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Danger of stroke from chiropractic cervical manipulation

August 10, 2007
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If you ever receive cervical manipulations from a chiropractor, please read this article so I don’t have to be a harpy.

I have many friends who see chiropractors and I try to restrain myself from restraining them from doing this. Ever since an orthopedic surgeon told my husband a chiropractor could have paralyzed him by placing torque on a ruptured disk, I’ve been an anti-chiropractic harpy. There is just too much potential for significant damage. I’d rather lose friends than have friends lose their brains or lives.

The article I am summarizing here is to be found at this link. The article is an account that serves as a warning against neck manipulation because of the risk of fatal or debilitating stroke.

Christa Heck, married with four children, saw a chiropractor in 2003 for headaches and low back pain. After a visit during which the chiropractor manipulated her neck, she experienced queasiness and vertigo.

She returned to the chiropractor the following day because she still had the headache. The chiropractor manipulated her neck again, twisting it to the left. She felt nauseated and “dazed.” The practitioner told her she was “releasing toxins.”

Mrs. Heck, 43, collapsed on her steering wheel on her way home from her chiropractor’s office. She was diagnosed for stroke, or failure of a critical artery to submit adequate blood to her brain.

Christa Heck survived, but her life will never be the same. Her memory, thought processing, speech, and gait are impaired. Before her cerebral accident, she had maintained a 3.97 GPA in college and enjoyed a successful high-gear career. Now she has trouble remembering to pick up her kids from soccer practice and does not feel capable of more than a stress-free back office job.

The mechanism of Mrs. Heck’s stroke was a 4.5 cm tear in her left vertebral artery that feeds blood to the brain. The rupture was determined to be the result of her chiropractic cervical manipulation. About 105,000,000 cervical manipulations are done each year. The New York physician who treated Christa Heck sees “at least two of these” manipulation-related strokes a year. Some of these strokes are fatal.

Christa Heck was fortunate. She survived her two strokes; others do not. She still has the mental wherewithal to miss who she was. “Had I known stroke was a risk, I would have recognized that something was wrong before going back a second time,” Heck says with tears in her eyes. “I miss the old Christa so much. Had I known better, I’d still have her.”

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5 Comments
  1. August 11, 2007 5:34 am

    I manipulate the cervicals of small animals in much the same way. I have to use my teeth because I don’t have opposable thumbs, but they are delicate, highly sensitive instruments that can detect just when cerebral hemorrhage is setting in.

  2. scribbles2day permalink
    August 12, 2007 8:53 pm

    I visited the chiropractor once, and that was before I learned of my troubles. If I had known a sumo wrestler was camping out I would not have done it. But there it is, God’s keeping of me.

  3. Ring DC permalink
    November 5, 2008 3:05 am

    I am a licensed Doctor of Chiropractic and have been practicing for almost 30 years. The claims above are ridiculous. There is no chance of doing damage as described, hardly even if you tried. Check your resources and make an informed decision. By nature, MDs hate DCs because they don’t understand. I treat over 200 patients per week who love me for what I do. I am their doctor, I help them stay healthy. Chiropractic works!

    Ring: You’re also the only DC who wrote a comment civil enough to publish. Several of your colleagues submitted virtual hate mail commentary. After the insults, they all espoused the same illogical theme: chiropractic doesn’t cause strokes; but if it does, beauty shops cause them more often. The Center for Disease Control doesn’t keep track of this. I merely reported on an already-reported incident that was diagnosed by a physician, and has evidently been diagnosed by other physicians.

    You also make an assumption that is at least as ridiculous as anything else, that “MDs hate DCs because they don’t understand.” Do you think that’s maybe a little vague and overgeneralized?–Lauren

  4. January 11, 2010 9:28 am

    As a purple belted martial artist I can easily refute the claim that spinal manipulation, especially upper spinal manipulation, cannot cause a stroke or other severe neurological damage.
    One method of upper spine, or neck, adjustment is turning a persons head to the side until it pops.
    One method of quickly killing or disabling an opponent is quickly turning their head to the side until it pops.

    So you sir, I believe are one of the ridiculous quacks that claims any disorientation after an adjustment is not an emergency(which it is!) but merely releasing toxins, or some other homeopathic garbage.

    Chiropractic is a legitimate method of physical therapy, but since it is physical therapy that acts on a central and remarkably vulnerable part of the human body, it carries a significant risk over less intrusive therapies. People need to understand that.

    One thing nobody seems to notice in all this, a physically healthy person with enough time is perfectly capable of self-adjusting the alignment of their spine. If they cannot, a deal of research must be done into why they cannot, before external force is used to try and correct it. Many chiropractors I have met go with standard techniques that they use for everyone, and the most effective relief from those is only equivalent to a thorough stretch routine, not better.
    The popularity has turned a science into a new-age art heavily staffed with artists who were able to pass exams. The plethora of artists calling their activities science, and that belief being reinforced by their fans, has lead to the problem of quackery and incompetence. The quackery and incompetence cannot be completely removed, as evidenced by pharmaceuticals, but regulation and risk information can reduce it significantly.

  5. February 7, 2010 10:19 am

    It is clear that there are many people who think that chiropractic manipulation can cause serious if not fatal consequences. A cervical adjustment is not only safe, but useful to many people who suffer from anything from headaches to thoracic outlet syndrome. The fact of the matter is that many people come to chiropractors for problems like headache and neck pain. Two of the most common symptoms of a VBA are headache and neck pain. There are some key warning signs that a chiropractor should be on the look out for and, at the same time, the warning signs could be so miniscule that the risk could be misunderstood by any medical doctor as well.
    VBA is an extremely rare event. The average age is around 38 and it is more common in women then men. The incidence of this stroke is considerably less then 1 in 100,000 people. This number does not take chiropractors into account. So the risk of getting this stroke from a chiropractor is far less then the above stated number. This is one of the more unusual strokes to have.
    Some of the warning signs include a patient stating that they have the worst headache they have ever had, or a very different headache then they have experienced, as well as people with certain diseases put them at higher risk. Chiropractors are well trained to keep an eye out for risk factors, but as previously stated the red flags don’t always show.
    It is interesting to note what other activities put you at risk for having a VBA. Stargazing, sexual intercourse, and yoga are other avenues blamed for this stoke. I cant find an article that recommends against any of these, yet there are plenty that want chiropractic neck manipulation to banned. So here is the bottom line. If a person is going to have one of these types of strokes, it is not uncommon for them to seek chiropractic care based on their symptoms. It is also not uncommon for the chiropractor to miss the red flags considering that there may be none. These people are ticking time bombs.

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