Chicken Little: Don’t go to a Chiropractor – They’ll give you a stroke

Over the weeks since I started my blog I have been talking about differing aspects of chiropractic care, back pain and building a picture of what chiropractic care is about and trends in healthcare. There is one aspect of chiropractic treatment that has always prompted controversy-namely chiropractic treatment as a causation of a stroke.

Like Chicken Little, knocked on the head by a falling acorn and suddenly the sky was falling down – things are not as bad as they seem.

Neck pain is no laughing matter. The pain from inflammation of the joints can be excruciating and unrelenting. Chiropractic treatment offers a solution to neck pain but it doesn’t come without risks.


In simple terms, part of the blood supply to the base of the brain travels through carefully designed channels at the side of the neck vertebrae. A carefully crafted chiropractic adjustment to the joints of the neck vertebrae carries a risk estimating from 1-4 incidences per million manipulations of a resulting stroke. Medicine claims it is the force of a chiropractic adjustment that causes a tearing of the artery. In essence, it has never been proved that chiropractic manipulations cause a stroke. It is a hypothetical risk. In some people there may be a pre-existing weakness in the artery of some  that is almost impossible to determine. Indeed, incidences of a stroke have also been reported occurring in individuals who bend and torque their neck backwards while having their hair washed at a hairdressing salon.

Incidences of stroke occuring while having hair washed at hairdressing salons.

Incidences have been reported of a stroke occurring while having hair washed at hairdressing salons.

Chiropractors have known about the risk of stroke with neck manipulations and there is always a trade off in increasing patient anxiety and tension once they have been told of the risks. I for one, always inform my patients of the risks of a stroke before I manipulate any neck joints. I like to feel that the patient is involved and informed at each stage of their care of any potential risks as well as benefits. Anything less is avoiding a duty of care to each patient.

To put it in perspective, you are far more likely to be hit by a car twice as a pedestrian walking across the road than suffering a stroke at the hands of a Chiropractor. For some the risks are too great, they have probably convinced themselves that they will be that one exception. Like the children’s narrative story

Don't be Chicken Little, Don't be afraid. The sky is not falling down!

Don’t be Chicken Little, Don’t be afraid. The sky is not falling down!

with a moral at the end: Don’t be Chicken Little, don’t be afraid, the sky is not falling down.