How Safe is Chiropractic Treatment?

Chiropractic treatment is designed to help with what the experts refer to as “neuromusculoskeletal” pain. This pain occurs when the spine ends up getting out of alignment, putting pressure on parts of the body where there shouldn’t be any. The best way to treat this pain is by getting an adjustment by a licensed professional chiropractor. However, there are some people out there who aren’t quite sure how chiropractic treatments work or are positive that they’ve read negative stories about other patients ending up hurt – or worse – after seeing a chiropractor. These stories don’t quite get to the real cause of the injury or death, which usually involves a pre-existing condition that’s exacerbated by the treatment.

Every Medical Procedure Can Have Side Effects

Although chiropractic manipulations end up with a bad reputation, every medical procedure can have side effects. Someone can go in for outpatient surgery on their ankle and end up with a blood clot. A person could have a reaction to a type of medication, even if they’ve taken it before. Unknown allergies can pop up. When a medical issue occurs in a standard clinical setting due to a simple procedure, it doesn’t seem to receive the same type of bad press as chiropractic care. People are quick to jump on chiropractors. This doesn’t mean that you can’t end up with an injury after seeing a chiropractor, but when you consider how many people see them every day and are fine afterward, the headlines don’t seem to match up.

Cervical Manipulations

The main procedure conducted by a chiropractor is called a cervical manipulation. This is an adjustment of the cervical vertebrae in the neck, and they are designed to help with headaches and neck pain. When this procedure is performed properly (read: gently) on a patient that doesn’t have a history of arterial issues, most of the time, everything is fine. However, when an arterial issue is present, the risk for a tear, also known as a dissection, goes up. Studies have found that the movements associated with having your hair washed in a salon or even turning your head while swimming carry the same risk as a cervical manipulation in people with a pre-existing condition. It’s much less scary than the media has it seem.

What Can You Do to Prevent Potential Issues?

If you’re still afraid of seeing a chiropractor (although you shouldn’t be) your best bet is to bring with you a list of your medical conditions. By going over everything – and that means every detail – beforehand, your chiropractor will be able to ascertain whether or not you should have a spinal or cervical adjustment or another type of manipulation and treatment. There are some conditions that leave you likely to have complications from these procedures, including connective tissue disorders and even a history of issues with your blood vessels. By going over all of this beforehand with your chiropractor, you’re more likely to end up with a positive outcome.

Seeing a Chiropractor for Pain

A chiropractor is someone who is able to help determine the cause of your pain and help relieve it. In a society where people turn to opioid pain medications and over the counter treatments, it’s best to have another option. If you’re a candidate for chiropractic treatment (as in, you’ve talked to a chiropractor and gone over your entire medical history), then you’d be surprised at just how effective these treatments are. There are some side effects (more on them shortly), but the most common ones disappear quickly – much like your pain levels.

The Actual Side Effects of Chiropractic Care

Since chiropractic care is very safe and the chances of having a severe side effect are small, it’s important to know and understand what the actual side effects of these treatments are. These include a small amount of pain and soreness, stiffness, and some minor aches. With that said, many people don’t have these side effects at all – they emerge from their chiropractor’s office feeling great. If you do have any of these minor side effects, keep in mind that they’ll fade away within 24 to 48 hours.

With that said, sharp pains, as well as neck or headache pain that appears very suddenly, is something that you need to be very wary of. These sharp pains may be a sign that you have an issue with your arteries. If you end up feeling them, seek emergency medical help. However, if you’re like most people, you’ll just have a little soreness afterward.

Chiropractors and Their Responsibility for Safety

In the past, it was believed that chiropractic neck manipulations caused patients to have strokes. A recent study by the Annals of Medicine has found that this isn’t true at all. In fact, they did a comprehensive study of all of the literature out there and discovered that these manual manipulations and therapies don’t increase the patient’s risk of, in clinical terms, “Cervical Arterial Dissection or CAD,” also known as a tear in the wall of the arteries. However, it’s important for chiropractors to know the signs of a potential CAD case, since there are some exacerbating factors that make it seem as though the chiropractor is to blame, when in fact, they aren’t.

Know Which Pre-Existing Conditions and Disorders to Ask About

Before a chiropractor does any manipulations on a patient, they need to ask them plenty of questions. This is normally done as a part of the initial physical exam, so nothing really needs to change, except for the focus on the questions. There are some that must be brought up in order to determine if the patient has any risk factors for CAD. These questions include asking the patient about their history of smoking cigarettes, which increases the potential for CAD. Others are having a vitamin deficiency, such as low blood levels of B12, B6, and B9, having a disorder that involves the connective tissues, and having a history of recurrent tinnitus (also known as a frequent ringing in the ears.) Additional symptoms and disorders include having frequent respiratory infections, very low cholesterol levels, being underweight, and having a history of issues with the arteries, such as previous instances of CAD or any other type of
anomalies with the arteries.

Obviously, if you have any of these conditions, you’ll need to tell your chiropractor about them, even if they don’t ask. It’s best that they have all of the information that they need before choosing to proceed (or not) with the physical manipulations and adjustments. Just keep in mind that you have one of these conditions or disorders, the odds that you’ll end up with CAD or a similar syndrome increase.

Watch for the Symptoms of CAD

In addition to understand which pre-existing conditions can increase the risk factor, all chiropractors – and patients – need to know how the symptoms of CAD present. This makes it easier for the patient to know when something is wrong so that they can seek medical help immediately. Even perfectly healthy (yet hurting) patients may be subject to CAD since sometimes things happen that others can’t control. The main symptoms of CAD include a feeling of vertigo or an unrelenting spinning sensation, a sudden headache that feels as though it’s a cluster headache or a migraine, severe neck pain that comes on very suddenly without any warning. These are all signs that you might be experiencing an arterial tear. Tell your chiropractor immediately about them if you are still in their office. If you aren’t, then call an ambulance. Even if the pain ends up being just a headache, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Although chiropractic manipulations aren’t the cause of CAD, according to the studies by the Annals of Medicine, there’s always a chance that one could occur, particularly if any of the pre-existing conditions are present. By keeping an eye on your patient after their treatment, you are helping to prevent a potential catastrophe.

Safe Treatments Are Very Important

Above all else, chiropractors need to treat their patients properly. It’s possible to do a chiropractic manipulation without yanking on the patient roughly in order to realign their spine and get to root cause of their pain. The amount of force that’s used can be too much, resulting in additional damage to the soft tissue, muscles, ligaments, and arteries. If you feel as though your chiropractor is being a bit rough, speak up. There’s no reason for your treatment to be rough and painful. Yes, in some cases it may hurt a bit as you are realigned, but overall, you should feel a sense of relief when it’s done, not pain. Don’t be afraid to say something.

In summary, although chiropractors have been found to not be the cause of CAD, also known as tears in the arterial walls that can be deadly, some caution must still be taken. Both the patient and the chiropractor need to know what those risk factors are, as well as the main symptoms of CAD. Otherwise, a deadly condition may occur before you realize what’s happening.