Neck Adjustment and Stroke

Some claim that there is little direct evidence that neck adjustment causes stroke. Katie would beg to differ. A coroner’s report ruled that Katie suffered a stroke as the result of a chiropractic neck adjustment.

Katie is far from the only person to suffer a stroke shortly after receiving a neck adjustment. Josh Clark, Ashley Johnson, Amber Thomas, and Christina Heck are just three other recent examples.

Research backs up anecdotal evidence. The Washington Post cited a 2013 survey of 43 studies conducted between 2001 and 2011 that found 707 incidents of stroke associated with cervical spinal ma­nipu­la­tion therapy. Reports published in 2011 and 2010 also found evidence supporting a connection between neck manipulation and stroke.

Know the Risks

Specifically, according to Michigan Medicine neurologist Mollie McDermott, M.D., high-velocity neck manipulation can result in a vertebral artery dissection, which can lead to stroke.

McDermott states that “vertebral artery dissections (from any cause) are dangerous because they can cause changes to the blood flow in the vessels leading to your brain, potentially resulting in a stroke.”

“People with neck pain go to chiropractors, and dissections can cause neck pain, so there is a ‘chicken or the egg’ phenomenon,” McDermott notes. “An individual may have already had a vertebral dissection before starting chiropractic treatment.” Nonetheless, McDermott says, “I generally take this opportunity to inform patients of the potential link between aggressive chiropractic manipulation and stroke.”

“Anecdotally, many stroke neurologists have seen patients present to the emergency room directly from their chiropractor’s office with stroke symptoms, and that temporal association can be difficult to ignore.”

“This doesn’t mean a person shouldn’t pursue chiropractic therapy, but we do advise our patients to avoid high-velocity neck manipulation. The potential risk is serious enough to outweigh the potential benefit.”

See the NIH’s Flyer on Chiropractic care for more.