Chiropractic is a drug-free, non-invasive form of treatment, thus it is widely recognized as one of the safest options available to treat back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints of the arms or legs, headaches, and many other neuromusculoskeletal conditions. Nevertheless, no form of treatment is 100% free of potential adverse effects, so, despite its excellent safety record, you will naturally want to know about even the slightest risk before committing to a course of treatment.
First off, it must be reiterated that the risks associated with chiropractic treatment are very small. For many patients, the sense of relief they feel following spinal manipulation by a chiropractor is immediate. Others may feel mild soreness or aching, similar to that which is felt after certain types of exercise, but this minor discomfort typically fades within 24 hours.
Safe, though, is not much use to anyone if it’s only safe because it has no effect. On the contrary, spinal manipulation is incredibly effective in rectifying complaints, and does so faster than traditional medical care. In a March 2004 study in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, chiropractic care was reported as being more effective than regular medical care at helping chronic low-back pain where patients had been suffering symptoms for a year or less. Similarly, the journal Spine published a study in July 2003 reporting that manual manipulation offered better short-term relief of chronic spinal pain than did a number of medications.
Precise cervical manipulations are performed to provide relief from neck pain and some types of headache. These neck adjustments, as they are also known, increase joint mobility in the neck, restore range of motion, reduce muscle spasm, thus relieving pressure and tension.
Potential patients of chiropractic should be reassured that neck manipulation is a remarkably safe procedure. Despite some reports linking upper high-velocity neck manipulation with a kind of stroke, or vertebral artery dissection, recent evidence suggests that the incidence of such injuries associated with this kind of manipulation is extremely rare – just 1 case in 5.85 million manipulations. Despite the scaremongering, the reality is that this type of arterial injury most usually takes place spontaneously as a result of an inherent weakness, and often occurs following such everyday activities as turning the head, swimming, or receiving a salon shampoo when the head is strained back into a sink.
These erroneous reports do not take into account the fact that patients who suffer this arterial weakness sometimes experience neck pain and headaches and take themselves off to a chiropractor or doctor office for treatment, only to suffer the attack in those locations. However, best evidence would indicate that the conditions were pre-existing and not caused by the treatment they were hoping would relieve them. Statistically, serious injury is far more likely to result from a car accident en route to the chiropractor than after arrival in their office.
You also need to understand the very real risks involved in taking some of the most commonly prescribed treatments for neck and back pain, namely nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), because these carry far greater risks than manipulation. The American Journal of Gastroenterology reports that aspirin or NSAID painkillers (like Ibuprofen) cause around a third of all hospitalizations and deaths linked to gastrointestinal bleeding.
Equally, surgical intervention to treat conditions also treatable by manipulation carries a far higher risk of injury. And bear in mind that where chiropractic treatment can return you to your feet in short order, the bed-rest recommendations of many doctors will leave you open to muscle atrophy, cardiopulmonary deconditioning, bone mineral loss, and thromoembolism.
It helps when visiting your doctor of chiropractic to very accurately describe the symptoms of your upper-neck pain or headache. In this way, the safest and most effective treatment can be offered, which may include referral to another healthcare professional. If you are still worried about the issue of strokes, your doctor of chiropractic will be happy to discuss the matter further to put your mind at rest. It may be that your specific clinical condition is better treated by joint mobilization, therapeutic exercise, soft-tissue techniques, or other therapies, rather than by spinal manipulation.
Chiropractic research continues to study the benefits and risks of spinal adjustment through carefully-monitored clinical trials, which findings are published in various reviews and journals. Remember that all the available evidence shows chiropractic treatment is extremely safe, and no chiropractic professional will ever be blasé or dismissive about this subject. Chiropractors regularly engage in further training and postgraduate courses to ensure they are fully up-to-speed with the latest findings and developments so their treatment can continue to exhibit best and safest practice.
For Your Health,
Dr. Steven M. Gillis