Once I started looking I found various stories on the web about people who have suffered strokes following their visits to the Chiropractor. One that interested me was that of Brittmarie Harwe. In her own words here is her story as she told it to the Connecicut General Assembly, March 3, 2008 :
On April 18, 1993, I was just 26 years old, the day before my daughter turned 2. I went to a chiropractor because of a sore shoulder and neck. I had a stroke immediately following the chiropractic cervical adjustment. The chiropractor called 911 and reported his patient was having a reaction. He didn't mention he had just performed a neck adjustment, nor did he mention that I became immediately so dizzy I was unable to sit or stand without his assistance. I couldn't speak. I was unable to focus my eyes. I was taken by ambulance to the hospital, and tests revealed that one of my vertebral arteries was crushed during the adjustment. I was left with many neurological disabilities, including left-side weakness, paralyzed vocal chord, and the worst of all, I lost the ability to swallow. Since I can't swallow, I have a feeding tube that was surgically placed in my stomach. For the past 14 years, I haven't been able to eat anything except liquid nutrition.
As you continue to read her testimony not only before this assembly but others it is clear that she was harmed by her chiropractor.
What does the medical community have to say about this? Well before we go any further you need to understand what a VBA dissection is: (thank you Wikipedia) Vertebral artery dissection is a dissection (a flap-like tear) of the inner lining of the vertebral artery, which is located in the neck and supplies blood to the brain. After the tear, blood enters the arterial wall and forms a blood clot, thickening the artery wall and often impeding blood flow. The symptoms of vertebral artery dissection include head and neck pain and intermittent or permanent stroke symptoms such as difficulty speaking, impaired coordination and visual loss. It is usually diagnosed with a contrast-enhanced CT or MRI scan. Got it, ok onward.
According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information's study published in March of 2010:
VBA stroke is a very rare event in the population. The increased risks of VBA stroke associated with chiropractic and PCP visits is likely due to patients with headache and neck pain from VBA dissection seeking care before their stroke. We found no evidence of excess risk of VBA stroke associated chiropractic care compared to primary care.
So where does this leave us? Should you visit a Chiropractor? Dr. Harriet Hall, an outspoken critic of alternative medicine and a retired US Air Force flight surgeon, wrote an article for Science-Based Medicine on this subject. She ends her article Chiropractic and Stroke with this advice:
“Don’t ever let a chiropractor touch your neck “is the safest advice; but we can’t expect everyone to accept it. Some patients have had good experiences with neck manipulations and will continue to ask for them. We can’t presume to dictate to others. If someone judges that there is a one in a million risk of a stroke and is willing to take that risk, he has every right to do so. I think people have the right to engage in risky behaviors like skydiving and smoking cigarettes. I just think they deserve to know there is a risk, and to have some idea how much of a risk it is. I suspect the general public doesn’t know the facts about neck manipulation. Following this article there are over 300 posts sharing direct thoughts and views on the subject.
As with anything education and communication are the most important tools you need to have. Be completely clear with any health care provider as to any and all symptoms you are experiencing. Express any and all concerns about any treatment you are going to receive.
I saw a chiropractor about 15 years ago following a car accident. While he was unable to help me I had no complaints. HOWEVER now knowing the risk involved I am not sure that I would ever visit a Chiropractor and allow him to manipulate my neck.
What's your opinion? Did you know that this risk existed?