When people think of chiropractors and pregnancy, many are afraid and wonder “will this injure me or my baby?” Even though I’m a chiropractor, I can see why people might be fearful. Traditionally, chiropractors are understood to be “bone crunchers”, twisting and contorting their patients into untold positions of torture while they elicit all kinds of noises from the spine. But I’m here to tell you that this is not always what happens in the office of a chiropractor, and that mothers have everything to gain by seeking prenatal chiropractic care. Chiropractic is actually all about restoring function to the nervous system (the brain, spinal cord and network of nerves that go to every part of the body), by removing interference (subluxations). This allows uninterrupted communication between brain and body, allowing the body to cope more easily with the myriad of changes that are taking place to accommodate the growth of a new baby.
Most chiropractors regularly see patients who are pregnant and care for them until (and after) the baby is born. There are obvious alterations that chiropractors must make to their technique in order to give an adjustment (treatment) to a pregnant woman, but it is actually very easy to adjust women during pregnancy. And the big question I know you want answered…yes, chiropractic is safe during pregnancy. The hormones that are coursing through a pregnant woman’s body mean that she is much more pliable and much less force is required in order to make a big change, so often adjustments are much easier. Many women choose to have chiropractic care during their pregnancy to deal with or avoid back pain, but studies have shown that chiropractic can also help to improve labour by decreasing the amount of drugs used, and also by decreasing labour times by up to 39% (Fallon, 1991).
The anatomy of the uterus helps to explain why women can benefit from chiropractic during pregnancy. The uterus is suspended in the abdomen by several ligaments, one of which is called the uterosacral ligament. As the name suggests, this ligament connects the uterus to the sacrum. The sacrum is the bone at the base of the spine that makes up part of the pelvis. So any distortion through the sacrum/pelvis can cause tension through the uterosacral ligament, and may result in interauterine constraint (a uterus that is not big enough for baby and a pelvis that won’t expand to let a baby out). Remember all those hormones pumping around a pregnant body? They mean that the expectant mother is more susceptible to subluxation (joint problems that chiropractors deal with when they adjust people) through her entire body. This can lead to things like instability and pain in the pelvis and/or low back, not to mention the changes that come with a pregnant belly, decreased lung capacity, decreased bowel motility, increased kidney output…I could go on all day, but I think you get the idea.
The great thing about chiropractic is that there is no specific technique that is better than another for correcting subluxations in the pregnant patient. Webster’s technique is a chiropractic technique that you may have heard of, and it was invented by Dr Larry Webster in the late 1970s. It was found in one study to turn breech, transverse and oblique presentations to a normal head presentation with a success rate of up to 92% (Pistolese, 2002). Many people say that this is the best technique to use, but many chiropractors will tell you that many other techniques are just as effective in balancing the nervous system (and pelvis). Some of these techniques include Myofascial release (a gentle soft tissue technique that releases fixations in the fascia of the body, not a chiropractic technique), Sacro Occipital Technic (a chiropractic technique that focuses on restoring cerebrospinal fluid flow through chiropractic adjustments), Activator (a chiropractic technique that uses a small instrument to deliver an adjustment, instead of the hands) and Applied Kinesiology (a chiropractic technique that uses muscle testing to diagnose and is based on Eastern medicine and the 5 elements chart). And that is just the beginning – there are many more techniques out there. Below are links to explain these techniques further.
Borggren, C. Pregnancy and chiropractic: a narrative review of the literature. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine Volume 6, Issue 2, June 2007, Pages 70–74
Fallon, J. (1991) The effects of chiropractic treatment on pregnancy and labor: a comprehensive study. From Proceedings of the world chiropractic conference. Pp 24–31.
Pistolese R. The WebsterTechnique: A chiropractic technique with obstetric implications. JMPT Volume 25, Issue 6, July 2002, Pages E1–E9
Websites/online references for chiropractic techniques
Sacro Occipital Technic www.soto.net.au
Applied Kinesiology http://www.appliedkinesiology.com/