Misleading claims in the UK chiropractic profession has been a serious problem for many years and, in spite of plenty of guidance from the Advertising Standards Authority, continues to be a major issue. There are many different types of misleading claims, ranging from the treatment of babies to giving the impression they are doctors and even claiming to be able to boost the immune system. On 3rd November 2021 the UK chiropractic regulator, the General Chiropractic Council (GCC), published a new advertising toolkit for chiropractors. It’s a pretty good guide but there is nothing new there that chiros shouldn’t already know. They should already be compliant with everything that’s in there. To test the current compliance level, I assessed a random sample of 20 London-based chiropractors against the new toolkit. Zero out of the 20 were compliant! There were a staggering 18 who I believe would warrant regulatory complaints and 2 who were “not that bad”. Although I’ve been tackling misleading claims in chiropractic for many years, I was surprised just how bad these results were. I really thought there would have been a few who were fully compliant and a reasonable number of the rest wouldn’t have been that bad. I was wrong. The amount of pseudoscience and misleading claims was shocking. Let’s look in a bit more detail.
Selecting the random sample
In order to select the random sample of 20 chiropractors, I used the “Find a chiropractor” tool on the General Chiropractic Council’s website. I then entered “London” in the “City” box and clicked on “See Search Results”. I then selected the first 20 chiropractors returned by the search, excluding the following:
- Unable to find a website or website only has contact info with no description of practice.
- Chiropractor listed as “not practicing” on GCC website.
- Chiropractor is purely an academic and does not treat patients.
Now you too can easily repeat my search and see for yourself just how bad these chiropractic practices are.
Assessing the chiropractors
I used the GCC’s advertising toolkit to produce a list of criteria against which to assess the chiropractors, including:
- Advertising for conditions outside of those that chiropractors are allowed to advertise to treat.
- Anti-vaccination stance
- Subluxation or “correcting alignment”
- Claiming to “treat the root cause”
- Suggesting that long-term care can prevent illness
- Claiming that chiropractic treatment can improve immunity
- Giving the impression that they are a doctor or equivalent to a doctor
Out of 20 chiropractors assessed there were zero who were fully compliant. The most common issue was advertising to treat conditions outside of the “allowed” list. Every single chiropractor was in breach of this, some to a greater extent than others. Other breaches that were common included:
- Subluxation or “correcting alignment” – 55% (11 out of 20) made this claim
- Claiming to “treat the root cause” – 50% (10 out 20) made this claim
- Suggesting that long-term care can prevent illness – 40% (8 out of 20) made this claim
- Giving the impression that they are a doctor or equivalent to a doctor 45% (9 out of 20) made this claim
Thankfully, there were no chiropractors who made openly anti-vaccination claims on their website. However, it is likely that this would be sufficient to result in regulatory action and it’s therefore perhaps not unsurprising that no chiropractors would openly admit to being anti-vax. As to what happens when they see their patients, that is much harder to assess.
Some of the claims made by chiropractors were pretty extreme. For instance, the lead chiropractor at one practice said that he had a “special interest and training in neurology” and claimed to be able to treat “neurological conditions”. Now, chiropractors are not doctors and it should be very obvious that treatment of neurological conditions is way outside of their expertise.
Another example is these claims relating to babies from Northcote Chiropractic:
It’s all complete nonsense, but what parent reading this wouldn’t be scared into taking their child in for treatment?
Target Health Chiropractic repeated entirely false claims from the infamous Joseph Mercola:
I have previously made an Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) complaint about one of the chiropractors in this sample, Putney Chiropractic. This doesn’t seem to have resulted in much improvement as they still make a whole range of misleading claims.
Overall, these results are awful. Not only were all chiropractors in breach of guidance from the regulator but the level of pseudoscience and misleading claims were extreme in a number of cases.
Some chiropractors claim that the problems within their profession are confined to a minority. What this survey shows is that this is very clearly not the case. Out of a random sample of 20 chiropractors, there were zero who were fully compliant. A significant proportion of this sample of chiropractors gave the impression that they are equivalent to a doctor (they aren’t) and more than half treat “subluxations” or “correct spinal alignment”. This isn’t supported by science or evidence.
I was genuinely shocked by just how bad the misleading claims were from this sample of chiropractors. Whilst a sample of 20 doesn’t mean that every UK chiropractor makes misleading claims, it does give an indication of just how much of an issue this is within the profession. Based on the results of this sample, I can only give the following advice: Please don’t visit a chiropractor.
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