Dangerous Chiropractic Advertising

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

On March 18, 1993, The Wall Street Journal described how a 5-year-old boy and his 4-year-old sister had developed mastoiditis, an infection of the middle ear so advanced that it invaded the skull. Both had been seen by a chiropractor who diagnosed the original infection and treated it with spinal manipulation. The children should have been referred to a medical doctor for antibiotic therapy. Instead, both became seriously ill, and the girl lost her hearing in one ear.

In April 1993, this ad appeared in a local newspaper in Pennsylvania. The journal article mentioned in item #2 was not about ear infections. It concerned serous otitis, a painless collection of fluid in the middle ear. The ad was dangerous because ear infections that should be treated with antibiotics can spread to the surrounding bone and even into the brain. No published studies indicate that spinal manipulation is effective against ear infections. Nor is there good reason to believe that the average chiropractor is qualified to examine a child's ear to determine whether it is infected and what type of treatment is needed.

After seeing this ad, I asked regulatory officials in Pennsylvania to initiate emergency disciplinary action against the chiropractors who had placed it. More than a year later, I was notified that the chiropractors were no longer practicing in Pennsylvania and therefore that no action would be taken.

In 2002, Medical Arts Press, which markets office supplies and sales aids for six types of health professionals, began selling chiropractic "reminder/recall postcards" that contain misleading claims. The most blatant was an "Earaches in Children" card which stated:

Recurrent, painful ear infections may be a symptoms of a larger problem!
Chiropractic adjustments can solve the ear infection puzzle.
Some children suffer from chronic earaches. The earaches often occur due to a blockage in the eustachian tube which prevents drainage of the middle ear and results in infection. Chiropractic can help relieve the earaches with adjustments to the neck and upper back that help restore motion to the vertebrae. Once proper motion is restored, nervous interference is eliminated and drainage of the eustachian tube can occur. This enables the body's immune system to fight the infection.

There is no scientific evidence or logical reason to believe that spinal manipulation is effective in treating or preventing ear infections. There is also no logical reason to believe that chiropractors are qualified to diagnose ear infections. Most see very few chiildren during their training, and most neither own nor know how to use an otoscope.

This article was revised on October 9, 2006.

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