Is Chiropractic Dangerous?

Often people who have not experienced chiropractic care wonder if chiropractic is dangerous. Nothing could be further from the truth. Research has consistently demonstrated that chiropractic care is remarkably safe and effective. In fact, significant studies indicate that chiropractic care is the safest approach available for the relief of neck pain, back pain, headaches, whiplash, and other musculoskeletal complaints.

The Art of Creating Controversy

In the 1960’s the American Medical Association put together a committee with powerful resources to attempt to contain and eliminate the chiropractic profession as a whole. Put simply, chiropractic was a growing economic threat to the practice of medicine.

The AMA’s purpose at that time was to:

  • prevent medical doctors from referring to doctors of chiropractic
  • prevent chiropractors from referring patients to medical doctors
  • prevent chiropractors from obtaining access to hospital services and x-ray services
  • prevent M.D.s from teaching in chiropractic colleges
  • prevent M.D. / D.C. joint research
  • stifle any cooperation between the two healthcare professions

Don’t be Fooled by Smoke and Mirrors

The AMA falsely propagated the notion that chiropractic was “an unscientific cult.” This is kind of funny today because the highly respected British Medical Journal printed an editorial entitled “Where is the Wisdom? The Poverty of Medical Evidence”, in which significant research demonstrated that only about 13% of medical interventions are supported by solid scientific evidence and only 1% of articles in medical journals are scientifically sound! This begs the question: Just who really is the unscientific cult in healthcare today? One should be careful of throwing stones if you live in a glass house!

Chiropractic Vindicated

In 1976, five Doctors of Chiropractic sued the AMA for violation of the Sherman Anti-trust laws. After 15 years of litigation the chiropractors ultimately prevailed and the U.S. Court of Appeals found:

  • the AMA intended to “destroy a competitor”
  • evidence “showing that the AMA was motivated by economic concerns”
  • the AMA concealed evidence demonstrating its guilt and was caught altering documents

The court found that the AMA was “guilty of systematic, long-term wrong doing and has not acknowledged its lawlessness.”

Now that we understand where most of the negativity regarding chiropractic was manifested from, let’s look at comparative risk between the medical approach and chiropractic care.

The Risks of Medicine

  • only 13 % of all medical procedures have ever been tested for appropriateness
  • adverse events occur in 3.7 percent of all hospitalizations, which doesn’t sound like much, but 13.6 of those adverse events lead to death!

Harvard Medical School of Public Health researcher Dr. Lucian Leape stated:

“Medicine is now a high risk industry, like aviation. But, the risk of dying from in an aviation accident is one in two million, while the risk of dying from a medical accident is one in 200.”

Further, the total number of deaths caused by conventional medicine is a whopping 783,936 per year according to Death by Medicine, a comprehensive review of adverse events caused by modern medicine.

That equates to seven jumbo jet crashes every single day, with every soul on board perishing. If you knew that seven jumbo jets were going to crash every day and kill everyone on board, would you really want to fly?

The Risks of Prescription Medications 

Americans spend more on prescription drugs than any other nation. Astoundingly, when properly prescribed, these medications produce 100,000 deaths per year, and another 2,000,000 Americans are injured by their use.

Taking the correct drug for the correct diagnosis in the correct dose will kill 106,000 Americans per year, making it the 4th most common cause of death in the United States!

Pain Medication Risks

  • the most common cause of acute liver failure is acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • the most common cause of liver transplant is vicodin
  • approximately 107,000 patients are hospitalized annually for gastrointestinal complications (internal bleeding) from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), These are the most common medications taken for neck and back pain.
  • At least 16,500 deaths occur annually due to NSAIDs in arthritis patients alone!
  • NSAIDS have a 1 in 4,000 death rate!
  • 1,000 capsules of Tylenol in a lifetime doubles the risk of end stage kidney disease

Chiropractic adjustments have been shown to be better than 5x more effective than the NSAIDs Celebrex and Vioxx in the care of chronic neck pain and low back pain.

