Though experiencing fertility challenges can be an extremely lonely experience, it’s far from uncommon. Receiving unsolicited advice is a common and maddening occurrence for those in the midst of trying to conceive. That advice can seem endless — acupuncture, supplements, exercise, rest, and the most impossible advice: just relax and let it happen. Chiropractic care is one of the things that couples struggling with fertility may be encouraged to try. But can chiropractic care help with fertility?
9% of women and 11% of men experience fertility problems, according to The National Institute for Child Health and Human Development. Chiropractic care often appears on lists of ways to “naturally boost” fertility. Numerous chiropractors’ websites tout stories of having helped expectant parents conceive. So, is this just an advertisement, or is there something to it?
What do chiropractors do?
Basically, chiropractors care for your musculoskeletal system. Though they’re often best known with helping people with back or neck pain, chiropractors can also adjust feet, shoulders, ribs, wrists, and other joints. “There are many different parts that need to come together to help a body function well. When one or more of these parts become swollen, backed-up, or misaligned it affects the whole system,” Elliot Berlin, D.C., a chiropractor in Los Angeles, tells Romper. Chiropractors seek to help people get their bodies into better alignment so that all the systems can work together well.
Can chiropractors help with infertility?
It’s not an instant cure-all. Berlin urges some caution on this point. “Chiropractic care is not a treatment or a cure for infertility in the direct sense. What it does do, however, is help regulate the body in a way that creates a more hospitable environment for a pregnancy to take root and thrive,” he explains. With both male and female patients who are trying to conceive, Berlin explains, he uses a variety of tools in his practice, including “massage, to increase blood flow the reproductive organs, bodywork, and chiropractic adjustment, which helps align the body to open passageways.”
These kinds of treatments can be helpful in resetting the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system “acts like a gas pedal,” Berlin says, and is responsible for the fight-or-flight response that takes over when we’re in danger; the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the “brake,” tells us to slow down to rest and care for ourselves. If the sympathetic is overloaded because of stress, Berlin explains that this can send a message to the reproductive organs that “this is not a good time to get pregnant.” Likewise, when the stressors are removed and the parasympathetic system takes over again, the body sends a message to the reproductive organs that “all is well and this is a good time to conceive.”
It’s not uncommon for patients who are trying to conceive to pursue chiropractic care, “especially when they have underlying muscle injury or back pain, as well as anxiety, a prior injury, or tension,” says Dr. Prati A. Sharma, M.D. OB-GYN, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Create Fertility Centre in Toronto. “As long as the chiropractic care they receive is aligned with our care and no harm has been [done, it can be] helpful.”
What should someone pursuing this care be aware of?
Sharma notes that patients should proceed with caution, since spinal manipulation can pose risks for pregnant people and those with stimulated ovaries. “Always have discussion with your doctor about risks and benefits of any treatment while pregnant or undergoing fertility treatment,” she says. Chiropractic care, she explains, “can reduce stress and tension [and] be helpful, but [you] want to make sure [your] care plan [is] aligned and it is safe.” There is also scant peer-reviewed research or clear data that shows that this care leads to increased fertility or increases a person’s chance of conceiving. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association published an article in 2018 that detailed case studies of 11 women who had conceived after receiving chiropractic care; this, along with the stories on chiropractors’ websites, are anecdotes but not hard data. Dr. Sharma also notes that there are several other important factors, including a person’s diet, exercise level, and ability to manage and mitigate stress, that can affect their ability to conceive.
Chiropractic care, in other words, isn’t the silver bullet for fertility issues — the most frustrating part of the fertility process is that what may work for one person may not work for another. But, if chiropractic care reduces your stress and feels like something you want to explore, there’s no evidence that properly done chiropractic care is going to hurt your ability to conceive.
Elliot Berlin, D.C., Los Angeles-based chiropractor with Berlin Wellness Group
Dr. Prati A. Sharma, M.D., OB-GYN, reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Create Fertility Centre in Toronto