Is it Safe? What are the risks of chiropractic adjustment?
Are chiropractic adjustments safe? That’s the big question and we hear this question a lot at Evolve Chiropractic – especially from people who have not yet experienced working with a chiropractor.
This is an important question and one that a lot of people wonder about. Maybe they’ve seen crazy videos on Youtube of neck cracking compilations or heard stories from a friend about something they saw on the news. Or maybe chiropractic is still part of the unknown for them and they’re scared of even visiting one.
We understand. That’s why we did our best in this blog to provide all the information you need to make an informed decision.
Even though we come from a background of seeing thousands of people’s lives changed through chiropractic, we know you came to this article for a larger view and we’re happy to provide it.
Why are we qualified to address this subject? Because at Evolve Chiropractic, our clinics see hundreds of patients a week without injury or incident. We also talk to many other well-run clinics throughout the country that have the same long track record of safety.
Still, we understand the question. It’s completely reasonable to wonder if any medical procedure you are considering is safe. We encourage taking ownership of your health, and this includes asking the right questions of your healthcare providers.
At Evolve, we are committed not only to your complete healing through chiropractic care but also to arming you with information so you are prepared to make the best decisions about your health. That’s why, in this blog post, we’ll cover some of the typical concerns about the safety of chiropractic care while discussing some very remote risks and how we work every day to mitigate them.
Chiropractic manipulation is safe and natural
While chiropractic done properly is safe (there are hundreds of thousands of people in the US alone actively using it to manage pain and improve their health) there have been side effects caused by spinal manipulation.
Every industry has its horror stories. That is as true of chiropractic care as it is of anything else related to health (even consuming superfoods like Kale bears some risk: There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Kale). We want to provide you with a reliable, no-fluff reference and an answer to the horror stories that cause people to forego chiropractic treatments.
Here, we’ll break down some of the rare risks of chiropractic adjustment and address some of the common fears we hear in our office from our newest clients and inquirers.
What are some of the risks associated with Chiropractic adjustment?
Chiropractic adjustments don’t involve the use of drugs or surgery. Instead, chiro offers patients a safer, less risky way to treat back and neck injuries and pain using physical manipulation.
Chiropractors rely on their hands and special instruments to apply controlled pressure, also known as spinal manipulation, to trouble areas of your body. The goal is to improve your spine’s alignment and range of motion and to help your body achieve optimal performance by opening up the channels for nerve energy to flow freely through your body.
Sometimes, the spinal manipulation offered by a chiropractor is uses stronger pressure, sometimes not. It depends on the needs of the patient. Proper application of spinal manipulation is both an art and a science. That’s why chiropractors undergo years of schooling and practice followed by licensing before being able to work with the general public. There are many precautions and safety measures in place.
In fact, Doctors of Chiropractic have to go through 4,620 total educational hours to get their degrees. That’s almost 1,000 hours more than a Doctor of Physical Therapy and less than 200 hours less than a Medical Doctor.
Doctors of Chiropractic have to go through 4,620 total educational hours to get their degrees. That’s almost 1,000 hours more than a Doctor of Physical Therapy and less than 200 hours less than a Medical Doctor.-Palmer College of Chiropractic
According to the Mayo Clinic, chiropractic adjustment is a safe option for treating back pain, neck pain and headaches through spinal manipulation.
The risks associated with chiropractic manipulation are rare when performed by a licensed and trained chiropractic expert. When complications occur, they typically include the worsening of a slipped or herniated disc, compression of spinal nerves, and, in rare cases, vertebral artery dissection, which is a specific type of stroke that can occur after manipulation of the neck.
Again, these risks are very rare. When they do occur, they tend to be more likely in patients who have pre-existing conditions like severe osteoporosis, cancer of the spine, bone structure abnormalities, the risk factors of stroke. If this sounds like you, talk to a chiropractor about your concerns before scheduling an appointment to be sure to identify potential risks and their likelihood of worsening your condition.
Are there any side effects with Chiropractic adjustment?
While many people who receive chiropractic treatments exclusively report improved health and reduced pain, there can be some minor side effects of spinal manipulation.
