Is chiropractic treatment safe?

As a chiropractor we are very rarely asked is chiropractic treatment safe? However as a professional we always spend time voluntarily disclosing information and discussing the subject with patients.

Chiropractic adjustments are very controlled and side effects from the treatment very rare. There have been several research articles published which report patient satisfaction as being very high.

All therapeutic procedures have possible side effects and risks involved. Did you know that the frequency of serious side-effects from taking over the counter painkillers are higher than that of Chiropractic treatment?

Chiropractors are trained in finding out who will benefit from certain treatment method. Your chiropractor can select the method that is going to be most appropriate and safe for you. Chiropractors are trained in medical diagnosis in order to rule out any underlying medical conditions that are not suitable for our treatment. If there is a possibility this is the case your chiropractor will refer you to the appropriate person for other treatment if needed.

Chiropractors are highly trained in manipulation and therefore know how to use it safely. Compared to other therapists who have taken a short course in manipulation, chiropractors have spent 4 to 5 years studying at University. At City of London Chiropractor Clinics we will always use the safest techniques possible. We will recommend another form of treatment if we thought there was a substantial risk. We are always trying to give our patients the best possible care and research has shown that the risk of side effects of chiropractic treatment is very small.

About half of patients have some form of reaction to the treatment, however symptoms in the majority (85%) are mild. Local discomfort and tiredness are the most common side effects, which disappear within 24 hours for most (74%). This study was conducted in 1997 and included 4712 treatments on 1058 new patients.

A more recent study, published in Spine in 2007, had very similar findings. The study was large and included 19,722 treatments. The aim of the study was to find out what effects the treatment had and possible side effects of the treatment. The findings were very similar to the study of 1997.

Both studies noted no serious side effects were reported.

Serious Side Effects

The most serious, but rare risk, is that of a vertebral or carotid artery dissection and stroke following cervical manipulation.

The incidence of stroke in previous studies has ranged between 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 5.85 million treatments. The important thing to remember is that these studies never showed that chiropractic treatment had caused the stroke but that there was an association with the treatment (which means that the person had been to a chiropractor before the incident).

A research article in 2001 determined the risk of such a stroke to occur in 1 in 5.85 million neck manipulations.

This should be put in comparison to the rate of spontaneous vertebral artery dissections, ie. without manipulation, which is estimated to be about 1-3 per 100,000 persons.

These figures suggest that it is more likely to have a stroke from everyday activities such as turning the head reversing the car, looking up at fire works, painting the ceiling, having your hair washed at the hair dressers, doing pilates and yoga, and many more common activities.

Research has shown that the arteries in the neck do not undergo any more strain in chiropractic treatment compared to neck movements in normal daily activities. This probably came as no surprise to most chiropractors as a normal adjustment of the neck rarely involves much more than 45° of rotation and slight extension. This is a position that most people do routinely in normal activities several times every day.

Special precautions

The use of chiropractic adjustments are not recommended in cases where there is an increased risk of damage to the spine or other bones, or the nerves.

This means that people with certain health conditions may not be able to have chiropractic. They include people with:

  • severe osteoporosis
  • primary cancer of the bone or a secondary cancer that has spread to the bone
  • poorly controlled arthritis or gout
  • poorly controlled diabetic neuropathy
  • fractures