How Chiropractic Care Can Help Your Child Cope with Sensory Conditions

A chiropractor can help a child cope with sensory conditions by removing stress and tension off the cervical spine and nervous system allowing the body and brain to communicate and function at its best.

October is National ADHD Awareness Month. Could you explain how ADHD is a sensory condition and what that means?

Dr. Luke Stringer: ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopment disorders that we find in kids. It’s usually diagnosed in childhood, but can last all the way into adulthood, essentially. ADHD stands for Attention Deficiency Hypersensitivity Disorder. Essentially, what that means is kids, specifically, just have quite a tough time really paying attention and controlling impulse behaviors and just being overly active, essentially. And unfortunately, it’s a really common condition we’re seeing in our kids in the clinic over the last several years.

What are some common symptoms and behaviors children experience if they have ADHD?

Dr. Luke Stringer: It’s quite normal for children with ADHD to really struggle with the ability to focus, and dial in and pay attention to a task. There’s several other things, and there’s varying degrees of ADHD, obviously, from mild to severe. But simple things, kids who can’t concentrate in a classroom, they’re daydreaming a lot, they’re quite forgetful, losing things or quite hyperactive, always squirming, fidgeting, talking a bunch, not necessarily great at the details, making mistakes from taking unnecessary risk, essentially, and having a really tough time just focusing and staying on task. That’s pretty much the general symptom that we see within the clinic.

In what ways can a chiropractor help a child cope with ADHD and other sensory conditions?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Chiropractors are essentially doctors of the nervous system. Our clinical training is focused on the treatment of the spine. The spine’s like the body’s suit of armor: protects the nervous system, and obviously the nervous system controls literally everything we do: how the body feels, how it functions. There are several autonomies. There’s two types of the nervous system within the nervous system. You’ve got the sympathetic nervous system, which is your fight-or-flight response, so might be rear-ended on the freeway; and parasympathetic, essentially, where we rest and digest. What we typically find with our kids that are struggling with sensory disorders is they’re consistently plugged into that sympathetic nervous system, so they’re never really getting a chance to rest and digest, typically at nighttime.

Typically, what we see when we evaluate all the kids that we treat with sensory disorders, we’re always looking at the upper cervical spine. We do that via an evaluation, orthopedic exam, neurological exam, and then we take x-rays. Then we’re looking at the x-ray, and we’re looking for alignment, the biomechanics of the spine.

Typically, what we’re finding is the spine in these kids that are suffering with ADHD has either gone straight and/or it’s gone forwards, and we have a reduction of the curve. So, the spine works in something called kinematics: if one area of your spine goes one way, the other body parts go the other way. So obviously we’re built to be upright, that’s why we’re bipedal. We’re built to move, and obviously we have eyes in front of head to look forward. So typically, what we see in these kids is, as the neck goes straight and their head goes forward from looking at the phone or the tablet nonstop, then what happens is the head goes back up into extension, so it comes back up, so the eyes are level. And what that does, it shuts the space between the occipital bone at the base of your skull, and C1, which is the top vertebrae in your neck. The two nerves at the C1, C2 level, to your upper cervical spine, there’s more nervous system activity in that area of your spine than anywhere else in the spine. That’s right by the brainstem, obviously.

Your brainstem comes out the hole in your skull, foramen magnum, and then obviously forms the spinal cord, and then the nerves come out the spinal cord. Well, if you are consistently stressed in that upper cervical area, you are consistently through what we call subluxations, which are misalignments in the spine, in the joint, then you’re compressing those nerve roots at the C1, C2 level, you create a massive amount of nervous system stimulation. So, this puts us in our sympathetic tone. Sympathetic tone is, again, that flight-or-fight response, so it raises our cortisol levels, which is our stress response, it blocks the ability of the body to absorb hormones, particularly adrenaline, which obviously then creates just a catastrophic effect within the body.

So, the question is, how can we help kids cope with ADHD? It’s figuring out what’s going on in the spine. So, through an exam and an x-ray, what is the alignment? And from there then we’ll build out a treatment plan, which is typically based around adjustments to the spine, spinal traction to address the structural shifts, some soft tissue therapy to break down the scar tissue that forms within the muscles called adhesion. Essentially, we can clean out those subluxations and take stress and tension off the nervous system. That just allows the child’s ability to essentially get back into that parasympathetic nervous system, that it’s going to process information better, and it’s going to have a better ability to adapt to stress. And by doing that, taking stress off the upper cervical spine, it always rolls into taking away or at least improving those ADHD symptoms, their ability to concentrate, ability to move poor dietary habits, lack of appetite, et cetera. So, chiropractors can do a maximum amount for your kids that are struggling with ADHD and other similarly sensory disorders.

