Amherst chiropractor Brenna Werme runs her fingers along the child’s spine, lightly pressing. For the next five minutes, Ezekiel Reyes-Colón, 3, squirms and giggles as her palms pass along his lower and upper back.
“We are working to unwind the surface tension,” she says.
At times, her hands barely touch him, just grazing his back lightly in broad, sweeping motions.
Then, she pushes her fingers into his shoulders like she is hitting piano keys.
“Now he is squishy. Before when I touched his back there was a spot that felt tense,” she says.
Sheila Colón of South Hadley brought her son to Werme at Embodied Chiropractic on Main Street in Amherst because he was having trouble sleeping. Having been treated by Werme herself for shoulder pain, she thought the chiropractor might be able to help him.
“I think this is a really good thing to do for yourself and for your body and I wanted that for my son,” Colón says. Beyond pain relief
While chiropractic care is often thought of as manipulation of the skeletal system for pain relief, those who receive the treatment, like Colón, often find that their overall health has improved and seek that benefit for their children.
Since the nervous system is protected by the spine, chiropractic care can impact all functions of the body, says Werme, like the beating of the heart or even digestion.
According to the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA) treatments can improve sleep quality, boost the immune system and have a positive effect on a child’s behavior.
The premise is that bones, ligaments and joints get knocked or shifted out of place causing nerve interference called subluxation, which can then result in all sorts of dysfunction throughout the body. Practioners then adjust, manipulate or apply a light touch to the spine to restore health, decrease pain, or even improve the immune system.
According to the ICPA, spinal problems seen in adults can began as early as birth. Natural birth can stress an infant’s spine, causing spinal and cranial misalignment and irritation to the nervous system which can trigger many newborn health problems, such as non-stop crying, breathing and nursing difficulties, sleep disturbances and chronic infections, the ICPA says.
Common problems in early childhood like earaches or stomachaches can also be soothed with chiropractic care, according to Werme who says that about 25 percent of her patients are children, from newborns to teenagers.
A recent survey of chiropractors across the United States and Europe found that up to 11 percent of their clients were children, according to a report published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. Non-traditional approach
“Babies respond beautifully, often children can’t wait to get on the table,” Werme said in a recent interview. ”It’s also a way that children can have safe gentle touch that feels good,” said Catherine Hondorp, a chiropractor who also regularly sees children in her Westhampton office.
Werme and Hondorp practice a technique called Network Spinal Analysis Care, in which they evaluate the spine for patterns of tension and then search for places that are already relaxed, applying a light touch.
This touch sparks a reaction in the body, they say, releasing waves of energy throughout the tissues, unwinding tension in the bones and ligaments nearby.
“We are just allowing the body to release the misalignments,” Werme said.
“The body is smart and we are designed to be healthy, we are meant to heal, so by opening up and allowing the body to remember what it is like to feel safe and to feel ease and to have things functioning and working, it actually entrains the rest of the system into that,” she said.
Depending on the individual, this light touch could, for example, be applied around the sacrum, the bottom of the spine that forms the base of the spinal column or at the neck, the cervical spine.
“Once you experience it, it is really profound,” Hondorp said.
Originally trained in traditional manipulative chiropractic care, Hondorp says she discovered the Network method over 20 years ago and found that it gave significantly better results.
“People maintained the results much longer because their system does all of the work. I do very little as the practitioner,” she said. Easing nightmares
Mary Kate Farley-Dimino and Becky Farley-Dimino of Holyoke sought treatment from Werme for their 3-year-old daughter who had been having nightmares about a monster banging on her door. Becky Farley-Dimino had been seeing the chiropractor for back pain after multiple spinal surgeries and asked Werme about her daughter’s stress.
The child, who is adopted and had been in foster care, had been removed from her birth parent’s home in the middle of the night at just three months old, says Farley-Dimino.
“I had heard that chiropractic care can help kids with trauma and given her history, I figured why not get her in here?”
Since the girl, who her parents call G., began treatment the nightmares have decreased in frequency, Farley-Dimino says.
“It’s really incredible how much healing has come from being here. She really looks like a different kid. She has a different light to her.”
John O’Reilly, a pediatrician at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield says he has not seen scientific evidence that chiropractic care has a physical impact on a child’s health. The therapeutic relationship itself might be just as beneficial as the actual chiropractic technique, he says. “There is probably no medical evidence that any manipulation of the spine would make a difference, but in the context of a therapeutic relationship — if the whole package of care included talking about sleep and about relaxation — that may have an impact,” he said.
“If it does no harm and the family feels that it works and it has a benefit, why would I argue with that?” Sleep improvement
Like Farley-Dimino, Sheila Colón has seen improvement in her child since he began his twice-a-week treatments, which cost $35 each, six months ago.
“His sleeping at night is just a lot better, the interruptions are just not as much as they used to be,” she said.
Better sleep at night has also made for less moodiness during the day, she says.
And, she adds, the sessions give her and Ezekiel concentrated time to talk about other problems he may be having. The chiropractor may also interject advice to mother and son as she works on Ezekiel’s back.
Typically, Ezekiel lies on Colón stomach during his treatment. On this day, though, he gets up on the table by himself for the session that takes just a few minutes. Werme tells him to roll on to his back and take two deep breaths when she has finished. “Nice work,” she says, “you are a superhero, kid.”
Teeming with energy, he crawls around on the floor pretending to be a dinosaur, while his mother takes a turn getting her back worked on.
“When he first came in he was really shy and now he jumps right on the table,” Werme says. “His personality blossomed. He comes in and he is full of so much joy.”
Lisa Spear can be reached at email@example.com.