While the typical chiropractic patient is a working-age adult, children and teenagers also experience neck pain, back pain, headaches, and other musculoskeletal conditions that may respond favorably to chiropractic treatment. In fact, a 2017 study that monitored 1,400 Danish school children for three years found that 55% experienced spinal pain during the course of the study. With the increased prevalence of sedentary behavior and obesity in the pediatric population, it’s reasonable to suggest that musculoskeletal disorders may become more common in individuals under age 18 in the coming years. To better understand the use of chiropractic care by this population, researchers in Quebec surveyed 245 chiropractors in the province.
According to the survey, pediatric patients account for less than five patient visits per week—between about .5% and 4% of a typical chiropractic practice. Among the pediatric patient population, the majority of patients were children ages 6-12 and teens aged 13-17; however, babies under 23 months of age (and under six months, in particular) are often seen in chiropractic clinics.
The data show that the most common referral source for pediatric patients is a parent, family member, or friend (presumably also a patient in the clinic), with family doctors, other chiropractors, and other healthcare professionals accounting for the remainder. Among the patients aged six and up, the most common presentations appear to be back pain and headache with conditions such as torticollis, colic/irritability, head asymmetry, motor development issues, gastrointestinal problems, sleeping difficulty, jaw/temporomandibular joint issues, and gait/walking problems being more common complaints in the under-age two patients.
Of the doctors surveyed, 24.9% report they had attained a “Diplomate in clinical chiropractic pediatrics” meaning they had undergone post-graduate training and board examination. Additionally, 54% were active members of a pediatric and perinatal care association. The participants also noted a willingness to co-manage patients with other healthcare providers and they’d immediately refer a patient to their medical physician or hospital if they uncovered any red flags including but not limited to facture/dislocation, fever, chest pain, suicidal ideation, dehydration, persistent vomiting, persistent abdominal pain, etc.
Though the authors of the study note that specific research on chiropractic treatment in the pediatric population is lacking compared to older age groups, they report that adverse events following manual therapy are rare. For pediatric patients who do not respond to conventional treatment, a consultation with a doctor of chiropractic for evaluation may be considered for a short-term course of care to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment.