Onions and Chiropractic
[originally published in KCN, April 2002]
Onions and chiropractic? A new culinary delight? Perhaps. But the reality is that when most people finally show up in a chiropractor’s office their spine resembles an onion. The symptom (usually pain) that eventually drives them to our offices is all too often an overt warning flag of a problem that has persisted for quite some time. Like the layers of an onion, neglected spines are virtually layered with a history of stress and injuries — making the chiropractic experience akin to that of an archeological dig. What surprises a lot of people, is that the neck or back pain they’re experiencing as an adult, could have stemmed from the time they fell off the changing table as an infant, the fender bender Mom got into when they were a toddler, or the fall they took off their bike as a youth. Or perhaps, they never had a fighting chance — perhaps their “onion” can be peeled back to an event we all share in common: birth.
Birth. It sounds so innocent. But the truth is, even so called “normal” births, can be extremely traumatic to the newborn spine and more importantly the delicate nervous system that’s encased within it. The twisting, bending, and pulling that a newborn’s neck and head will undergo during the delivery process can average a whopping 40 to 70 pounds of force. One article I came across mentioned that “it is not uncommon for doctors to use their entire body weight for leverage with a foot placed on the delivery table for extra pulling force.” When extra assistance is needed, forceps and/or vacuum extraction is employed which can add even more force to the equation — not to mention a whole host of other complications like skull fractures and intracranial hemorrhaging. Sadly, researchers are able to share with us that 120 pounds of force is all that is needed for the unthinkable to happen — and while it is rare, it horrifyingly has happened.
And it’s not just the forces associated with the actual delivery that can lead to spinal problems, but the actual labor itself. An unfavorable positioning of the fetus or disorganized uterine contractions can stress the fetus’ spine as the piston-like movement of the uterus encounters resistance from the fetus hitting the pelvic floor.
And don’t be fooled into thinking a Caesarian delivery is any less traumatic. It too has its challenges and can sometimes involve the use of forceps or vacuum extraction.
Why do you need to know all this? Because with 10% of the over 50,000 newborn deaths that occur each year in the United States being attributed to birth trauma of the brainstem and upper cervical spine, this demands our attention. Abraham Towbin, M.D., a notable professor and researcher of neuropathology, has stated that “…life for the newborn depends on the preservation and healthy functioning of the brainstem and upper spinal cord.”
Thankfully, not all birth traumas result in death, but many children are permanently affected by injuries of this nature. What alarms me, however, is that these are the ones that are easy to count. So many of our newborns are passed off as “healthy” when they too, in fact, have suffered a trauma to their spine and nervous system. Their symptoms just aren’t as obvious in the beginning and later are some times linked to many of the frustratingly unexplainable behaviors and conditions that we often encounter with our young ones. Poor feeding, regurgitation, fussiness, tremors, sleeping difficulties, colic, failure-to-thrive syndromes, and/or those syndromes associated with lowered immune responses, just to scratch the surface, can be associated with these “subclinical” spinal traumas. Also infants that refuse, or have difficulty, nursing on one side versus the other may also fall into this group.
There have also been a number of articles showing a possible link between birth trauma and SIDS. One such article stated, “Functional disturbances in the brainstem and cervical spinal cord areas related to the neurophysiology of respiration may contribute to the clinical factors associated with sudden infant death syndrome…Any process, whether genetic, biochemical, biomechanical or traumatic, that alters normal development of the respiratory control centers related to spinal constriction and compression following birth trauma may be contributory to sudden infant death syndrome.”
And the problems are not just limited to childhood. Aside from the adult neck and back pain I alluded to above, I have come across some references made to studies that are a bit more disturbing. Apparently a significant correlation exists between birth trauma and male suicides with regards to the method they employ to kill themselves. One article published rather recently found that, of the men that have committed suicide, those that had been exposed to birth-related trauma, such as an emergency Caesarian section or forceps delivery, were twice as likely to utilize violent means in which to do so…pretty intense stuff.
So what do we do? Well, if birth trauma, no matter how slight, is a possible genesis or contributing factor to such a wide array of troubling lifetime conditions and behaviors, we need to safeguard our children from it. Ideally, we will continue to find ways in which to modify our modern labor and delivery techniques to prevent or lessen the incidence of birth-related trauma, but until then, we need a way to detect it — no matter how slight— and swiftly fix it. Such a way does exist, and has for over a century, but unfortunately is not widely known about in this respect: chiropractic.
