Chiropractic & Stroke

I’ve heard it said that you should “never let a good crisis go to waste.” Now that may seem a bit cold, but there are entire industries that are built on that concept. The news media is a great example. They exist almost exclusively going from crisis to crisis. If bad stuff stopped happening, what would they have to talk about? What would they do?

From time to time, things do get slow. Although it never seems to last long, there are those days when there just isn’t much to talk about. Those days are what we call “slow news days.” If you watch the news much, it isn’t hard to tell when it is happening.

I can picture the news directors scurrying around, looking for anything that can fill space. They find themselves choosing between a cat story, a story about why yellow is the new black or wait…here’s something…a story about a chiropractor getting into trouble. YES!

I say that as a half joke. Rarely will you see anything in the mainstream media about chiropractic. Any mention of chiropractic in the news is a good indication that you are watching a slow news day. To make matters worse for chiropractic, when it is mentioned, it’s usually not good.

I saw a prime example of this a few months ago. A local news station did a story about how chiropractic adjustments were causing strokes. From the sound of it, you would think chiropractic care was one of the most dangerous things in the world. Patients are obviously dropping left and right! Of course, that’s not true, but the news media doesn’t typically let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Some chiropractors think that the “chiropractors are killing people” stories are a conspiracy to tear down chiropractic. You never really know. If I had to guess, I would say stories like that probably stem from slow news days and nothing more. Regardless of the cause, stories like this are met with a harsh reaction from the chiropractic profession and from those who love their chiropractors.

Stories like that don’t usually change anything for the people who love chiropractic. Most people who have tried chiropractic have experienced the tremendous benefits and are happy with their care. As a result, they are unlikely to be scared off by the “chiropractors are killing people” story. 

But what about the people who are less familiar with chiropractic? What do they think about these stories? Unfortunately, these types of stories do scare away certain people from the chiropractor. For many of those people, the chiropractor is their best option for getting help, but they refuse to go because they are scared.

To make matters worse, “chiropractors are killing people” stories are not just told by the news, they are also told by anti-chiropractic health care providers. Most chiropractors don’t have to practice long to have some kind of “chiropractors are dangerous” conversation with a patient. During my time in practice, I had one particular situation that stood out amongst the rest.

The short version of the story is that an elderly patient of mine informed me she wasn’t going to come into my office anymore because “her doctors had gotten together and decided that it wasn’t safe for her to go to the chiropractor.” That wasn’t the first or last time something like that happened to me. But for several reasons, this particular case really pushed my buttons.

First of all, none of her doctors bothered to call me and ask what I thought about her or her case. Second, none of the doctors who decided that “chiropractic was unsafe for her” had taken even a minute of training in chiropractic. Third, her doctors assumed that I was providing adjustments that would have been inappropriate for her age and medical history. Lastly, her entire group of doctors disregarded the fact that, under my care, her health was improving for the first time in decades. Chiropractic care was helping her heal and feel better after years of failed medications and surgeries. In spite of that, her trusted group of doctors decided that “chiropractic was unsafe”, and she decided to discontinue care.

Now I said all that to emphasize the point that there is a lot of misinformation going around about the safety of chiropractic especially when it comes to chiropractic and stroke. That misinformation can actually keep people from getting the help that they need. So I thought I would try to bring some much-needed sanity to the conversation.

My intention is not to sugarcoat the issues or explain things away. I want to lay all the information out there so you can know where these stories come from and what your concern should and shouldn’t be. Here we go…

Possibility: Is it possible for an adjustment to lead to a stroke? In short…yes…but only certain adjustments. There is a very specific mechanism for that injury, and chiropractors are trained to adjust patients without putting them at risk. Is it possible? Yes. Is it probable? Absolutely NOT!

Probability: Any time you are discussing risk/benefit, you have to talk about probability. For instance, every year well over 30k people die in motor vehicle crashes. Does that mean that cars are too dangerous? Most of us don’t think so. That’s because dying in a car crash is possible but not probable. 

Believe it or not, it’s also possible for someone to cause a stroke from “popping” their own neck. There are even documented cases of people who have accidentally killed themselves from “popping” their own neck. In spite of that, every year millions of people “pop” their own necks, and you never hear on the news or read an article telling you how dangerous it is. Why is that?

Simple…injuries like that are incredibly unlikely, even in the worst case scenario of an untrained person twisting their own neck.

Anatomy: There is something very unique about your neck. It is the only place in your spine that an artery runs up through little holes in the bones. When anyone is talking about the connection between chiropractic and stroke, they are referring to neck adjustments and neck adjustments only. To be specific, it’s very top of the neck that is the only part of the spine that has a possible connection to stroke.

To be even MORE specific, only a rotation adjustment (twisting of the head and neck) at the very top of the neck has the possibility to cause artery damage. You would have to be adjusted in a certain area, in a certain way AND be prone to that particular injury for a stroke from a chiropractic adjustment to even be possible. Like I said…possible but NOT probable.

Training: This connection between neck adjustments and stroke is NOT news to any chiropractor. We have all been taught the anatomy. We all know why it happens. We all know how it happens. Every chiropractor has been taught to look for indicators that a patient could be at risk for such an injury. Chiropractors are also taught safe ways to adjust the neck so that there is little or no strain on the artery.

Insurance Rates: Anytime I have a conversation about chiropractic and stroke with patients or potential patients, I bring up the topic of malpractice insurance. In recent years our society has become quick to drag doctors into court. As a result, malpractice insurance premiums for health care providers has skyrocketed. It’s gotten so bad for some professionals that many have been forced to close their doors simply because they can not afford their malpractice insurance premiums. It’s maddening.

High priced malpractice insurance premiums are not the reality for chiropractors. To my knowledge, chiropractors have the lowest premiums of any doctors in the country. In fact, many chiropractors pay more for their monthly phone bill than they do for their malpractice insurance coverage.

Why is it so cheap? Is it because the malpractice insurance companies love chiropractors and are cutting them a break? HA! Chiropractic malpractice insurance companies are no different than any other insurance company. The greater the risk, the greater the premiums. Chiropractors have low malpractice insurance premiums for one reason only. Chiropractic care is safe. Low risk equals low premiums. End of story.

Final Thoughts: For the vast majority of people, the benefits of chiropractic adjustments far outweigh any risks. For the most part, the people who say otherwise are either misinformed or purposely trying to mislead. Of course, that doesn’t mean you are not allowed to ask questions or express any concerns. If you have something in your health history or your family health history that worries you, please discuss it with your chiropractor. Open communication is always the best approach and will allow you to maximize the benefits of your chiropractic care in the safest way possible.