We are all familiar with the idea that chiropractic treatment helps back and neck pain. But chiropractors make claims about manipulation helping many other conditions, such as high blood pressure, digestion and even hearing loss.
The first chiropractic patient was said to have been cured of his deafness from a spinal treatment. Chiropractic doctors take a lot of heat for this stance, often with the comment that those claims are not “science-based,” meaning there is no logical reason that spinal treatment would have any effect on hearing.
But science begins not with a theory or an experiment, but with an observation. It has long been observed by chiropractors (as well as osteopaths and the other professions that use manipulation) that when the spine is corrected, a lot of other health problems seem to improve as well. There is now research to suggest that manipulation can help blood pressure, whether the treatment is given by chiropractors or osteopaths. There was even a study showing manipulation helping infantile colic.
And yes, there is even a small study showing manipulation helping hearing loss.
What prompted me to write this column was a recent case involving a young musician. He came to the office in a lot of pain, especially in the left side of his face, sinuses and ear. This pain was accompanied by a significant loss of hearing in the ear, a big concern for a musician. The pain had started a few days earlier, as the plane he was traveling on began to descend. The pressure change triggered the intense pain, and it had not improved much since.
A quick exam showed trigger points in the muscles of the neck and jaw — “knots” that were unable to relax — and a lot of dysfunction in the joints as well. The muscles were treated with deep pressure, and the joints were given a quick thrust, or what chiropractors call an “adjustment.” There was some immediate relief, and on the next visit a few days later, he noted that the pain was substantially better, the sinuses on the left had drained, and his hearing was restored to near normal. After few more treatments, he was able to fly home without suffering.
This patient’s episode was not caused by the change in air pressure during the plane landing, although that did make the problem painfully obvious. The problem had its origins a few weeks earlier, when he had taken up the bagpipes, and the constant clenching of the teeth and tension in the neck caused stress to be stored in the joints and muscles. This in turn likely interfered with the lymphatic drainage of the head, including the ears and sinuses. This was a painless process until the pressure change in the plane added a new dimension.
If curing a patient’s head pain, sinus congestion and hearing loss with manipulation cannot be explained by modern scientific theories, then perhaps we need to expand the theories, rather than reject the outcomes of the treatment. His response to the treatment was certainly not “all in his head.” There were clear signs of a problem that responded well to treatment.
While most hearing loss may not be from the neck — don’t throw away your hearing aids just yet — there are cases where it clearly is.
Dr. Michael Noonan practices chiropractic, chiropractic acupuncture and other wellness therapies in Old Town. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.