As you may have read earlier, the only thing chriopractic has ever really been shown to do is to help low back pain about as well as conventional therapy. That doesn’t stop chiropractors from doing whatever they want. It sure seems harmless enough, though—you back or neck hurts, some guy moves it around, and you feel better—and all without drugs! What could it hurt, right?
With any medical or physical intervention, things can go wrong, sometimes horribly wrong. For example, when I treat someone with an ACE inhibitor, I run the risk of causing a serious drug reaction. But the benefits far outweigh the risks. Also, I know what problems to look for, and how to treat them. These drugs save kidneys, hearts, and lives, so the payoff is worth the small risk.
What of chiropractic? Well, Harriet Hall over at sciencebasedmedicine.com just saved me a lot of time. Vertebral artery dissection (VAD), a rare type of stroke, has been linked to chiropractic neck manipulation. It’s hard to count precisely, but the Canadian literature has some decent reports. What the reports show is that there is a clear link between VAD and chiropractic. How many of these strokes are caused by neck manipulation is less clear, and that’s where some serious crankery comes in.
Some chiropractors will tell you that if there is a risk, it is quite small, so why worry? But about 10% of people with VAD die. That’s DIE. And they are often young (average early 40s).
There is no proven benefit to chiropractic manipulation of the neck. It is associated with a rare and very dangerous type of stroke. In judging the risk/benefit ratio, the answer here is clear—don’t let a chiro touch your neck—never, never, never.