Back in 2016, former Playboy model Katie May died after seeing a chiropractor for neck pain. She shared about having “pinched a nerve” in her neck during a photoshoot, and sought a chiropractor for a chiropractic adjustment. She passed away a few days later from a stroke, which the Los Angeles County Coroner reported as the result of “an injury sustained during a neck manipulation by chiropractor.”
Yes, that is pretty damning.
Yes, a chiropractor can literally break your neck too
In 2017, a 80-year old man died after chiropractor Arleen Scholten broke his neck during his treatment. Reports stated that John Lawler told Arleen “you’re hurting me, I can’t feel my arms.”
The ex-banker was left ‘like a rag doll’ after the chiropractic treatment and died a day later.
Interestingly enough, unlike the case in the United States, the General Chiropractic Council conduct committee dismissed his death as “the entirely unforeseeable consequence of the treatment.”
Does seeing a chiropractor increase your risk of stroke?
The short answer is, surprisingly, no. But please be smart about your own healthcare treatments. That is always follow clinical guidelines recommendation. And when in doubt, choose the treatment that has the least possible side effects!
A 2015 study looking at a whopping 1,157,475 beneficiaries above 65 years old found that the risk of a vertebrobasilar stroke from seeing a chiropractor was extremely low. In fact, the authors found that the risk of getting a stroke after seeing a chiropractor is comparable to the risk of getting a stroke from seeing a family doctor.
In essence, seeing a chiropractor is unlikely to cause a stroke.
Is there a relationship between chiropractic care and stroke?
A different study in 2015 studied 1,829 vertebrobasilar stroke cases found that there was no association between chiropractic care and the risk of getting a stroke. In short, chiropractic doesn’t cause stroke.
That is not to say that you can’t get a stroke from seeing a chiropractor. It’s saying that it’s unlikely that the chiropractic treatment is the reason why you get stroke.
There are really lots of studies on this. Yet another study, this time in Canada, found no increased risk of carotid artery stroke after chiropractic care. Again, the authors found the risk of getting a stroke after seeing a chiropractor is similar to the risk of getting a stroke from seeing a GP doctor.
With all of these studies and numbers in view, it’s very likely that patients who suffered a stroke post-chiropractic treatment were a stroke-in-progress.
Stroke warning signs can happen days before attack
We should be incredibly thankful to live in the information age. While junk science is aplenty, the upside is we can get high quality information from all around the world. For example, American Academy of Neurology write a nice article on how we can observe warning signs of stroke up to seven days before it happen.
What they wanted to highlight is known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Essentially, a mini-stroke. You get symptoms similar to an actual stroke but they don’t last. The symptoms typically resolve in under five minutes.
According to the authors, 17% of the people would a TIA on the day of the stroke. 9% on the previous day and 43% within sevens before the actual stroke.
Neck pain and headaches are also stroke symptoms
As chiropractors in Singapore, we do treat patients with neck pain and headaches. The problem with that is that these could also be symptoms of a stroke-in-progress.
Believe it or not, neck pain and headaches are the most common symptoms of strokes! Almost half of stroke patients would either experience neck pain or headaches. So this is where the trouble lies. You may think you have a pinched nerve in your neck, as per the case of former Playboy model Katie May, when what you are having is a stroke.
This is where a thorough medical history and physical examination is important. A good chiropractor will be able to ascertain your stroke risk, and be able to advise on if chiropractic adjustment is a viable treatment for you. If you are unsure, it’s always to err on the side of caution and skip the spinal manipulation altogether.
Many things can precede a stroke!
Do you know people do get stroke after having their hair shampooed at the beauty salon? In fact, it occurs often enough for it to be known as the beauty parlor stroke syndrome.
There is also Golfer’s stroke, which refers to a stroke episode after playing golf.
The truth of the matter is that you can get stroke anytime, anywhere. There may be instances where stroke may seem more likely to happen, but when in reality is just a case of timing. Most of these events cannot be found to directly cause stroke.
This is why the recent news of Caitlin Jensen being paralysed after a routine treatment is not a case of chiropractor snapping four arteries in her neck.
Understand that association is not causation
Temporal sequence alone does not equate causation. Just because the sun rises after the rooster crows doesn’t mean the sun rises because of the rooster’s crowing! This is a good example of how association doesn’t translate to causation.
In the case of chiropractic and stroke, you will see that studies are not even able to found an association. Let alone causation! So, it’s very difficult to accept that chiropractic causes stroke.
MRI studies have gone as far as to demonstrate that there are no significant change in blood flow in the posterior cerebrum or cerebellum in chronic neck pain participants after maximum head rotation and cervical manipulation. The keyword here is maximum. If twisting our necks in awkward position is not going to change the blood flow, then spinal manipulation cannot contribute to a stroke.
Chiropractic care is more than having your neck cracked
Having said all of that, we still do not offer neck manipulation at Square One Active Recovery. This is not a case of cervical adjustments being unsafe. Rather, it’s more to do with that there are better treatments out there that can deliver better long-term results.
It would be easy for us to throw neck spinal manipulation under the bus by giving a broad stroke “adjustments are bad for you” or “adjustments can kill you” narrative. However, these narratives are simply untrue, and are not based on science.
Chiropractic treatment for neck pain
As neck pain chiropractors in Singapore, we have lots of questions on why we don’t offer chiropractic adjustments at our clinic. The short answer is because spinal adjustment is not a long-term solution. If cracking your spine can lead to a successful recovery, then why are chiropractic patients expected to continue with regular treatments for the rest of their life?
In our opinion, needing a lifetime of treatment is not recovery at all. For us, a full recovery is about being able to live the life you want without having to depend on anyone. It is our responsibility as allied health providers to help you achieve that. This is why we empower our clients at Square One Active Recovery. This is why we aim to make our own services redundant to our clients.
We use exercise, education, and lifestyle change in our recovery programme to help our clients find freedom from pain. With this approach, you can attain your recovery goals without needing regular treatments. This is aligned to best evidence practice, and also congruent to what chiropractic is about since its founding days.
In that sense, we are not reinventing the wheel.
The truth is that exercise has been part of chiropractic since its infancy. We see that early chiropractors did utilise exercise as part of their treatment approach. So, what we are doing at our practice is 100% part of chiropractic.
Yes, we do realise that few chiropractors in Singapore do what we do. It makes sense. Afterall, spinal adjustments only take five minutes to perform and the relief lasts for a few days or a couple of weeks, max. This means it’s good for business!
Then turnover is high (i.e., can see many patients in a day) and the recurring revenue is high (i.e., patients have to keep coming back). No wonder chiropractors choose to focus on cracking spines!
We are not saying that you don’t feel better from having your spine adjusted. We are saying the results don’t last. We are also saying that there are better pain solutions. Research backs this up.
With the growth of science and research, we starting to learn more about body, and what actually helps with recovery. Both chiropractors and pain patients alike would have to keep up in order to achieve good outcomes. Yes, all of us have our own biases, beliefs, values. We are not denying that.
What we are saying is that, at some point, all of these have to go if we want good outcomes. We have to keep up with times. Especially if you are not getting better.
Have a think about it. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. What you need for extraordinary results is a radical change. This can start with the type of treatments you choose.
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Frustrated by the lack of results-driven and ethical chiropractic clinics in Singapore, Chiropractor Jesse Cai found Square One Active Recovery to deliver meaningful and sustainable pain solutions.
Our goal? To make our own services redundant to you.