Chiropractic is safe


Chiropractic is recognized as one of the safest and most effective treatments for neuromusculoskeletal pains, including neck pain, back pain, joint pain, and headaches. Being that chiropractic care is a non-invasive treatment procedure, adverse effects are much more predictable than invasive procedures and medications. Despite chiropractic’s safety and efficacy, no treatment, including chiropractic, is free of potential adverse effects. The risks associated with chiropractic, however, are minimal compared to conventional medical treatments.

The most common complaints following a chiropractic adjustment include soreness and aching, and it typically fades in about 24 hours. Often, this is the result of the activation of stabilizing musculature that had been disengaged in the injured spine. With restoration of proper motion to the spinal joints, smaller muscles, including those that keep the spine stable, are recruited. Many people equate this soreness to the muscle soreness experienced after resuming normal exercise habits after a prolonged hiatus.

Some individuals have intentionally tried to falsely and negatively alter the public’s perception of chiropractic care by quoting studies that have correlated chiropractic adjustments to the neck, or cervical region, with a certain form of stroke, termed vertebral artery dissection. Recent evidence suggests that this type of arterial injury occurs spontaneously in a weakened vessel with certain activities such as turning the head while driving, working, or even getting your hair done. This condition is often accompanied with neck pain and headaches, which is when people seek the care of chiropractors and medical doctors. Therefore, the care received from these professionals is not the cause of the vertebral artery dissection, but rather, it is a cause of the underlying problem that brought the patient to the clinic. Overall, the best evidence available indicates that arterial injuries associated with high-velocity upper neck adjusting occur in one out of every 5.85 million cervical adjustments.

To gain a greater appreciation of this risk, if you live more than a mile from your chiropractor, you are more likely to experience life-threatening injuries in an automobile accident driving to the office than you are to experience complications with your adjustment. In addition, this is much safer than other medical treatments of the same conditions, such as the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). For example, according to a study from the American Journal of Gastroenterology, approximately one-third of all hospitalizations and deaths related to gastrointestinal bleeding can be attributed to the use of aspirin or NSAID painkillers like ibuprofen.  Another treatment option, surgery, carries a risk of adverse effects multiple times greater than the risk of chiropractic adjustments.

In addition to being a safe form of treatment, spinal manipulation is incredibly effective, getting patients back on their feet faster than traditional medical care. A March 2004 study in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found that chiropractic care is more effective than medical care at treating chronic low-back pain in those patients who have been experiencing the symptoms for one year or less. In addition, a study published in the July 15, 2003, edition of the journal Spine found that manual manipulation provides better short-term relief of chronic spinal pain than a variety of medications.

Another attestation to the safety and efficacy of chiropractic care is the Manga Report. The Ontario Ministry of Health commissioned Manga Report represents the largest analysis of scientific literature on the most effective and cost effective treatments for low back pain. After reviewing all of the international evidence on the management of low back pain, lead investigator Pran Manga, Ph.D., found the treatments provided by Doctors of Chiropractic were exceptionally safe – much safer than for standard medical treatments of similar conditions.

When seeking the care of a chiropractor, it is important to be as thorough and specific about the symptoms that you are experiencing so that the doctor of chiropractic can offer the most appropriate form of care for your specific condition. It is also important to make the chiropractor aware of any risks of stroke such as cigarette smoking, family history of hypertension, a history of oral contraception, and blood clotting disorders. In cases of severe risk, the chiropractor can still provide care by forgoing the cervical adjustments for joint mobilization and soft tissue techniques.

  • Cassidy D, et al. Risk of Vertebrobasilar Stroke and Chiropractic Care. Spine 2008; 33:S176–S183.
  • Haldeman S, et al. Arterial dissection following cervical manipulation: a chiropractic experience. Can Med Assoc J 2001;165(7):905-06.
  • Lanas A, et al. A nationwide study of mortality associated with hospital admission due to severe gastrointestinal events and those associated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use. Am J Gastroenterol 2005;100:1685–1693.
  • The Effectiveness and Cost Effectiveness of Chiropractic Management of Low-Back Pain (The Manga Report). Pran Manga and Associates (1993) – University of Ottawa, Canada.