Not cracking backs


Lara Cawthra writes about a holistic chiropractic approach that can help identify potential difficulties early in a child’s development. Chiropractic is NOT about cracking backs.

Helping the Body Reach Its Full Potential
When you think of a chiropractor, you probably think of back pain, neck pain or some other ache or discomfort. Chiropractors are indeed good at helping these issues; however, it only scratches the surface of what chiropractic is about.

Chiropractic helps the body recover by investigating the relationship between the structure of the body (primarily the skeletal system), the function (the muscles which are the prime movers of the body) and the control system (the nervous system) which coordinates the movement of the body.

So it’s not just about relieving pain; it can help restore movement and function.

The Relationship Between Movement and Function
As the baby develops in utero it starts to make general movements, the mother will feel this as a flutter inside the belly. As the baby grows, more definite movements are felt. It is these movements that are training the nervous system. General movements can begin as early as 8-10 weeks’ gestation. The movements allow the brain to start to develop, and this continues during the first year of life, to enable the child to develop their body map.

The vestibular system is the first sensory system to develop, it acts like the body’s gyroscope system. Connecting Information from the ears and later the eyes, to information to and from the cerebellum, and to and from the rest of the body, this system helps the organism know which way is up. If the vestibular system is dysfunctional, it can be difficult to be balanced and co-ordinated. This may result in the child becoming fearful or impulsive, and dysregulation with their sensitivity may result in either a hyper or hyposensitive profile.

Support can start even before birth.

Supporting the Birth Process
By looking after the neuromuscular-skeletal health of the mother, the baby can benefit. 

It is the baby that begins the process of labour, and several primitive reflexes are employed. The baby has been practising these movements in utero and now coordinates them to move down the passage. Once the baby is born, a new set of challenges arise due to gravity. For nine months the baby has lived in a watery environment and many of the primitive reflexes are innately occurring at this time. However, once born, the baby loses some of these initial reactions as they must now learn how to move against the full force of gravity.

Primitive Reflexes
Primitive reflexes emerge in utero and then develop to become integrated into the child’s normal development. Sometimes the primitive reflexes do not integrate as well as they should, which may result in a delay of the neurodevelopment of a child. Primitive reflexes often underlie many behavioural and learning differences, such as poor posture and coordination, difficulties with maintaining attention, poor fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. 

Delays in the achievement of developmental milestones can alert parents and practitioners to potential difficulties and sometimes, if the primitive reflexes do not quite complete the job they are designed to do , they are not integrated into the neuromotor system. The child may then find some activities and tasks more challenging, such as sitting still in the classroom. As the reflexes have not fully integrated, higher cortical areas will try to compensate and do the job of the reflexes. Concentrating so hard on being still, the child is unable to also pay attention to learning in class, as they are unable to free their higher cortical areas for learning. Sitting still is clearly a requirement for school readiness and learning in most settings.

Early identification of issues can help prevent longer term difficulties.

Primitive reflexes are an integral part of the neuromotor system and if they are unintegrated some of the following symptoms can result.

Skin, our largest organ, forms the boundary between our physical being and the outside world. It also houses the NeuroTactile system, which allows the body to access sensory sensations from the outside world. A person can either have a hypersensitive NeuroTactile system where clothes and labels may be an irritation for them, or be hyposensitive where the person will seek out touch and hugs, i.e. be sensory seeking.

With a thorough assessment of dynamic and postural reflex integration, it can be determined if your child is developing appropriately for their age. Primitive reflexes form part of this assessment, as well as functional neurological testing. This assessment is performed in the clinic and no invasive techniques are required.

Individualised Intervention Programmes 
Reflex integration can be done actively, if the child is able to understand the instructions and actively participate in the exercises and activities prescribed. The integration work can also be done passively, where the practitioner does the work on the child. This way of working is particularly useful on a baby, an individual who cannot comprehend instructions, or where moving a part of their body is difficult. 

Some practitioners use a protocol known as MNRI, which is designed to integrate the primitive reflexes. The therapy helps the brain learn the correct motor response to a given stimulus, which is usually a sensory input, it is the process by which the system is shown the correct use of the reflex.

It’s Like Checking A Ripe Tomato
Often chiropractic techniques produce a sound; this is not so when working with paediatric patients.

The technique utilised in this case is called NeuroImpulse Protocol (NIP), not that it matters what it is called as there are many different techniques in chiropractic. The pressure used is like that when checking a ripe tomato. Cranial therapy may also be used.

‘Most patients demonstrate a sense of relaxation and calm after each NIP adjustment.’

The reflex integration work may feel like a stroking on the skin, deep or light pressure, or a stretch. Proprioceptive and cognitive exercises may also be utilised if appropriate.

A Holistic Approach
Many chiropractors are also able to give lifestyle and nutrition advice. To help your child grow healthy and strong, the best nutrition possible is necessary. Good nutrition is essential for bone and muscle development as well as cognitive function.

The development of secure postural control is important to the growing child. A toddler’s posture will be quite different from that of a teenager. Advice and postural correction helps to reinforce the body map required for a well-functioning body, so that the child can maintain concentration and focus in the classroom.

Putting it all Together
A well child/baby assessment puts all the above elements together and provides a picture of how your child is developing currently. At the end of your visit with your neurodevelopmentally trained chiropractor, you will be given a verbal and pictorial report and advised if any further steps are needed to help your child reach their full potential. This process can be particularly beneficial when there are parental, pre-school, or school concerns about a child’s progress and development.

The chiropractor may identify a cluster of reflex related difficulties.
Lara Cawthra
Author: Lara Cawthra

Lara Cawthra
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Lara Cawthra has been in practice since 1996. She is one of the few chiropractors in the UK with formal training in Paediatrics. She is a Fellow and former Chair of the Royal College of Chiropractors’ Specialist Faculty of Pregnancy and Paediatrics.





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