The nature of the forces of birth described above invariably sets up a condition which we chiropractors treat everyday: the Vertebral Subluxation Complex. This is a condition in which the individual spinal vertebrae get forced — in this case — out of alignment, “lock up,” and no longer move as they should. This in turn “pinches” or “irritates” the exiting spinal nerve roots from the encased, delicate central nervous system. In some situations, if the Vertebral Subluxation Complex is severe enough, the symptoms will be quite obvious, contributing to something that is readily nameable and easy to point out in a medical book — such as Bell’s, Erb’s, or Klumpke’s palsies. Other times they will slip by unnoticed by the medical professionals, only to show up later (still unnoticed as the cause) as unexplained health problems — some of which are described above. This initial damage can be compounded (in other words, the “onion” we spoke about above begins to grow) as the child develops proper head support, learns to sit up, to crawl, and to walk — making even the tiniest of bumps and falls a potential trigger for compromised health.
As parents, we all want the best for our children, and certainly knowing that they are as healthy as possible is of paramount concern. Having a properly functioning nervous system is vital. Vertebral Subluxations dampen the nervous system’s ability to function properly. Chiropractic doctors are trained to detect and correct Vertebral Subluxations. Doesn’t it make sense that, given the incredible forces involved in the birth process, a newborn’s spine be checked and adjusted, if necessary, by a chiropractor as soon as possible? — especially, when you stop to consider that an adjustment to a newborn’s spine (quite different from our adult techniques) only involves a couple of ounces to a couple of pounds of pressure. What an incredible gift to give our children! What an advantage — an advantage that has the potential to wipe away many unseen disadvantages that may have been ahead.
On a personal note, all three of my children were adjusted shortly after birth. All three have different stories. But, without a doubt, the most impressionable was Logan’s. Logan, as newborns go, was rather large — my wife, however, is not. So when this 10 pound 11 ounce baby made his way down the birth canal, his shoulders got stuck. What else was there to do but to pull on Logan’s head. Tugging and pulling commenced. Dad the chiropractor cringed. But even with these valiant efforts, not much progress was made. Fast thinking on the part of our birth team manipulated my wife in various positions to encourage the passing of the shoulders. More tugging and pulling. Logan’s head was still exposed to outside world, while the rest of him remained stuck inside. Another change in position. More tugging… and he was out! Out, but not looking healthy. With only a heart beat to win him any APGAR points, Logan looked like a purple, non-breathing, noodle.
Emergency procedures were used to revive him, and by the grace of God he soon belted out a cry and began to pink up. His arms and legs flailed about as one would expect — all except the left arm. It lay at his side, motionless, like a strand of spaghetti. As a concerned parent, I quickly questioned the pediatric practitioner working on my son. I was told that it was most likely due to nerve irritation in the neck from all the pulling and tugging during delivery. It was then that Logan’s daddy stepped back and his chiropractor stepped forward.
At minute seven I was allowed to say “hello” to my son. Placing my fingertips on his tiny neck, I quickly palpated his infantile spine. What I felt amazed me. The right side of the cervical spine exhibited good segmental motion, while the left felt like a brick. With gentle finger tip pressure, Logan received his first chiropractic adjustment to the left-sided stuck segments. No one in the room was the wiser — I didn’t have time to explain. It was just between my son and I. I stepped back and within moments, Logan’s arm began to regain life. I breathed a silent prayer of thanks. As I stared in amazement at my son, I felt a pat on my back from the pediatric practitioner telling me that I needn’t worry because his arm was just fine now. I never told him.
Now, one could argue that this was all a perfectly timed coincidence, and that Logan’s arm came around on its own; but I don’t think so, nor would I want to even speculate at what problems he could be facing now if his dad was not a chiropractor. True, my kids are in a unique situation, but no newborn should have to start life out without being checked by a chiropractor — they should all be afforded this advantage.
As we awaited to receive the pediatrician’s seal of approval to be released from the hospital after the birth of our most recent child, Claire, I wondered when the day would come that a chiropractor’s approval would also be necessary. Of course in Claire’s case it was. And as a parent, that’s comforting — comforting to know that you’ve done what you could to combat the incredible forces she encountered entering this world, and that when she cries, as babies do, the tears are probably not from an onion.