Several hundred cases have been documented in which patients suffered serious and often permanent harm following chiropractic manipulations. So do long-term chiropractic sessions cause harm? Well, statistics show that manipulation of the lumbar spine can cause a serious adverse effect on one per million patient visits. These data show that the incidence rate is very low, especially when compared to taking an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) or other medical procedures. Experts say serious injuries and death from chiropractic treatment are rare.
However, it's important for patients to understand what type of care they receive, especially if they suffer from a health problem that could make chiropractic adjustments dangerous. It is important to fully understand the limits of chiropractic treatment, as well as the potential risks associated with aggressive or jerky movements of the neck and spine. With so many people suffering from back pain, it's probably not surprising that so many people visit chiropractors to make adjustments. Studies have shown that chiropractic adjustments, such as spinal manipulation, are mostly safe and effective in treating back pain and other musculoskeletal conditions, especially when treated by a certified and trained chiropractor.
On the other hand, skill is a quality that cannot be easily controlled in such research; even some chiropractors may be more skilled than others. In nine cases, they were associated with spinal cord injuries (myelopathy, quadriparesis, central cord syndrome, or paraparesis); two patients experienced horsetail syndrome; six patients developed radiculopathy; and three patients had cancer-related pathological fractures that chiropractors had not managed to diagnose. Chiropractors can argue that it takes years of experience to learn the fine psychomotor control required for skillful manipulations. Patients were predominantly women (mean age 39 years) who had seen a chiropractor for neck pain or headache.
Chiropractors are professionally trained healthcare providers who pay close attention to the patient's condition and do their best to prevent immediate or long-term harm. Spinal manipulation had been administered by orthopedic surgeons (50%), physical therapists (14%), chiropractors (11%), or other health professionals. What seems to happen is that certain manipulations performed by chiropractors, particularly those that involve a forced rotation of the neck to the side, can stretch an artery that runs along the spine too much. In fact, this review shows that the professionals involved are not only chiropractors but also surgeons, shiatsu practitioners, 'bone trainers' and general practitioners (Table.
Virtually all chiropractors use spinal manipulation regularly to treat lower back and other musculoskeletal pain. Serious but rare side effects of chiropractic care include stroke, worsening of herniated discs, and cauda equina syndrome (pinching of the spinal nerves at the bottom that can cause permanent paralysis). According to the American Chiropractic Association, about 20 million people go to a chiropractor every year. Taken together, these data suggest that spinal manipulation is associated with frequent, mild and transient adverse effects, as well as serious complications that can lead to permanent disability or death.