Could you share a success story of a child who is coping with their sensory condition better after receiving chiropractic care?

Dr. Luke Stringer: We’ve got several, but one that really stands out, a little girl called Claire came into the clinic. A super, super sweet girl. Mom was really on board with what we were doing. She’d been through the ringer in the medical side of things, evaluated, brain scans, medication, et cetera. And just unfortunately for her, nothing was really working. So, Claire’s issue was she didn’t process sensory information particularly well. For example, she couldn’t sit in the lunchroom due to all the noise. She’d get a migraine, and she’d just get really skittish and freak out. She couldn’t sit through a class, she just couldn’t concentrate, and all the noise that was in the classroom really disturbed her. So essentially, they pulled her out of school and they homeschooled, not by choice, just because she literally couldn’t get through a day of school.

So again, we went through the evaluation process, did a detailed history, orthopedic exam, took some x-rays and in Claire’s spine we found that her head had shifted forwards. She had a reverse in her neck curse and her atlas, which is the top bone in your neck, was literally sticking right into the occipital, which is the base of your skull. She was just massively subluxated. We went through two rounds of corrective care, that was three times a week for eight weeks. We did that twice, and we clearly focused on adjustments, spinal traction, some soft tissue therapy, and then physical therapy to adjust all the muscle imbalances that occur.

At the end of her second treatment plan, her mom told us that she was back in school, she was back in the classroom, she pulled her grade point average up two grades. She was in the lunchroom having lunch with her friends, and she was essentially just a “normal student” again. She had the ability to go to school and do well at school, and she didn’t have to deal with the migraines she was suffering from or all the sensory stuff and all the sensory stimulation that really made her struggle in the classroom, which was really cool.

We’ve had dozens of kids in a similar situation that we’ve really helped with, all the way from autistic kids to kids that are essentially just dealing with these ADHDs. So, it’s really cool as a practitioner to get those wins.

For a child who has never seen a chiropractor, what should they and their parents expect during their first exam and subsequent visits?

Dr. Luke Stringer: If we’re specifically talking about sensory disorders, you go to see a chiropractor, chiropractor’s going to deliver or perform a detailed consultation. So, why are you coming in, establish how long problem’s been there, and how frequent it is. Do we have any traumas in our lifetime that we need to account for? What’s a typical day look like for the child? What do the symptoms manifest as? Is it pain or is it dysfunction? We’re discussing ADHD, how does that affect their day, on the their normal daily activities? And obviously put some goals in place of what the chiropractic office and the team within the chiropractor’s office, and the patient, child, and family are looking towards achieving.

From there, we would perform a detailed orthopedic exam, specifically looking for joint function and finding those subluxated joints that shift out of alignment and create stress and tension on the nervous system. And then in between, any child with ADHD or any sort of sensory disorder, you want to look at the spine. What’s going on in the spine? Where has the spine shifted, particularly in that upper cervical spine?

From there, collect all the objective data, and then figure out clinically what’s going on. And those clinical finding supplemented with that family’s goal, dictate the recommendations. So, the bare minimum chiropractic is going to be adjusting your spine, removing those subluxations. They should be addressing, if we’re going to create any long-term improvement, misalignment in the spine with regards to structural misalignment. So, has our head shifted forward, do we have a straight neck, is our neck reversed? What’s the angle between the skull and the vertebrae in the two top two bones of your neck look like? And they’ll supplement up with some physical therapy just to create muscles that need to keep the spine alignment. Those muscles sit deep in the neck deep between the shoulder blades.

And unfortunately, chiropractic’s not a one-and-done. There’s no silver bullet to chiropractic care. It just takes some time and repetition to clean out the subluxation patterns that have occurred over time. It’s not like your child woke up one day and their neck could have shifted an inch forward and they’ve got a reverse in the curve. That’s going to be trauma-driven, so car accident, or that’s going to be repetitive stress of just staring down at the tablet, the phone, or the homework, and just having poor ergonomics at home or in the workplace.

So, you just need to be patient, and essentially just let the body’s innate ability kick in. The nervous system’s not under stress; it’s going to allow the body to feel and function both physically and physiologically, optimally. And essentially, what’s that? It’s living without any pain and/or restriction. So, if you listen to this and you’re struggling with your child having any form of sensory disorder, I highly recommend getting to a chiropractor.

If you are interested in speaking with Dr. Luke Stringer visit or call (312) 987-4878 to schedule an appointment.

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