BACKGROUND. Spinal manipulation is a noninvasive manual procedure applied to specific body tissues with therapeutic intent. Although spinal manipulation is commonly used in children, there is limited understanding of the pediatric risk estimates.
OBJECTIVE. Our goal was to systematically identify and synthesize available data on adverse events associated with pediatric spinal manipulation.
METHODS. A comprehensive search was performed of 8 major electronic databases (eg, Medline, AMED, MANTIS) from inception to June 2004 irrespective of language. Reports were included if they (1) were a primary investigation of spinal manipulation (eg, observation studies, controlled trials, surveys), (2) included a study population of children who were aged 18 years or younger, and (3) reported data on adverse events. Data were summarized to demonstrate the nature and severity of adverse events that may result rather than their incidence.
RESULTS. Thirteen studies (2 randomized trials, 11 observational reports) were identified for inclusion. We identified 14 cases of direct adverse events involving neurologic or musculoskeletal events. Nine cases involved serious adverse events (eg, subarachnoidal hemorrhage, paraplegia), 2 involved moderately adverse events that required medical attention (eg, severe headache), and 3 involved minor adverse events (eg, midback soreness). Another 20 cases of indirect adverse events involved delayed diagnosis (eg, diabetes, neuroblastoma) and/or inappropriate provision of spinal manipulation for serious medical conditions (ie, meningitis, rhabdomyosarcoma).
CONCLUSIONS. Serious adverse events may be associated with pediatric spinal manipulation; neither causation nor incidence rates can be inferred from observational data. Conduct of a prospective population-based active surveillance study is required to properly assess the possibility of rare, yet serious, adverse events as a result of spinal manipulation on pediatric patients.