network spinal analysis, which involves applying light force to specific areas of the spine. Claussen employs bioenergetic synchronization, which combines light touch (his) on certain places in the body, along with a patient's thoughts and memory to "open up paths of energy and reset the autonomic nervous system," he explains.
Claussen says some parents bring in their children when allopathic (Western) medicine hasn't worked. Others bring in their kids as "a desperate measure and by word of mouth," he says. "The parents say, ‘you fixed my neighbor's kid. Can you help mine?' And after I do, many parents are hesitant to tell their pediatrician."
Those who do, Claussen says, find that their doctors respond in several ways: "They either get noticeably upset," he says, "or they don't know what to say, or they say nothing."
Heather Mendez says her pediatrician replied, "Whatever works," upon hearing that the Park Ridge mother had taken her 6-year-old daughter, Samantha, for treatment of chronic migraine headaches.
By the time Samantha came to see Barone, Mendez says, she had been to an ophthalmologist, a psychologist, a dentist, an allergist and two pediatric neurologists.
"She was on allergy medication, anti-stroke medication and asthma medication, and had had MRIs, CAT scans and every blood test you can think of," she says. "The next step would have been sinus surgery."
Samantha started to "feel better immediately within a week of chiropractic treatment," says Mendez, who calls the result a "miraculous" turnaround. "In six months, she's a different child."
Chiropractors say many childhood and adult problems can be avoided by regular visits to a chiropractor for preventative, or wellness, care. In fact, they say birth is the best place to start.
Erkenswick says she had all her five children adjusted immediately at birth to counteract "the terrific forces that the little neck endures during the birth process." Barone's two young daughters also were adjusted at birth, as were Claussen's four children.
Dawn Cada of Aurora says she wishes she'd known about chiropractic care for infants when her twins, Brandon and Miranda, now 4, were born prematurely at 32 weeks. They've been under Claussen's care for several months now, and for the first time, she says, they're sleeping through the night.
"Even with allergies, they're more alert," she says. "I'm going to keep taking them in so they stay healthy."
Deborah Leigh Wood, a writer and editor, lives in Skokie with her husband and three children, 17, 16 and 13.