By Dr. Vic Weatherall
The following information was prepared by the Chiropractic Communications Working Group with additional information, updates, and links by Dr. Vic Weatherall.
Thank you for your interest in learning more about the safety and effectiveness of chiropractic care. Chiropractic is widely accepted as one of the safest, drug-free, surgery-free therapies available for a wide range of conditions. Some of the most common reasons patients seek chiropractic care include headache and neck and back pain.
You should realize that all treatments carry some degree of risk of adverse effects. During a visit to any health care provider, your provider must give a full disclosure of the risks and benefits of the chosen treatment as well as the alternative treatments in order to obtain your informed consent to treatment.
A neck manipulation (also known as an adjustment) is a precise and safe procedure, generally applied by hand, to the joints of the neck. Your chiropractor has received extensive training to perform this procedure. Neck manipulation works to improve the mobility of the joints in the neck in order to relieve pain, ease muscle tension and increase your range of painless motion. After manipulation, you should feel less pain, less pressure, less stiffness, and more mobility.
Chiropractic education in Canada is an intensive four-year program following the completion of at least three years of university undergraduate studies. By the time they graduate, Canadian doctors of chiropractic are among the most skilled in the world, and experts in the practice of spinal manipulative therapy (or spinal adjustment).
Chiropractors are trained to take your health history and assess your condition prior to making a diagnosis and proposing a treatment plan. Since your neck is an integral part of the spine, a neck manipulation may be prescribed--usually if you have specific problem there. Your chiropractor is trained to determine if this procedure is right for you. He or she may decide to use alternative joint therapies, massage, ultrasound, or other therapies to treat your condition. (See Treating your problem.)
Yes, it is. The most recent research into the safety of neck manipulation confirms the safety of this procedure.1,2 Neck manipulation is performed well within the normal turning range of the head and it is skill--not strength--that is needed to perform this safe, effective procedure. Most patients experience immediate relief following an adjustment, however, some may experience temporary pain, stiffness or slight swelling. In rare situations, patients may experience temporary dizziness, local numbness, or radiating pain. Your chiropractor can help you easily manage this if it happens to you.
The most current (2008) research literature agrees that adverse events such as stroke or stroke-like symptoms associated with neck adjustment are extremely rare.2,3 The incidence of stroke associated with chiropractic or medical doctor visits is likely due to patients with headache or neck pain from existing arterial damage seeking care prior to their stroke.2 Also, strokes following a chiropractic visit are no more likely to happen than following a visit to a medical doctor's office.2
A Canadian study published in 2001 concluded that stroke symptoms associated with neck adjustment are so rare that they are very difficult to quantify. Similarly, a medical review published in 2002 looked at 73 studies of chiropractic care and found no serious complications reported in any of them. By way of comparison, neck adjustment is significantly safer than other common treatments for headache, neck and back pain. For example, long-term use of non-prescription pain relievers carries a 1,000 times greater risk of serious complications than neck adjustment.
There are many risk factors for stroke including blood clotting problems, hypertension, smoking, high cholesterol, heart problems, use of birth control pills, and trauma such as blows to the head or sports injuries.
Strokes or stroke-like symptoms are also associated with many normal everyday activities such as cradling a phone between your ear and shoulder during a prolonged conversation, having your hair washed at a beauty parlour, dental procedures, painting a ceiling, and turning your head while driving. Strokes even occur without warning in some people for no apparent reason.
If you have further questions, ask your chiropractor.