Spine Surgery Facts and Risks 

  • the rate of serious complications from spinal stenosis surgery:  5 in 100
  • the death rate from surgeries and related procedures to the cervical spine:  4-10 in 10,000
  • 5-6% chance of infection
  • 4-36% chance of medical error or adverse drug reaction
  • 17% chance of a procedure error

Is Spine Surgery Even Necessary?

The need for surgery in general may be questionable. The House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations found in 1974 there were 2.4 million unnecessary surgeries performed per year, resulting in 11,900 deaths at an annual cost of $3.9 billion. One of the biggest risks of spine surgery is that it may not be necessary at all.

In 2006 The New York Times wrote:

“Spinal fusion surgery is one of the most lucrative areas of medicine. An estimated half-million Americans had the operation this year, generating billions of dollars for hospitals and doctors.

But there have been serious questions about how much surgery actually helps patients with back pain and whether surgeons’ generous fees might motivate them to overuse the procedure. Those concerns are now heightened by a growing trend among some surgeons to profit in yet another way – by investing in companies that make screws and other hardware they install.”

Chiropractic Risks

Chiropractors deal with the joints of the spine and extremities.  When looking at the risks of chiropractic care it is logical that the complications could include sprains and strains, fractures, disc injuries, and myelopathies.

However, the complication rate for chiropractic care is exceedingly remote: in fact, complications occur so rarely that there are no available statistics to quantify the probability of them occurring.

What About Strokes?

Stroke risk is often a concern for people when they consider chiropractic care. This concern is unfounded when looking at current research. A 1997 study by Scott Haldeman, MD, DC found that the incidence of stroke following cervical adjustments was 1 per 5.85 million cervical adjustments. This meant that the average chiropractor would have to work for 1,430 years, or practice 48 full chiropractic careers, before experiencing this event with a patient.

By comparison, the rate of strokes in birth control pill users is 1 in 24,000!

Additionally, a comprehensive 2008 study regarding chiropractic care and strokes, referred to as VBA, found that there was no increased risk of stroke associated with going to a primary care medical doctor (PCP)  versus a chiropractor for care. The evidence indicates that stroke patients come to their doctors complaining of headaches and neck pain that is occurring in the early stages of the stroke. Meaning that chiropractic care did not cause the stroke, the stroke was already in progress causing the patient to seek care, unknowingly for neck pain and headaches. Here are the conclusions of the researchers:

“VBA stroke is a very rare event in the population. The increased risks of VBA stroke associated with chiropractic and PCP visits is likely due to patients with headache and neck pain from VBA dissection seeking care before their stroke. We found no evidence of excess risk of VBA stroke associated chiropractic care compared to primary care.”

Interestingly enough, past statistics that inferred to chiropractic as being dangerous forgot to specify that most of the spinal manipulations implicated were not, in fact, performed by chiropractors at all! It turns out that these injuries were caused by a medical doctor, physical therapist or even a hairdresser!

The Real Experts on the Subject of Chiropractic Care

The World Health Organization (WHO) produced a comprehensive set of guidelines that point out that chiropractic is a separate profession, rather than a list of techniques that can be learned in a short course by other health professionals.

WHO’s guidelines indicate that a medical doctor would require an additional minimum of 1800 class hours, including 1,000 hours of supervised clinical training, before claiming to offer chiropractic services.

Therefore, your medical doctor is not an expert in chiropractic care or the subject of chiropractic in general. And in most cases, should not attempt to perform any type of chiropractic procedure. If you want to know if chiropractic can help you, ask a chiropractor!

The Bottom Line: Chiropractic is Safe

Complications to chiropractic care are rare. Complications to medical care, medications and surgery are not rare and are many times fatal.

What’s Really Dangerous?

Ignoring a safe and effective solution for your suffering and putting your faith in choices already proven to put your health and life at risk.

Our thanks to and the International Chiropractors Association of California for the data used in this article. For further literature references, please consult the links to these sites.