Research Study – Effects of Chiropractic Care on Reflux, Feeding, and Sleep
April 25, 2022

Hello again.

This week’s blog is going to get a little academic.  Some of us LOVE academic studies. In fact, some of us rely on them.  All of you medical professionals out there know that, if we want to change any accepted approach or include something new that might be very helpful, we HAVE to have evidence-based research… and a lot of it.  For those of you who prefer a lighter read, please don’t ignore this one. Skim it for the main points. I promise the take-home message is worth it.

If your practice is like mine, some of the most common challenges that parents and babies face (and come to me for help with) are:

  1. Feeding Difficulties
  2. Reflex (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD)
  3. Sleeping Difficulties

These three things cause many parents to have long sleepless nights and over-the-top stress.  I recently came across a great research study that addresses all of these items AND a possible effective solution through Chiropractic adjustments.  This was first published in The Journal of Pediatric, Maternal, and Family Health- Chiropractic, Volume 2020.  This is just the abstract (shorter) version of the study:

Resolution of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, Feeding Difficulties, & Sleep Disturbances in an Infant Following Chiropractic: A Case Report & Review of Literature.

Allison Parisi, DC, CACCP & Stephen Bako, DC

Objective: To report on the resolution of acid reflux, feeding difficulties, and sleep disturbance in a male infant, undergoing chiropractic care to correct vertebral subluxations.

Clinical Features: A 7-week-old male, born premature and through the trauma of Caesarean section, was referred to the office after a recent history of acid reflux, problems with swallowing, difficulty sleeping, problems with latching, spitting up after feeding, gas, and a superior gaze.

Interventions & Outcomes: A total of nine chiropractic adjustments over ten visits by means of sustained contact, diversified, and Logan Basic were performed in order to reduce vertebral subluxations in the upper cervical, thoracic, and sacral regions of the spine. This occurred over ten visits, in an eleven-week time frame. Acid reflux, feeding difficulties, and sleep disturbances were resolved by the second adjustment on the third visit.

Conclusions:  The resolution of these health challenges after two adjustments suggests there is a possible connection between them and vertebral subluxation. Research supports the commonality of regurgitation during infancy warranting additional research on gastrointestinal disorders in children and chiropractic.

Let’s break this down a bit and explain why the Chiropractic adjustment might help to resolve these issues. You may notice that I highlighted a few items in the abstract so I could easily pull out some important information and connect the dots.

First of all, let’s define a key term:

Vertebral subluxation- According to DD and BJ Palmer (founders of the Chiropractic profession), this means abnormal pressure on nerves which creates a lesion in some portion of the body, either in its action or makeup.  Put in simpler terms- this abnormal pressure on nerves (from the bony structure) impedes the communication from the brain to the body, causing dysfunction and disease.

How can this vertebral subluxation affect the laundry list of challenges that are addressed in the study? Let’s first take a look at the first 4 items listed here- Acid reflux, problems with swallowing, difficulty sleeping, spitting up after feeding, and gas.

To explain this, we need to talk about the Vagus Nerve.  Also identified as Cranial Nerve X, The VAGUS  is the longest and most complex of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves that exit from the brain. It transmits information to/from the brain to tissues & organs elsewhere in the body. It functions as the main communication between the brain and the gut. It balances the heart rate and blood pressure. It allows for relaxation with deep breathing.  It decreases inflammation. It plays a key role in fear management (anxiety).  In essence, it controls all of the body’s life-sustaining functions.

It exits the brainstem through that same little opening in the skull called the Vertebral Foramen, which is located between the Temporal bones (on the side of the cranium) and the Occiput (the base of the skull).  Any misalignment or imbalance in this area causes compression of this nerve and impedes its function… leading to a disruption of normal body functions such as digestion and sleeping.

The Vagus nerve has smaller branches within the cervical spine (neck) called the Pharyngeal and the Laryngeal branches that help to control the action of swallowing.  There’s much more to swallowing than just the Vagus Nerve. The lateral walls of the pharynx are formed by the Stylopharyngeaus Muscle.  Its function is to elevate the larynx and the pharynx and to dilate the pharynx (aka: swallowing). It is directly innervated by Cranial Nerve IX, the Glossopharyngeal Nerve. This exits the brainstem through another small hole in the skull called the Vertebral Foramen, which is located between the Temporal bones (on the side of the cranium) and the Occiput (the base of the skull).  In addition to the innervation, the Stylopharyngeus muscle stretches between the styloid process (of the Temporal bone) and the pharynx.   Any misalignment or imbalance in this area causes compression of this CN IX and pulls on the muscle itself, impeding its function.  

What about the last item on the list: problems with the latch?  This can (and is) a whole huge topic of its own.  Please see my other blog posts and articles specifically addressing the baby’s latch.  In a nutshell, a normal latch is dependent on the baby being able to open his/her mouth wide enough to bring the nipple and most of the areola deeply into his mouth. He also must be able to turn his head properly and have the normal use/strength of his tongue and mouth muscles. Once again, misalignments of these structures (jaw, neck, and cranial bones) impede these functions.

Last, but not least… let’s briefly define the Chiropractic techniques described in the study:  Sustained contact, Diversified, and Logan Basic.  Each of these techniques is light-touch contacts at very specific areas on the spine and cranial for the purpose of reducing tension, increasing normal motion and restoring normal alignment/function. Logan Basic is referring to acupressure points focused on the pelvic ligaments.

The results of this study were exciting.  For this 7-week-old little boy, his acid reflux, feeding difficulties, and sleep disturbances were resolved by the second adjustment on the third visit. The resolution of these health challenges after two adjustments suggests there is a possible connection between them and vertebral subluxation.  Personally, I have seen similar positive results in countless little patients in my office.

The research is there.  The science is there.  The results are there.  My hope is the information is spread to those able to refer these families to the appropriate care; therefore, bringing healing at a desperately difficult time. As more and more chiropractors are properly trained to do this work, that hope can be a reality.

To learn more about breastfeeding and the anatomy involved in infants and how it affects breastfeeding, real-life case studies with breastfeeding patients, a host of interviews with lactation consultants, diagrams, demonstrations, and visual examples to teach the global subluxation pattern – The Anatomy of Breastfeeding.

  This new, updated, accredited continuing education course is for Chiropractors who are looking to improve their careers, learn from leaders and experts in their industry, and looking for new opportunities! The course is approved for 10 CE hours.

Dr. Lynn Gerner, D.C., FICPA
Dr. Lynn Gerner, D.C., FICPA

Dr. Gerner is a Chiropractor and has been a Maternity and Pediatric Specialist in private practice for over 16 years with an additional focus on functional infant cranial work. She teaches other professionals to support breastfeeding across the USA and internationally. She is a graduate of Life Chiropractic College West in 2004. She is a Fellow with the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA) and a trained doula. She is currently Post Graduate faculty at Life Chiropractic College, West. She is the founding partner of The Good Life Collective, Davis, CA and the creator of The Good Life Learning, LLC. She is a wife, mother of 3 grown children, and lives in Northern CA with her husband and their 2 rescued dogs.

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