Each year more than 20 million Americans seek treatment from a chiropractor. Chiropractic is a form of alternative medicine that focuses on the body's structure, particularly the neck and spine. Patients commonly seek chiropractic treatment to deal with chronic conditions such as neck and back pain. And while chiropractic has become big business–with patients spending nearly $12 billion per year, according to the National Institutes for Health (NIH)–there are many who continue to question the safety risks of some chiropractic treatments.
In January 2014, the Washington Post reported on a number of cases where patients suffered strokes due to “cervical neck manipulation,” a common chiropractic technique often referred to colloquially as “cracking the neck.” The Post cited one case where a retired Army medical office suffered a stroke while receiving cervical neck manipulation from an Oklahoma City chiropractor, which led to partial throat paralysis and permanent blindness in one eye. The colonel told the Post she was never informed there was any risk, “even very slight,” of such complications from neck manipulation, and that she would have never consented to the procedure if informed there was any risk of a stroke.
The NIH has said there are “rare reports of serious complications such as stroke” resulting from chiropractic procedures, but the agency cited a 2009 Canadian study that suggested “there was no evidence that visiting a chiropractor put people at greater risk [of a stroke] than visiting a primary care physician.” The NIH emphasized, however, that research remained ongoing in this area.
But the Post pointed to a 2010 study (published by the NIH) that reviewed more than 30 cases of patient death following “chiropractic spinal manipulation” procedures. The study's author concluded the “risks of this treatment far outweigh its benefit.” The NIH, however, maintains that “spinal manipulation...may be helpful for several conditions in addition to back pain, including migraine and [neck-related] headaches, neck pain,” and whiplash-related disorders.
The truth is, there is always risk when undergoing any medical procedure, in large part because the people performing such procedures are capable of error or negligence. Keep in mind, chiropractic is a regulated profession. Each state maintains educational and licensing requirements for anyone practicing as a chiropractor.
But despite this, mistakes can and will occur, and the results may be catastrophic. If you or a loved one have been injured to the negligence of a chiropractor or another medical provider, you need to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney who can advise you of your legal rights. Many firms will offer a free consultation and work on a contingency-fee basis.