As if sleepless nights and endless crying weren’t enough, parents of infants with colic often endure a string of unsuccessful treatments and frustrating doctors visits as they struggle to fight the elusive condition. But new research offers hope to parents searching for natural treatment of infant colic: chiropractic therapies produced clinically and statistically significant reductions in crying time in colicky babies in a recent study.
Previous research has examined the effects of chiropractic therapies on colic with inconclusive results. In a 2006 study from Britain and in a 1999 Danish study, manual therapy was associated with significant reductions in crying time. In both studies however, parents were not blinded to the treatment infants received, leading critics to worry that parents’ knowledge of the treatment biased their reporting on infant crying time. In a 2002 Norwegian study that did blind parents to the treatment, no significant differences were found between a manual therapy and a placebo treatment. In still another study, two different manual therapies reduced crying time but there were no placebos for comparison. These varying results meant that although some evidence pointed to the benefits of chiropractic care for colic, questions lingered about parental bias and treatment efficacy.
Researchers from the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic sought to investigate these questions in a study of 104 infants with colic. They divided the patients into three groups: in the first group, the infants were treated and the parents were aware of treatment; in the second group the infants were treated and the parents were blinded to treatment; and in the third group the infants were not treated and the parents were blinded to the lack of treatment.
After ten days, all three groups had significant reductions in crying time but the infants in the treatment groups saw greater improvements. Babies who received chiropractic therapies cried for an average of 1.5 hours less than untreated infants. Treated infants with blinded parents had a 44% reduction in crying time, compared to a 51% reduction in crying time for infants with parents who were aware of treatment. Those who received no treatment had just an 18% reduction in crying time. The slight differences between treatment groups were not statistically significant, suggesting that parental bias did not substantially alter reporting of crying time. The improvements were considered clinically significant by two cutoffs: a reduction in crying time by 30% and crying for 2 hours or less a day.
Researchers pointed to studies showing that moderate finger pressure can induce a relaxation response in adults, decreasing heart rate and increasing alpha and beta brainwave activity. Other studies have found that manual impulse can similarly result in reduced heart rate in infants. This relaxation response could be a potential mechanism behind the reduced crying time. If colic is indeed related to musculoskeletal conditions as hypothesized by some authors, manual therapies could also address underlying musculoskeletal disorders.
While larger studies are needed to confirm these results, the study suggests that chiropractic therapies could be beneficial for infants with colic. Previous research suggests that chiropractors can play a role in treating colic related to infant headache. Doctors of chiropractic can also advise you in making nutritional and dietary changes to minimize allergic reactions that may also be an underlying cause of colic.
Miller J, Newell D, and Bolton J. Efficacy of Chiropractic Manual Therapy on Infant Colic: A Pragmatic, Single-Blind, Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 2012; 35 (8): 600-607.
Marchland AM, Miller JE, Mitchell C. Diagnosis and Chiropractic Treatment of Infant Headache Based on Behavioral Presentation and Physical Findings: A Retrospective Series of 13 Cases. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 2009; 32 (8): 682-686.