Chiropractic under attack

I recently received an overseas phone call from a patient who had a stroke while he was traveling.

Fortunately, he recovered. But the hospital doctor told him his stroke may have been caused by his chiropractic adjustments, and he wanted to know what I thought.

I told him that the chances of getting a stroke from chiropractic adjustments to the neck are extremely low. And in any case, it had been several weeks since his last adjustment, so the timing just didn't correlate.

It sounds to me like he was the victim of scare tactics -- tactics used by the mainstream all the time, in spite of the fact that chiropractic care has been safely practiced for more than a century now.

One recent study that claims to confirm the link between neck adjustments and stroke even led to some sensational headlines, like this little gem from Britain's Daily Mail newspaper: "Letting a chiropractor 'crack' your neck to ease pain could trigger stroke."

They have one part of it right. Chiropractic can ease pain -- but it's not going to trigger a stroke. This supposed link is brought up every few years, and it's always quickly dismissed.

The theory is that cracking the neck can cause a tear in the lining of the vertebral artery, which can then lead to a stroke. And since some people who have a stroke caused by a tear have been to a chiropractor, that must've been the cause... right?

Nope.

It's the old chicken-or-the-egg argument, except in this case we know exactly which one came first: the tear in the lining of the vertebrae.

If you get one of those tears, you'll almost certainly feel some pain. Go to your own doctor, and he'll assume it's a stiff neck or sore muscle and send you home with a bottle of Tylenol and tell you to rest your neck.

When that doesn't work, you visit a chiropractor. He adjusts your neck -- and, at some point afterward, you suffer a stroke. But the neck adjustment didn't cause your stroke any more than the Tylenol did (although some painkillers, unlike chiropractic, certainly can raise your stroke risk).

The biggest problem here is that no one -- not your doctor, and not the chiropractor -- was correctly able to identify the cause of the pain, so it went uncorrected.

That, more than anything else, is what ultimately led to the stroke, and this goes to the heart of what I tell all my patients about pain relief: There's a big difference between easing the pain, which can often be done easily enough, and solving the actual problem that's causing the pain.

So no matter where your pain is, don't just stop with pain relief techniques. Make sure you work with a holistic doctor to find the underlying cause of that pain -- and correct it, before you find yourself battling something even worse.

And whatever you do, don't fall for that age-old lie from the American Medical Association that chiropractic treatments are dangerous.