Infertility, or failure to conceive after a year of unprotected intercourse, is an issue that is too common in today’s society. It is estimated that it affects one in six couples and presents a multifaceted strain on both the individuals and too often, the relationship. While there can be a plethora of causal factors contributing to infertility, one thing is for sure: it creates a unique anguish for individuals and couples traversing this difficult territory.
While there are a good many health providers a person may consult with over the course of their fertility journey, and manual practitioners such as acupuncturists certainly rate among this cohort, a recent case report has highlighted the journey of a chiropractic patient who was dealing with infertility – and it indicates that further research into chiropractic and fertility may be warranted.
The case in question was published in the Asia Pacific Chiropractic Journal and chronicled the health journey of a 33-year-old office worker who presented for chiropractic care with other complaints – that of headaches and back pain. The topic of infertility came up over the course of chiropractic care and the patient commenced a course of subluxation-based chiropractic care.
Upon presentation, her examination revealed unremarkable neurological findings but tight psoas muscles that were tender to palpate as well as suboccipital muscle tension (which is unsurprising given the presenting complaint of headaches). The chiropractor noted swelling and tendered at the sacroiliac joint on the right side, and at the L2 area of the lumbar spine. Numerous subluxation listings were noted but with no degenerative changes.
The patient was managed using Gonstead Technique, and saw the chiropractor eight times over the course of nine weeks (excluding a two week holiday near the end of care). It is important to note that nothing changed in her routine or medical management. At the nine-week appointment, she told the chiropractor that she was four weeks pregnant, having fallen pregnant prior to holidays.
While there are many causal factors in the great puzzle of infertility, the chiropractor noted that stabilising the pelvis may have influenced the sacral plexus thus influencing pelvic organs. Given the attention on the L2 area over the course of care, and the significant role L2 plays in lumbar lordosis and neurological integrity and innervation of pelvic organs, it may have been a contributing factor to the resolution of her infertility.
Of course, more research is required. However, as McNamara points out in the case report, “Subluxations of the spinal vertebra can affect different parts of the reproductive system .” McNamara discussed many potential areas of impact in the original case report.  These included the potential impacts of hypothyroidism and adrenal function on ovulation and fertility, to fallopian tube dysfunction and the function of the cervix. Again, this is an area for further research as we work to support the clinical experiences that chiropractors may observe in practice, including improvements in fertility and areas of health that affect it.
While McNamara notes that “chiropractic in itself is not a ‘cure’ or a treatment for infertility,” she points out that it does “correct distortions in the parts of the body where the reproductive organs are located and improves or restores normal neurological function.” While the nervous system is incredibly complicated and spinal segments don’t necessarily correlate with organ function, what we do experience chiropractically is that it alters nervous system function and impacts how the body is able to function and adapt.
In addition to spinal segments and their relationship with organs, there is further research required to address the role that the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems have upon the function of hormones and reproductive organs. Furthermore, we need to have a clear picture as to what stress does to hormones that impact reproduction and whether the chiropractic adjustment modulates the adaptive responses to stress and alters these hormonal and organ functions, allowing for better prenatal health and pregnancy at the beginning of the sacred life cycle.
We look forward to more case reports and research on fertility and hormones. Until then, there’s another chiropractic baby on its way into the world, and a little hope for infertile couples that chiropractic may be a valuable option for prenatal care.
Staff Writer (2023). “Infertility” Health Direct. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/infertility
McNamara C. Infertility and Gonstead Chiropractic: A case report. Asia-Pac Chiropr J. 2022;3.3 URL www.apcj.net/ papers-issue-3-3/#McNamaraInfertility