Musings of a phenomenologist

Science, psychiatry and random musings

Chiropractic for mental health, Bogus*? Updated

Posted by soveda on May 22, 2009


*Deliberate deception not implied

In light of other bloggers looking at chiropractic treatment I thought I’d have a look from my perspective. According to the BCA chiropractic can be used to treat many conditions beyond back pain but does not appear to mention mental health symptoms specifically.

I thought I would find out if individual chiropracters did suggest they could treat depression and this is what I found:

For those who don’t know chiropractic is a discipline which uses manipulation of the spine as a treatment for “subluxations” (1) these are reported as being the cause of many different symptoms. To my understanding there has been no objective demonstration of a “subluxation” on X-Ray or physical examination by a non-chiropracter however.

Chiropractic theory states that in order to have a fully functioning body there need to be no blocks in the nervous system, see this explanation here (2).

For a more skeptical definition and description of chiropractic see the page on UK-Skeptics (3).

It would seem plausible that manipulation of the back could help with back pain, and indeed the data supports this (although it is no better than conventional treatments) but how could it possibly help mental disorders such as depression? Well, Birmingham Chiropractic has the answer (4) , the first part of the page is based in evidence: exercise helps mild depression. But look closer, if you look at the bottom of the page there is the following text:

But remember, we experience everything in life through our nervous systems. If our nervous systems are compromised, our life experience will be compromised. One more reason to seek safe and natural chiropractic care first, before relying on drugs.

The clear implication here is that chiropractic stops the nervous system from being compromised and then lets you make your own conclusions.

Some people aren’t so cautious, an article (5) in The Chiropractic Journal describes the history of chiropractic in the treatment of mental health problems and states that it can treat depression quoting a study from 2005. The study (6) was published in the Journal of Vertebral Subluxation and describes 15 patients who were treated for depression with cervical manipulation. There is no control group, the patients were diagnosed by the chiropracters as having depression (as far as I know chiropractic training does not include training in psychiatry) and as such the study appears flawed even just reading the abstract (if anyone has access to the full article I would be very interested to read it).

This study has been reported as proof that chiropractic treats depression (see here) and if you search on your favoured internet search engine you will find lots of case reports of depression being caused by cervical vertebral subluxations (e.g. here, here and here)

But is it safe? Well, there is a risk of vertebral and carotid artery dissection (case report) as documented on the “what’s the Harm” website and to me the risk (even if small) is too great for an unproven treatment modality. (7)

Birmingham Chiropractic have responded to my email to confirm that they would not advocate chiropractic treatment for depression.
(1) echiropractic definition of subluxations (

(2)Birmingham chiropractic clinic “Chiropractic in 100 words”

(3) UK-Skeptics: “What is Chiropractic and does it work?”

(4) Birmingham chiropractic clinic answer to “can chiropractic help depression”

(5) The Chiropractic Journal (Febuary 2006) “Chiropractic and Mental Health” by “Dr” Christopher Kent

(6) Glenther G. C. et Al Journal of Vertebral Subluxation NOvember 7 2005 pp 1-4 “IMprovement in Depression Following Reduction of Upper Cervical Vertebral Subluxation using Orthospinology Technique”

(7) Website “Action for Victims of Chiropractic”


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