The United Chiropractic Association has warned that using mobile phones for texting could cause poor posture that could shorten your life. They claim that poor posture is as big a health risk as obesity and that it increases the risk of an early death, especially in elderly people. Chiropractors have said a lot of silly things, but this ranks right up there among the silliest. They are just making stuff up and using scaremongering as a practice-building technique.They say these claims are based on research studies. They aren’t. They are fanciful imaginings built around a tiny grain of truth that is just large enough to confuse a medically naive public. When people text, they usually bend their head forward; and if you hunch over for long periods, your back is likely to hurt. I have to keep reminding myself not to sit at the computer too long in one position.
But these chiropractors are not talking about temporary muscle discomfort. They say the posture assumed in texting will lead to hyperkyphosis. Kyphosis is an exaggeration of the natural curvature of the upper back. It can be a flexible increase in curvature (= a habit of slouching, the postural kyphosis that is common in teenage girls but that doesn’t impact their adult health) or it can be an inflexible bony deformity. When the curvature exceeds 45 degrees it is classified as hyperkyphosis. The Hunchback of Notre Dame had hyperkyphosis, but I don’t think he even owned a cellphone. Hyperkyphosis can be the result of vertebral fractures, congenital defects, infections like tuberculosis, or nutritional deficiencies like rickets. The “dowager’s hump” deformity in elderly women is usually due to “wedging,” a partial collapse of the anterior side of the spinal vertebrae from osteoporosis. They may be so bent over that they face the ground and can look ahead only with great difficulty. Not surprisingly, severe kyphosis scrunches the chest cavity. It can reduce breathing capacity; can lead to cardiac, neurologic, or digestive complications; and can reduce life expectancy.
Remember when Mom told you not to cross your eyes because they might get stuck and stay that way permanently? Of course that can’t really happen; and no amount of hunching over a cell phone is going to produce a permanent hyperkyphosis either. Chiropractors claim to know more about the musculoskeletal system than MDs; how can they not know this?
The United Chiropractic Association is based in the UK and has members in the US, Canada, and ten other countries. A perusal of its website rings alarm bells.
It includes a lot of informative (sarcasm intended) articles like “Detox with a Smoothie,” “Kids’ Spines Not Coping,” and “Usain Bolt Utilizes Chiropractic.” An article titled “Studies Prove Chiropractic Can Prevent Heart Disease” tells us that “adjustments of the atlas, or first cervical vertebra, may stop some heart attacks while they are occurring” – a ridiculous and dangerous claim based not on any study but merely on one chiropractor’s opinion. The article “Vaccine” informs us that “After receiving data regarding febrile seizure risk after MMRV [the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine], few physicians report they would recommend MMRV to a healthy 12-15-month-old child.” By the time I got to “Why Women in China Do Not Get Breast Cancer” my patience had run out. I couldn’t bring myself to read that one or any more of the articles.
On a webpage about “Why get adjusted?” they claim adjustments can improve vision, reading ability, memory, alertness, and energy; keep joints young and well-lubricated; improve overall health and reduce the incidence of disease; make muscles stronger; remove scar tissue and joint adhesions; improve eye-hand coordination; cure colic in babies; and make your teeth whiter. (OK, I made that last one up, but why not include it? There is just as much evidence for white teeth as for those other claims: exactly zero.)
They fully subscribe to chiropractic’s foundational myth, the subluxation, defining it as “a complex of functional and/or structural and/or pathological articular changes that compromise neural integrity and may influence organ system function and general health.” That means whatever they want it to mean, and means exactly nothing to non-chiropractors.
Notice how they use the word “adjustment” as if they were doing something special and uniquely chiropractic, instead of the term “spinal manipulation therapy” that is used by physical therapists and others who perform the same maneuvers without imagining they are correcting subluxations.
They say chiropractic adjustments remove disruptions of the nervous system, the system that “controls and regulates every single function in your body.” Apparently they have never heard of hormones or autonomously beating heart muscle cells. Apparently they don’t know that cranial nerves, vision, hearing, the firing of brain neurons, and many other bodily functions are anatomically out of the reach of spinal adjustments. Apparently they don’t know that transplanted organs continue to function quite well when their nerve supply has been not just “disrupted” by a subluxation but completely severed. Apparently they have never heard about the useful bacteria that reside in the gut. Why weren’t they taught about such details of anatomy and physiology in chiropractic school?
They sell merchandise, too. You can buy Christmas cards, stickers with a whimsical pig and the slogan “Oink If You Love Chiropractic,” or a children’s book titled Bennie Gets Adjusted (With an accompanying activity book to reinforce the propaganda). They’re not selling Melanie’s Marvelous Measles, but that book would have felt right at home there.
Science and philosophy have moved beyond the outdated concept of vitalism, but it remains alive and well in the UCA:
We ascribe to the idea that all living organisms are sustained by an innate intelligence, which is both different from and greater than physical and chemical forces. Further, we believe innate intelligence is an expression of universal intelligence.
Where are the reformers we keep hearing about? The ones who are no longer taught the old chiropractic subluxation concept in their schools and who are only treating musculoskeletal problems with evidence-based methods? THIS appears to be the real face of modern chiropractic, at least in the UK, since “The UCA is the youngest chiropractic association in the UK with membership growing steadily since 2000.” The president’s name is Kevin Proudman. The man shouldn’t be proud of leading such an anachronistic, pseudoscientific organization.
Texting can definitely be hazardous to your health if you pay more attention to your phone than to traffic, but you needn’t worry about these inane warnings from time-travelling chiropractors who are still living in the 19th century world of chiropractic’s inventor D.D. Palmer. Palmer lived at a time when the germ theory of disease was not yet accepted and x-ray machines hadn’t been invented yet, and he had never studied medicine; yet he invented chiropractic all by himself (on a single day, September 18, 1895 – it says so on his monument). He based the whole edifice of chiropractic on his naïve misinterpretation of a single case. I guess the UCA chiropractors think he was some kind of infallible genius. He wasn’t; his thinking was obviously misguided. And the UCA’s warnings about texting are equally misguided. They would do well to learn some science and join the modern world.
This article was originally published in the Science- Based Medicine Blog.