Making Adjustments: Infertility and the Chiropractic Link


Making Adjustments: Infertility and the Chiropractic Link

By Kelly Burgess
Recently, infertility specialists have been focusing on factors outside of the reproductive system in order to solve the puzzle of infertility. More and more centers for infertility are partnering with acupuncturists, yoga centers and other stress reduction or lifestyle maximization programs. This may be why a study published in the Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research (JVSR), a peer-reviewed scientific journal devoted to subluxation-based chiropractic research, is getting a lot of press – most of it very positive.

It’s too soon to call this an infertility breakthrough, but it’s certainly intriguing. The study, which was published in three parts, detailed a number of cases where infertile women undergoing chiropractic care became pregnant. While some of these women went to the chiropractor with a view toward helping their fertility, others went merely to have their spines adjusted but then became pregnant while under chiropractic care.

Miracle or Coincidence?
About 13 years ago, my best friend underwent infertility treatments. Ultimately, she became pregnant via in vitro fertilization (IVF). She and her husband wanted to have more children but knew they couldn’t afford the high price of infertility treatments again. It looked as if they would have to stop at one.

About 18 months after the baby was born, her mom talked her into seeing a chiropractor for some ongoing problems with her back. Two months later, shortly after she returned from a long weekend away with her husband, she was startled to discover she was pregnant.

After hearing about this study, I called my friend and asked if she thought chiropractic had anything to do with her successful second pregnancy. Amazed, she told me that she’d always thought it was just that they’d had a relaxing vacation, but she said the chiropractic may have definitely played a part.

When I told Dr. Madeline Behrendt my friend’s story, she laughed delightedly, glad to have these theories bolstered once again. Dr. Behrendt is the author of the infertility series, an associate editor of JVSR and the chair of the council on women’s health for the World Chiropractic Alliance. Dr. Behrendt says that it’s anecdotal evidence like my friend’s that prompted the study in the first place.

“This is occurring in practices all over the country, but definitive research includes very specific guidelines, and I wanted to operate and present under those guidelines,” she says. “The purpose of the study was to start establishing solid evidence for what people in practices have been reporting for a very long time.”

Dr. Behrendt makes it clear that chiropractic in and of itself is not a “cure” or a treatment for infertility. However, what chiropractic does is to correct distortions in the parts of the body where the reproductive organs are located. It seems that doing so can sometimes lead to fertility.

The Science Behind the Study
Dr. Frank Painter maintains the Chiropractic and Infertility page for the Chiropractic Resource Organization and operates a practice in LaGrange, Ill. He explains that the roots of the study and the idea behind chiropractic as help for infertility lie in good science.

“Peristaltic motion is a term that describes muscular function controlled by our autonomous nervous system,” he says. “If you look at where the uterus is, an egg has to go down a little tube and is propelled via peristaltic motion. If it happens to be fertilized but there is insufficient peristaltic motion, it cannot be delivered to the uterus.”

Furthermore, Dr. Painter says, in theory, if this peristaltic motion is so disturbed that it backs up and delivers uterine tissue into the abdominal cavity or onto the ovaries, it can result in endometriosis. He knows of at least five studies where women who were close to being surgical candidates because of endometriosis ultimately found relief in chiropractic care.

Dr. Behrendt says that this should almost be intuitive knowledge, simply because of the relationship to the placement of the spine and the placement of the reproductive organs.

“When people come to chiropractors and list their concerns or health histories, we give them fair warning that people under chiropractic care have seen changes in fertility,” Dr. Behrendt says. “The nerves to the reproductive system run through the spine, and if there’s a distortion, it can affect fertility.”

Transcending Technique
Although the study is small, its subjects come from a wide range of socioeconomic and religious backgrounds. There is also a significant age range, from 22 to 65. The 65-year-old did not get pregnant, but after a lifetime with no menstrual periods, she began menstruating four weeks after beginning chiropractic adjustments.

“The design of the study was very important to me,” Dr. Behrendt says. “I wanted all different ages, circumstances and techniques, so I invited many people to participate. The result was that it wasn’t one specific type of woman, doctor, age group, technique or symptom. Some women had never had a menstrual cycle, one had colitis and another blocked fallopian tubes. The only commonality was changes in neurological function.”

Both Dr. Painter and Dr. Behrendt stress that the outcomes of this study transcend chiropractic techniques. Within the case studies, there were a number of chiropractic techniques practiced. Like in any profession, chiropractic practitioners tend to become very attached to their own techniques. Regardless of the technique, the basic result is the same. And that’s important, because Dr. Painter doesn’t want to see a “technique war” over this latest study.

“We really want to draw away from the techniques used to achieve this result and focus on the result itself,” he says. “There’s nothing to support one approach over another.”

While not conclusive, the results of this study are compelling, and it’s an approach that certainly can’t do any harm. Chiropractic is also often covered by insurance.

Dr. Jeanne Ohm, executive coordinator of the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA), says she and her husband, who have both been in practice for more than 20 years, have seen amazing results that can’t always be adequately explained by traditional medical practices.

“This is a heck of a lot less expensive and less traumatic than most fertility treatments,” she says. “There’s no reason a woman can’t try getting her body to work properly before she tries medical intervention.”