Last year a distressed parent brought her 7-year-old son in to see me. Vince woke up with a wry-neck (also called torticollis), which meant that his head was completely tilted to one side and he was unable to move it. Poor Vince was completely distressed and in pain. When I saw him the next day, he was feeling a lot better; but during my exam I noticed that Vince could not stand being touched on his back and would almost involuntarily squirm when I touched him. This piqued my Chiropractic senses and I asked his mom if he had trouble with bedwetting. She looked at me with disbelief… ‘Yes, she said, we have just started looking into that.’
Bedwetting is considered a normal part of the potty training process but after 5 years of age children should move towards an ‘adult pattern’ of voluntary control over their bladder function. As most of us can imagine, when this persists, it can be a confronting problem for both parents and children alike. In the medical model there are 2 modes of treatment for enuresis and both are very symptom based. The most common ones are nighttime moisture alarms for childrens pants to wake them up when they start urinating at night (conditioning them to respond). There is also a drug called Desmopressin that mimics the Anti Diuretic Hormone and limits the amount of water eliminated in the urine.
The reason that Vince’s’ squirminess eluded me to the underlying problem is that it was actually a retained primitive reflex called the Spinal Galants’ Reflex. We are all innately born with certain reflexes (we call them primitive reflexes) that help us learn about our bodies, our environment and helps us adapt to it.
In a new-born, softly stroking just to the side of the spine on the lower back initiates a side flexion in the baby and the child’s hip rises toward the touch. This helps a newborn wiggle itself out of the birth canal and encourages movement and development of range of motion in the hips. This important reflex prepares the baby for crawling and walking. If there is stimulation on both sides of the lower spine, this will activate the reflex, which frequently causes urination and could be another reason why bedwetting happens in children over the age of five. (It is activated when the child turns in bed). The Spinal Galants’ reflex should integrate and disappear by the time the infants starts crawling.
Why would a normal, healthy child retain some primitive reflexes? When there are interferences in the nervous system, usually due to vertebral or cranial subluxations as the child develops, it interferes with the integration of the primitive reflexes. Other factors include things such as falls, traumas, lack of tummy time and delayed or skipped creeping or crawling.
When doing examinations on these children I have found their balance to be weak and they would literally stand askew or with their bodies twisted to one side when they closed their eyes. They might have one pupil that is less reactive to light or have difficulty following my finger with their eyes. These are all signs of underlying neurological dysfunction that needs to improve. The Spinal Galant reflex are also intimately associated with fidgetiness and decreased attention at school.
We live life through our nervous systems, experiencing our environments and responding appropriately. What concerns me about children with underlying neurological dysfunction is their ability to develop appropriately. I ask myself if they will be able to interact and trust their bodies to the same extent as their peers and how this might influence them.
To conclude Vince's story. He stopped bedwetting after a couple of adjustments and he has become a much more relaxed and happy child; he even enjoys going to school now! Chiropractic has been proven effective in the treatment of Enuresis – one study shows a 66% resolution rate within 1 year and another a 50% reduction in wet night frequency. There is also a strong correlation of occipital compression during the birth process and late bladder control. To me it signifies that there is a lot under the surface that can be improved to help all children enjoy their bodies to the fullest, and that is where the magic lies!
Van Poecke AJ, Cunliffe CJ - Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2009
Reed WR, Beavers S, Reddy SK, Kern G – JMPT, 1994