According to a study by the Nordic Institute for Chiropractic and Clinical Biomechanics in Odense, Denmark, the side effects of chiropractic adjustment are minor and short-lived, usually disappearing within a day of treatment. The most common side effect as reported in the study included minor discomfort in the area where the manipulation occurred (e.g. the lumbar spine or the neck), followed by pain in other areas, headaches, nausea, fatigue and dizziness.
These side effects were more often reported at the start of a round of treatments. Again, patients with underlying health conditions were the ones most likely to report issues.
The study found that there was no difference, though, between new chiropractic patients and those who had undergone chiropractic manipulation in the past.
Is chiropractic more dangerous than other treatments for back or neck pain or injury?
All evidence suggests the answer is “absolutely not,” especially when you look into some of the more extreme and invasive methods used today within traditional medicine.
Let’s say you are experiencing back pain caused by a herniated (AKA ruptured or slipped) disc in your spine, a common reason people seek chiropractic treatment. We broke down the most common options for treatment and their corresponding risks.
The word chiropractic, from the Greek, literally means “done by hand.” There is no cutting and no harsh chemicals used with chiropractic manipulation of the spine. Treatments simply involve one human applying hands to another’s body. As discussed here, there are some risks, but they are typically mild and rare.
Risk level: low
Over the counter, anti-inflammatory painkillers
Anti-inflammatory painkillers, AKA non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are widely available over the counter and are often a person’s first go-to when experiencing back or neck pain or headaches. They are generally safe, but they do carry some risks, especially for people with underlying health issues.
Harvard Medical School says 30 billion doses of pain relievers like ibuprofen, naproxen and celecoxib are taken annually for common conditions like back pain or headaches.
Despite the assumption that NSAIDs are completely safe, they are known to cause a wide range of problems, including everything from stomach upset and ulcers to kidney injuries and allergic reactions.
The risk goes up as people overuse these drugs, which, according to Harvard, is fairly common: At least 15 percent of people taking anti-inflammatory drugs take more than the recommended dose. Because they are ubiquitous, cheap, and readily available, many people do tend to take more NSAIDs than they should.
Prescription narcotic painkillers
Many people turn to prescription pain killers like narcotics to ease back and neck pain. These drugs can include things like codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet, Percodan) and similar drugs.
While they can bring immediate relief to pain, Medline says they do cause some common side effects, including sleepiness and impaired judgement, itchy skin, constipation, and stomach issues. In addition, these pharmaceutical products have been well documented to put users at high risk of addiction and should generally be avoided, especially if a person has a family history of alcoholism or drug abuse.
Epidural steroid injections, or injections of steroid medications directly into the spine, are another common way to address localized pain in the back or neck.
Spine Health says most risks associated with steroid injections are rare, but they can include infection at the injection site, painful “dural puncture” headaches, or spinal headaches, excessive bleeding, and nerve damage caused by trauma from the needle at the injection site.
Steroid injections are also known to cause increased pain, facial flushing, anxiety, fevers, blood sugar spikes, ulcers, sleep disturbances, hip arthritis and cataracts.
And then of course, there is surgery, an intrusive but sometimes necessary means of treating severe and chronic spinal injuries and issues.
While spinal surgery is sometimes an effective last resort for back pain, it is expensive, disruptive, and bears many risks that are generally more significant than any other spinal treatment option.
Risks of spinal surgery can include reactions to the anesthesia and other drugs used during the surgery, internal bleeding, life-threatening infections and blood clots, permanent nerve damage, heart attacks and strokes and, in some cases, even death.
The Bottom Line:
Compared to other treatments, chiropractic manipulation is one of the safest and most natural ways to treat chronic back or neck pain.
While there are some rare risks and side effects associated with chiropractic care, particularly for people with underlying or pre-existing health problems, most people report relief and improved bodily function when turning to a chiropractor for help treating chronic back and neck pain, headaches, stress, fatigue, trouble sleeping, injuries from car accidents and other common issues related to spinal health.
Statements on this blog are not to be viewed as personal medical advice, but are for the purposes of general knowledge. The reader is strongly encouraged to do their own research before deciding a course of action.