Issue 9 / 14 March 2016

IT was good to see the Chiropractic Board of Australia last week issue its strongest statement yet on misleading claims in advertising by the profession it regulates.

“The Board is concerned about a number of practitioners who are making claims in advertising that there is a relationship between manual therapy (e.g. manipulation) for spinal problems and achieving general wellness or treating various organic diseases and infections; or that spinal problems may have a direct role in various organic diseases and infections,” the statement said.

“There is insufficient scientific evidence to support these claims.”

Well, yes.

The Board expressed particular concern at claims of benefit in a wide range of infant and child health problems, including developmental and behavioural disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, asthma, infantile colic, bedwetting, ear infections, digestive problems, and pre-birth correction of breech presentations.

Chiropractors should not provide anti-vaccination materials and advice or make public comments discouraging vaccination, the statement said.

Some chiropractic waiting rooms and websites have in recent years become recruiting grounds for the anti-vaccination movement, according to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald last year.

It beggars belief that the wilder claims made by some chiropractors have been allowed to continue for so long. It’s not as though it’s a new problem.

In a communique issued on 29 August 2010, the Chiropractic Board asked all practitioners to review their advertising, including their websites, “as a priority” to ensure they conformed with advertising guidelines applicable to all health professions regulated by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Those guidelines are based on the National Law on health practitioner regulation, which states chiropractors, like doctors and other health professionals, must not engage in “false, misleading or deceptive” advertising, must not use testimonials or purported testimonials, and must not create an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment.

Did that call to action stamp out the more outrageous claims made by some in the profession? Hardly.

Nearly 4 years on, I found a number of Australian chiropractic clinics claiming beneficial outcomes in a range of non-musculoskeletal conditions, including asthma, colic, ear infections … and the list goes on.

Some websites seem to have slightly shifted their advertising approach since then, moving away from explicit claims of clinical benefit to simply listing the conditions people might choose to see a chiropractor for.

That might help them to avoid being in breach of the letter of the law, though the list would probably still create an expectation of clinical benefit in the average health consumer.

The indefatigable public health campaigner, Dr Ken Harvey, has recently documented apparent advertising breaches on more than 200 chiropractic websites, as he revealed in MJA Insight earlier this year, and has made a number of formal complaints to AHPRA.

There are, as Dr Harvey points out, penalties available for breaches of the legal requirements and guidelines, including court-imposed fines and disciplinary action by the relevant professional board.

So far, though, there seems to have been a singular reluctance by any of the regulatory bodies to impose those kinds of sanctions.

It seems even less likely we’ll see genuine attempts to rein in the misinformation being provided by chiropractic groups that provide “information” rather than clinical services.

The Australian Spinal Research Foundation says its mission is “to facilitate research and disseminate knowledge that furthers the understanding, development and effectiveness of chiropractic care”.

Fair enough, though a warning bell might be sounded by the follow-up statement that this mission is fulfilled by facilitating research “in support of chiropractic”.

Because that’s how research works, right? First, you decide what you want it to show and then you make sure it does just that.

In a page headed “Autism and the Case for Chiropractic”, the Foundation cites a case study in a 3-year-old child with autism that showed “marked improvements in her condition following subluxation-based care”.

While acknowledging that – “encouraging as that case may be” – further research is needed, the site goes on to suggest chiropractors might be able to help children with autism through potential effects on brain plasticity, neurological function and gut health.

The Foundation, which is listed as an associated organisation on the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia website , also makes claims about the ability of chiropractic to treat babies for breathing problems, breastfeeding difficulties, allergic reactions and chronic infections.

“Perhaps, just perhaps, the grey cloud of scrutiny is finally lifting off the area of paediatric chiropractic care,” the Foundation says.

Applying scrutiny to non-evidence-based treatment of infants and children? The “naysayers”, as this website describes them, really will stop at nothing.

Jane McCredie is a Sydney-based science and health writer.

3 thoughts on “Chiropractors tired of scrutiny. Bless.

  1. CKN Queensland Health says:

    Here’s a particularly tawdry example, claimimg that chiropractic cures cancer! AHPRA have agreed to investigate, but the website is still live today 5.5.16.

    “A natural cancer cure that most people choose nowadays is chiropractic treatment as it has no significant side effects and guarantees long-term relief. In chiropractic, the postural problems are believed to be the cause of any diseases of the body. So, by improving your postural condition, it is believed that you can also be healed from the cancer. Chiropractic is also often use to help relieve the side effects of other cancer treatments, like radio therapy and chemotherapy.”


  2. Peter Bowditch says:

    I confidently predict that the effect on chiropractors and their activities will be exactly the same as it was in 2010 and 2013 when the CBA issued strong warnings about doing the wrong thing – absolutely nothing, with the chiropractors carrying on without any action being taken against even the most egregious offenders.

    The Chiropractic Board of Australia does not exist to regulate chiropractors. Its function is to provide a facade of legitimacy to this form of quackery so that these people who like to be called “doctor” can say “See, we are regulated like other medical professions”.

    A year from now it will still be easy to find advertisements by chiropractors offering treatments for asthma, ADHD, and all the other things that they can’t treat now. And shortly after that the CBA will issue another strong statement about complying with standards of behaviour. And the cycle will continue.

  3. Sue Ieraci says:

    There is an active petition on the site that argues for the retention of so-called “vitalistic” Chiropractic. It is instructive to read the comments from various supporters, including registered Australian Chiropractors who are showing blatant disdain for the regulatory process and the statutory regulatory body. The comments, made of an open, public site, can be found here:

    Here is just one excerpt, written on a public site by an AHPRA registered Chiropractor: “This is not about health care choices – it’s about individual freedom. The Turnbull government has sided with the petrochemical oligarchy and has adopted fascist policies of mandating cradle to the grave drug induced dependence with the aim of absolute obedience to the state. “

    These are the comments iof a health care provider who appears not to understand regulated professional practice.

    Thankfully, there are many rational, competent musculoskeletal Chiropractors who treat back pain and sports injuries, but the group that promotes treatment of “subluxation” for overall health is not a fringe minority – it is a mainstream view.


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