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Is Chiropractic Neck Manipulation Safe?

Spinal manipulation is a hands-on technique used by chiropractors to help treat back pain, neck pain and other health conditions in the musculoskeletal structure. The idea of adjusting the spine is quite controversial as it usually refers to similar but different types of manual therapies. Some forms of chiropractic adjustments include stretching, popping, tapping, or wiggling of the spinal joints, which are collectively referred to as spinal manipulative therapy. Although health experts recommend chiropractic care as a remedy for back pain, many people are still concerned about the safety of neck manipulation and its potential for catastrophic events. This article answers the question whether chiropractic neck manipulation is safe.

What is Chiropractic Neck Manipulation?

Chiropractic neck manipulation involves the manipulation of the cervical spine to help reduce pain around the neck region. The primary goal of this type of chiropractic care is to reduce pain, improve motion and restore function to the neck region. Some chiropractors use gentle techniques such as spinal mobilization while others focus on spinal manipulation, which is characterized by the use of force and twisting. Most of these procedures are done on a padded and adjustable table that provides comfort and relaxation during the session.

Is Chiropractic Neck Manipulation Safe?

The safety of chiropractic neck manipulation may vary depending on the techniques used by a chiropractor to reduce pain and restore function. Some of the common techniques used include cervical manual traction and cervical mobilization. In cervical manual traction, a chiropractor gently pulls on the neck while stretching the cervical spine. They focus on an angle that helps to minimize tightness by adjusting the spinal joints. Cervical mobilization is a smooth type of stretch that aims to reduce fixation. It focuses on areas with restricted motion between the cervical spinal segments.

The evidence supporting the effectiveness of chiropractic neck manipulation is inconclusive because of the contradictory findings. Some studies suggest that neck manipulation can help reduce neck pain, back pain or migraines and it is safe as long as a professional chiropractor who is highly experienced to handle such situations does it. On the contrary, other studies have raised concerns about the sudden powerful thrusts used in this type of manual therapy. The procedure might tear the vertebral or carotid artery leading to the brain. If this happens, it might result in other secondary health issues such as stroke, and changes in the brain.

According to the American Chiropractic Association, neck manipulation is recommended as a safe procedure. The epidemiology of injuries resulting from neck manipulation is impossible to ascertain since many cases of dissections may go unreported because they are asymptomatic or mild. Many health experts recommend a safer method of neck manipulation, which involves twisting the head or manipulating the cervical spine in a way that does not challenge the artery. A lot of research shows that patients who have had strokes after chiropractic care had a preexisting condition and that the procedure may be risky to individuals who are already at risk. A chiropractor may recommend gentle techniques over the traditional low-amplitude adjustments with high velocity as a result of patient preference, provider experience, and contraindications.

Factors That Influence the Safety of Chiropractic Neck Manipulation

  • Patient Preference

Some patients do not feel comfortable with the high-velocity thrust manipulation, as it can be a little scary and breathtaking if you are not used to the procedure. It is best to consider an approach that does not involve joint popping or twisting the neck to reduce neck pain and solve other ailments.

  • Provider Experience

Some chiropractors may favor one technique over the other simply because they understand it better and have acquired a set of skills and experience to run the procedure. A professional chiropractor should be able to modify and adapt several approaches to suit the needs and preferences of a patient.

  • Contraindications

Other patients may not tolerate the traditional chiropractic adjustments because of their experience with previous sessions. It creates a feeling of fear and mistrust on the previous techniques used which influences the chiropractor’s decision to take a different approach. Cervical manipulation may not be appropriate in cases where prior injury has caused spinal instability.

People who are at high risk of stroke or other related conditions that may occur after neck manipulation are often presumed to have had a preexisting condition that led to such occurrence. It is important to discuss the risks of neck manipulation with your chiropractor, as they can help you decide whether chiropractic care is safe for you.

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