A cohort study published in the December 2016 issue of the Journal of Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics showed that chiropractic care helped reduce the time for correction of head shape deformity in infants. Head shape deformity, called plagiocephaly, is described in the study as …an asymmetry in the shape of the skull.
Estimates as to how common plagiocephaly is vary from 16-21% at 6-7 weeks old, and 20% at 4 months old, to 47% of infants aged 7-12 weeks old. Most cases are first noticed by parents at various ages and may account for the variation of percentages. The cause of irregular head shape is thought to be external pressures on the skull before birth during development.
There is some disagreement between medical authorities as to whether or not plagiocephaly has an effect on the health and development of a child. The UK National Health Service (NHS) states plagiocephaly is cosmetic only, while other authorities suggest that this condition has been shown to be related to learning disabilities, dysfunctional auditory processing, and developmental delay in the gross motor and cognitive issues.
Chiropractic care for cases of plagiocephaly is focused on the neck and not rendered directly to the head. The study authors describe the purpose of care by saying, Chiropractors commonly manage infants with plagiocephaly and treat the cervical spine to achieve full range and freedom of motion so that the infant is not stuck in one position. If the head can be freely moved, then the pressure on the cranium will be equally distributed and the skull will, ideally, become symmetrical.
The study was conducted at the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic (AECC) clinic, in Bournemouth, UK. In this study, 64 infants and babies with plagiocephaly were examined and measurements of their head shape were made. Most infants in this study were born at full-term with 56% being assisted births and 44% being natural vaginal deliveries. The breakdown showed that there were 62.5% males and 37.5% females. The average age was 11.5 weeks old with the range being from 2 to 44 weeks of age.
The chiropractic care given was in accordance with the standard protocol for children of this age at the school clinic. Head shape measurements were taken at the 1st, 4th and 7th chiropractic visit, with a six week follow up done later. All participants achieved a full range of neck motion from the chiropractic care. As expected, the size of the infant’s heads increased accounting for normal growth.
The results showed that the infants’ plagiocephaly measurement significantly reduced over the course of chiropractic care. Of the 64 infants and babies in the study, 20 showed a complete resolution of head deformation. The remainder of the babies all showed significant reductions of plagiocephaly above what would normally have occurred as the babies grew.
In their conclusion the authors wrote, This study showed a significant reduction in head deformity in infants during a course of six weeks of chiropractic care. They continued to explain that these results do not suggest a cause and effect relationship but rather a possible approach to helping plagiocephaly. They noted that chiropractic may have facilitated a faster correction of the normal head shape than would normally occur, saying …the improvements in head shape occurred earlier than the natural course of the condition.