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Cervical (neck) manipulation is a recognized and popular pain relief treatment, with an estimated 250 chiropractic visits each year and nearly one-third of these ending up with some type of cervical manipulation, usually to treat neck pain and/or headache.  This form of therapy typically involves high-velocity, low amplitude thrusts to the spinal joints in the neck.  Stroke is a rare (an estimated 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 2 mm cases) but the well-documented potential problem that can occur immediately or within a few days after cervical manipulation, and can result in death or serious neurological impairment.

This is a reminder to select your practitioner carefully.  Treatment doesn’t have to be surgery to involve serious risks.  Make sure that you do your homework on your chiropractor.  For example, at least make sure that they are licensed to practice in your state, have completed their continuing education requirements, and check to see if there have been disciplinary actions against them.   You can find this information from your state’s Chiropractic Board of Examiners. You should be able to find your state board on your state’s website, and the chiropractor should be able to give it to you too. Make sure your chiropractor is accredited by the Council on Chiropractic Education.  Personally, I would also research the chiropractor’s reputation with as many local primary care physicians and spine specialists as I could.

While I am focusing on chiropractors, some physical therapists, osteopathic physicians, and other specialists also do spinal manipulation, and I would check them out just as thoroughly.

Checking out your healthcare practitioner’s background is not a guarantee against anything going wrong, but it’s certainly a good start. (You would do at least as much research like this before buying a new car, right?)

Source: “Cervical Spine Manipulation: An Alternative Medical Procedure with Potentially Fatal Complications” Southern Medical Journal 2007;100(2):201-203. 

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