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As we speak, an Australian chiropractor named Andrew Arnold is outraging people all over the world after a marketing video of him performing spinal adjustments on a young infant went viral. Healthcare regulators and heads of medical organizations are calling for bans and the chiropractor has agreed to stop treating children as an investigation commences. It’s a whole thing.

If this all seems very familiar, it’s because it has all happened before down to the smallest detail. Back in 2016, Australian Chiropractor Ian Rossborough was under fire for the exact same issue.

Rossborough took all of his videos down, and his personal and practice YouTube sites remain barren, but there is now no official record of his being banned from treating young children or of the requirement for supervision (by another chiropractor) when treating older children. None. He has a clean record without restrictions on the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency website. In July of last year, however, a fan started a gofundme page for Rossborough with a goal of a $250,000 and let’s just say that they aren’t quite there yet.

In the latest controversy, Arnold is shown doing the exact same shtick that I have seen in hundreds of these marketing videos. It’s actually fairly tame as these things go. Rossborough’s video, which involved the forceful manipulation of a 4-day-old’s spine, complete with a loud crack and an immediate shriek of pain in response, was considerably more stomach churning.

What has people bent out of shape is that Arnold briefly holds the baby upside down by his feet, the rationale of which isn’t made clear in the video. I’ll explain what he’s doing, not that it matters. It’s ridiculous no matter how you slice it.

When explaining this “test” to parents, the reason given typically involves the “fencing reflex“, a primitive reflex where the arm and leg flex when a young infant’s head is turned to that side. Holding a baby upside down by one leg to see if a baby turn’s their head a certain way is an incredibly stupid means of testing for the presence of this reflex, but here we are. The chiropractor will claim that if the baby doesn’t turn correctly then there must be some kind of nervous system “interference” that only they can fix.

Sometimes this reflex isn’t mentioned at all and they just make the claim that the baby should keep their head straight. If the head turns, it must be because of some kind of spinal misalignment that only they can fix. Whatever the explanation, the chiropractor can literally use any response from the baby as a reason for treatment because it is all just made up. It’s all just a performance. The individual chiropractor may believe what they are saying, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t fooling themselves by reading into random baby behavior.

The rest of the video involves a lot of typical baby chiropractic nonsense. He uses an Activator, one of those spring-loaded handheld mallet devices that make a weak thump against the skin. It’s completely harmless, and Arnold follows the standard parental reassurance script, although I was impressed that he didn’t compare his adjustments to the pressure used to check the ripeness of a tomato.

He also does some craniosacral work on the spine and skull, and even mentions pushing spinal fluid around. It’s all nonsense, but it doesn’t look like he’s hurting the baby. There is crying throughout the video, but I don’t read it as pain.

So here we are again. Victoria’s Health Minister has condemned Arnold and area physicians are upset and calling for legislation to stop chiropractors from treating children. If history tells us anything, he will receive a slap on the wrist and return to business as usual. We are facing similar issues here in the United States, where pediatric chiropractic care is an increasing marketing approach.

I do hope that I will be proven wrong, of course.

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Posted by Clay Jones

Clay Jones, M.D. is a pediatrician and a regular contributor to the Science-Based Medicine blog. He primarily cares for healthy newborns and hospitalized children, and devotes his full time to educating pediatric residents and medical students. Dr. Jones first became aware of and interested in the incursion of pseudoscience into his chosen profession while completing his pediatric residency at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital a decade ago. He has since focused his efforts on teaching the application of critical thinking and scientific skepticism to the practice of pediatric medicine. Dr. Jones has no conflicts of interest to disclose and no ties to the pharmaceutical industry. He can be found on Twitter as @SBMPediatrics and is the co-host of The Prism Podcast with fellow SBM contributor Grant Ritchey. The comments expressed by Dr. Jones are his own and do not represent the views or opinions of Newton-Wellesley Hospital or its administration.