Joint dysfunction and nerve irritation can affect young people in big ways — from causing headaches and sleeping troubles to bed wetting and asthma. Can chiropractic care help?

Improved child health with a chiropractor?

Chiropractic care is a branch of complementary and alternative medicine that focuses on the musculoskeletal and nervous system. Chiropractors adjust the spine to allow the proper functioning of the body via the nervous system.

Have you ever been to a chiropractor? This growing field is considered by many to be an important part of maintaining optimal health for children and adults alike. Although chiropractic care is usually seen as a therapy for adult joint pain, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that a full 14 percent of chiropractic visits are for babies, children and adolescents.

Really? Children? Yes! Believe it or not, minor things like bumps and falls may actually harm joints and nerves, creating dysfunction and irritation that could lead to headaches, sleep troubles, bed wetting and more.

Who is chiropractic care for?

Many chiropractors view chiropractic care as a therapy for everyone — from babies on up. "It can benefit kids just as it can benefit adults," says Dr. Katie Pinkus of Pinkus Family Chiropractic in Manchester, Vermont.

Pinkus says chiropractic care focuses on healing the body so it can better communicate with itself, which may be interrupted by misaligned vertebrae.

Dr. Carrie Getzmier, chair of the Minnesota Chiropractic Association Communications Committee, agrees. "Gentle chiropractic care not only removes this nerve interference but also stimulates the immune system, enhancing the child's overall health." Getzmier says babies who have colic, reflux, difficulty with breast-feeding and more could benefit from it.

The first appointment

The first appointment will vary based on the practice you choose. However, Pinkus says that in her office, the appointment is really a thorough evaluation. "We usually talk about nutrition and diet. We talk about prenatal and in utero and delivery care," she says. They also use special technology to do a neurological screen to see how the nerves are behaving and which ones "are firing off too hard, what nerves are not firing off enough."

They also look at posture and gait.

Getting adjustments

Unlike some chiropractic adjustments for adults, the adjustments for babies and children are given gently, smoothly and without any discomfort to the child. Pinkus says adjustments can be as minor as sustained pressure in a certain area, which varies in strength, depending on what's needed. "It is not painful. If a child is young enough — most of my babies don't wake up while I am adjusting them," she says. "We usually talk to the kids before the adjustment."

Slow before you go

Although pediatric chiropractors — and their satisfied clients — attest to the value of chiropractic care for kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics has a few words of caution for parents. There have been very few randomized and controlled trials that demonstrate the effectiveness of the therapy for children. This isn't to say benefits aren't possible; rather, it's to say the benefits haven't yet been scientifically proven.

The AAP also warns that parents should not rely on chiropractic for primary medical treatment. Make sure you talk to your pediatrician about your child's ailments first so that a medical condition isn't missed. And last, but certainly not least, make sure the pediatric chiropractor of your choice has had plenty of advanced training, as it is possible to injure a child if care is provided incorrectly.

Read more on child health

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