May 3, 2012

Strokes and the Chiropractor

      It is amazing how often I'm researching one item for a blog and wind up learning something that completely changes everything.  While looking for more images of stroke awareness I came across this picture of a billboard and was completely shocked!

 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 speakingimpaired 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?


  1. I see my chiropractor weekly, I adore them. I have a hip deformity that have cause other problems, my neck included. Main stream medicine durring childbirth caused additional complications. I love this post because information about risks needs to be talked about & shared. I wish the mainstream practitioners felt as adamant about full-disclosure with their own treatments. Stacy-

  2. Stacy thanks or your comment. You're right not only should we be asking this of chiropractors but every health provider we see. I think the most important thing is simply to be informed and I'm glad you feel the same :)

  3. This is very interesting information, and we have to keep in mind that there are always risks with medical interventions. I also use a chiropractor, and have found him to be incredibly helpful in overcoming chronic back and hip pain. It seems that professional chiropractors are well aware of this risk, and see it at something to understand and mitigate, just like other medical risks:

  4. KT thanks for sharing. That's another great link I believe its summary agrees with the findings of the NCBI study. As in everything more knowledge is more power. There were so many great links out there my goal was to get others to think and become educated so again Thank you :)

  5. And then you have apologists like this guy who willfully distorts the scientific evidence.
    I will never allow my neck to be manipulated.

  6. Thanks for the Link. Sounds like he has a personal share in that particular Chiropractic office? There are strong advocates on both sides of this issue in and out of the medical field. Thanks Dean

  7. I've been seeing a chiropractor for the past couple of months. I went due to migraines. I know that my neck is part of the problem so figured it was worth a try. It did help some but the migraines are back more often than not, daily! I can say that they do not do manual manipulations where I go. It is done by machine that seems to gently just nudge the vertebrae. I am currently seeking other options for treatment to stop the pain but, I will go back if needed. At this point the risk is worth it due to the chronic pain I am in.

  8. I see a chiropractor at least once a month for various issues including bulging disks in my neck. I have had my neck manipulated many times with great relief. I think there is risk in any medical procedure. Just read through the statement of consent for even the most routine procedure in a hospital, or the possible side effects for any medication. I don't see anything wrong with chiropractic, but it is not for everyone. Being fully informed about all medical procedures and making your own judgement is the best you can do.

  9. @Mimzy Having lived with Chronic Pain for years I completely understand what you mean about benefits vs risks. I've never heard of the type of treatment you received but I do admit to knowing very little about Chiropractic care. Hope you feel better soon, Thank you for sharing

    @Steve You are so right about everything having risks. The doctors had to spend about 5 minutes going over the risks of the drug they wanted to give me for my stroke. And like others you've hit it on the head... the most important thing is to be informed. Thanks for sharing

  10. Hi Bren. My feelings about this are mixed. Over the last 13 years I've had hundreds of chiropractic adjustments, mostly to my neck. Some were gentle but most were rough because that's what my neck needs. I have wondered from time to time about the doctor breaking my neck, but never about a stroke. And I'm skeptical that chiropractic is getting the blame here. There is so much we don't know, in particular about the people who have experienced this. It's very scary, but by the numbers it does sound rare; rare enough in fact to possibly be caused by a physiological problem these people had that the adjustment either aggravated or brought to crisis earlier than it would have otherwise. Also, we don't know the quality of the chiropractic care these people had. I don't believe in painting all chiropractic with the same "elevated risk" brush just because of a small (relatively) number of bad doctors or people physically predisposed to react badly to an adjustment. I know your intentions are good, but I just can't see this as anything other than hysteria about something not well understood, just like a lot of other medical topics. I do appreciate knowing this has happened, but the case against neck adjustments is pretty slim, and a lot more research is necessary.

  11. Don,

    As with anything there are always going to be those who are staunch supporters on one side or another. Too often I believe people sign consent forms without truly being aware of the risks involved. The theme for this month on my blog is Stroke Awareness and as I stated in the opening statement I had never heard of this correlation between the two before. Everything here is simply informative not hysterical at all. While you've worried about injury to your neck you didn't worry about the chances of a stroke most probably because like me you had never heard of such a thing before. I am glad that you've had success with Chiropractic care and neck adjustments. Knowledge is always Power. Another thing to remember is unfortunately as with every other profession there are those who are exceptional and those who are horrific. Researching who you are allowing to touch you, how open they are with their treatment plans and the risks involved will always put you the patient and ultimately the consumer in control. I completely agree that more research is power.

  12. I was aware of this risk, only because of a co-worker suffering a stroke after neck manipulation. For myself, I've never been to a chiropractor and have no intention of ever going to one.

  13. Definitely your post provides a great and useful resource every reader must adhere. This is truly a must read and admire. Thanks a lot for sharing!


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment :)
It there's something you'd like to share privately please email me at

Have a Glorious Day!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...