A paid advertisement could not have been more promotional and less informative than this one-sided celebration of a type of chiropractic manipulation.
The story features the case of one man who suffered terrible pain from a nerve disorder called trigeminal neuralgia. Readers are told that he credits the treatment with preventing him from committing suicide by immediately ending terrible pain attacks that conventional medicines failed to control. The story quotes practitioners and announces an upcoming event they are hosting, but there are no independent voices nor any reference to independent sources of information on either the disorder or its treatments.
By trumpeting a highly emotional and extreme case, by failing to provide any data or to challenge the vague claims of practitioners promoting their services, and by ignoring independent sources of information, this story is the antithesis of solid medical journalism.
There is no mention of how much the manipulations cost or how many sessions are routinely recommended.
The story highlights one patient without providing any information about how typical his experience might be. In addition, it offered only vague claims by practitioners that their treatments were beneficial, without defining the benefits or offering any success rates or other specifics.
The story fails to mention any potential risks.
Although the evidence of harms related to chiropractic manipulation is as spotty as the evidence of benefits, there are reports of strokes following manipulation of the upper cervical spine. The story reports that patients are given head and neck X-rays before and after treatments, without discussing the potential cancer risk and other harms of radiation.
No scientific evidence is mentioned in the story.
In contrast to the personal testimonies of one patient and the practitioners quoted in the story, the authors of a review of complementary and alternative medicine treatments for chronic facial pain (including trigeminal neuralgia) in the Journal of the American Dental Association wrote that despite extensive searches of the medical literature they “did not locate any randomized clinical trials that tested the effects of homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic, massage, meditation, yoga or herbal remedies for chronic facial pain.”
If the Iowa practitioners have data, the story didn’t include it.
The story portrays trigeminal neuralgia as debilitating and incurable. The anecodte given is an extreme example of the disorder – a worst case. Although attacks are often described as among the most painful events a person could experience, the condition can be managed successfully, and the attacks may disappear as mysteriously as they appeared.
No independent experts or sources of information are mentioned in the story. It appears to be based entirely on information provided by one patient and practitioners of one variety of chiropractic manipulation.
While the story mentions that the featured patient tried medication and having his teeth pulled and was offered surgery, the only purpose is to say alternative approaches failed or were unacceptable to this patient. The absence of any substantive consideration of the many conventional medicines and procedures available to people with trigeminal neuralgia is a fundamental flaw in this story.
The story succeeded in touting local practitioners of this form of chiropractic manipulation, but it gave no indication of how widespread is this practice.
The relative novelty of upper cervical chiropractic manipulation was not part of the story.
We can’t be sure of the extent to which the story was influenced by a news release. We do know that – in news release fashion – the story promoted an upcoming event hosted by some of the chiropractic practitioners.