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“Experimental” Webster technique approved by Chiropractic Australia

Chiropractic is in the news again (or should that be, “still in the news”). On 19 May, ABC Radio National’s The World Today program ran a piece on chiropractors who are still advertising their provision of the Webster technique to pregnant women, in defiance of warnings from the Chiropractic Board and the College of Obstetricians to stop it.

The Webster technique is used by chiropractors to “adjust” the spines of pregnant women to “assure normal delivery” and to prevent breech birth caused by “intrauterine constraint”. It involves turning the baby within the womb. According to the website Chirobase, “This dubious treatment is based on the equally dubious theory that vertebral subluxations can cause malfunction in the uterus by putting pressure on spinal nerves. Reliance on the Webster technique during the final weeks of pregnancy can endanger both the mother and the child.”

In his interview with Radio National, the National President of Chiropractic Australia, Rod Bonello, said that this practice by chiropractors is OK because the Webster Technique is an “experiment”.

The Webster technique “should be regarded as an experimental technique”, he said. “There are many treatments in health care across all health professions where the evidence is either very thin or non-existent and yet practitioners still see value in the technique.”

Later in the interview Bonello said that the problem is that chiropractors have not updated their advertising websites.

Late last year, campaigner Ken McLeod alerted the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and the Chiropractic Board of Australia to more than 100 websites advertising the technique. He says that it’s not just an issue of the practitioners not updating websites, “It’s that the Board doesn’t know and doesn’t care if the chiropractors are performing the Webster technique, as long as they don’t admit in on their websites.

“Imagine a major airline saying ‘We don’t know if our pilots are flying below the lowest safe altitudes and don’t care so long as they don’t talk about it.’

“Bonello’s comments were flippant and possibly dangerous,” McLeod says. “His ‘experiment’ is outside of strictly controlled clinical trials. There’s no control group, no ethics approval, no adverse reactions register in this ‘experiment’ and the Chiropractic Board has never implemented the required adverse reactions register for chiropractors.

“Further, chiropractors are advertising the Webster technique as a safe and effective technique, not as an experiment. This brings in Australian Consumer Law as chiropractors and the Board are engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct.”

McLeod says he is yet to hear back from AHPRA or the CBA.

“Another reason for a Senate Inquiry into chiropractic,” he insists.

Tim Mendham: