Board Decision: Chiropractic Does Not Cause Stroke

Chiropractic cervical adjustments are safe and effective.From the American Chiropractic Association: In a comprehensive and detailed ruling published on June 11, the Connecticut State Board of Chiropractic Examiners confirmed that Connecticut’s chiropractic physicians are taking the proper steps to inform and protect their patients. Through its ruling, the Board reaffirmed that the informed consent process practiced by the state’s doctors of chiropractic is the standard of care for the profession.

The announcement caps a process that began more than a year ago when the Connecticut Chiropractic Association asked the Board to issue a declaratory ruling on whether the current standard of informed consent is sufficient or whether, as opponents demanded, it should specifically include the possibility of a stroke or cervical artery dissection as a possible side effect of cervical manipulation/adjustment.

The Board’s decision follows four days of testimony in January in which an extensive range of evidence was presented. In making its determination and declaratory ruling, the Board cited the most comprehensive scientific study to date on the subject, by J. David Cassidy, DC, PhD, DrMedSc, et al. The Cassidy study is considered the definitive research on the subject. The abstract and complete paper can be found at PubMed Central.

In issuing its final judgment on the matter, the Board wrote: “After a careful and thorough review of all the testimony and documentary evidence admitted at the hearing, the Board concludes that there is sufficient evidence to establish that a stroke or a cervical arterial dissection is NOT a risk or side effect of a joint mobilization, manipulation or adjustment of the cervical spine.”

A Big Win for Chiropractic Patients

No matter where you stand on health care reform, the new law is a big win for chiropractic patients. Although the coverage of health care reform reported nary a whisper about chiropractic physicians, the legislation is set to affect chiropractic physicians and their patients in some very profound and positive ways. First and foremost, the law contains anti-discrimination provisions, which will require insurance companies to cover the full scope of chiropractic services. While you, as a patient, may not see, it, insurance companies have set up a number of roadblocks in front of your care. The first one is that most insurance companies will only pay for one, or maybe two, of the many therapies that a chiropractic physician can perform. So if you need more care than a hot pack and a spinal adjustment, you're out of luck. Either your chiropractic doctor provides the service for free (which is what most of us end up doing) or you get charged an additional fee for your chiropractic insurance "benefit."

The second roadblock is that insurance companies have artificially restricted the diagnoses for which chiropractic care is covered. Usually anything outside of purely musculoskeletal conditions is also outside of your insurance "benefit." Do you suffer diabetes, or heart disease, and are seeking alternative care? Sorry, not covered. Are you looking for fertility treatment that has proven more effective than in-vitro fertilization, is safer, and costs far less? Oops, your insurance doesn't cover that. Would you like acupuncture -- a research proven treatment -- for those chronic sinus infections? We're sorry, but your "benefit" doesn't cover that.

In fact, I'll bet you didn't know that your chiropractic physician could treat those conditions. He can, and that's only the surface. Chiropractic doctors are skilled in treating those chronic conditions that are usually very poorly managed by drugs. But you've never been able to get that care because your insurance company refuses to cover it. In some cases, insurance companies have forbidden chiropractic doctors on their plans to even tell patients that they can provide those services.

But all of that ended with the passage of health care reform. Here's what the president of the American Chiropractic Association had to say:

“Regardless of how you feel about this legislation and its overall impact on the nation, it has to be recognized as an historic first for the chiropractic profession. We now have a federal law applicable to ERISA plans that makes it against the law for insurance companies to discriminate against doctors of chiropractic and other providers relative to their participation and coverage in health plans. Such discrimination based on a provider’s license is inappropriate and now must stop,” said ACA President, Rick McMichael, DC.

“While this does not fully level the playing field for doctors of chiropractic in our health care system, this is a highly significant step that has the potential for positive, long-range impact on the profession and the patients we serve. Congress has finally addressed the issue of provider discrimination based on one’s license, and they have said that such discrimination must stop.”

When this law finally goes into effect, that discrimination will stop, allowing you to utilize your chiropractic physician for the full scope of services for which he is qualified.

And that will be a good day for your health, and a great day for the health of this nation. Perhaps then we will begin to turn away from the pill-for-every-ill mentality that has made us one of the unhealthiest of the industrialized nations.

Public Agrees With Chiropractic Doctors: No Special Regulation Needed

In a classic set-up, the Hartford Courant published an online poll asking readers if chiropractic patients should be required to sign special consent forms, as I mentioned in a previous post. The poll question was placed directly across from a Rick Green anti-chiropractic screed, in which Mr. Green manages to disclose both an appalling lack of understanding of scientific research as well as feeble rabble-rousing skills in his attempts to mislead the public about this topic.

I wouldn't mind so much about the anti-science bent of his column if Mr. Green was at least able to generate some fire underneath his supporters.

But, alas, he could not even do that. Normally, the placement of a survey as the Courant did in this situation virtually guarantees that the results are skewed in favor of the opinion of the columnist. Not so in this case. Here are the most recent poll results:

Rick Green rant fails to persuade public

I'm sorry, Mr. Green, but it looks like the public has spoken.

And they think you, and the proposed regulation, is wrong.

An Open Letter to the Connecticut Chiropractic Board

I am writing regarding the hearings in Hartford on the requirement for chiropractic physicians to disclose to patients the risk of harm from cervical manipulation.

I am troubled in two ways by the legislation. First, I am concerned that the legislation is based on unsubstantiated fear and rumor rather than established science. Second, I am troubled by the way in which it singles out one medical provider among all others for this invasion into the doctor-patient relationship.

Stroke due to cervical manipulation is an exceedingly rare event. In fact, the most in-depth examination of this topic, a study published in the journal Spine in 2008, concluded that stroke due to chiropractic manipulation may be a non-event. The authors of the study reviewed 10 years worth of hospital records, involving 100 million person-years. Those records revealed no increase in stroke risk with chiropractic.

Even if you argue that spinal manipulation can result in injury, it is exceedingly rare. Another study, reviewing 10 years' worth of malpractice claims in Canada, concluded that the risk of stroke following chiropractic treatment could be only 1 in 5.85 million cervical manipulations. Another way of looking at this number is that it would occur only once in a chiropractor's lifetime if he were in practice for 1,430 years. And even then, the study did not find that chiropractic manipulation caused stroke.

Thus, I must ask the question: Will the government require that chiropractic physicians lie to their patients about the risks of chiropractic-induced strokes, when, in fact, the best science available shows that none exists?

Any good doctor, whether chiropractic or medical, cares sufficiently for his patients to inform them of the significant risks and consequences of their chosen course of treatment. This is simply good patient care, respectful of the patient and his rights and the doctor and his responsibilities. And any therapeutic intervention carries with it some degree of risk, although, as in the case of cervical manipulation, it may be extremely small, and the injury typically limited to a pulled muscle.

There is no need whatsoever for the legislature to involve itself in this process and begin the micro-management of the doctor-patient relationship, nor should it single out one single provider for its intrusiveness. The legislature would never even consider mandating that every medical specialty disclose in writing specific but rarely occurring abreactions to their treatment.  Why then would chiropractors be held to a different standard? 

Or, if a 1in 5.85 million risk of injury is sufficient to require specific notification, will the legislators also require an MD to obtain specific written consent every time he tells a patient to take an anti-inflammatory? That is not a low-risk treatment. Anti-inflammatory medications are the 15th leading cause of death in the country today.

Will the thousands of other procedures conducted by medical doctors with much higher risk of serious injury or death also come under the scrutiny of the legislators?

After all, during the two days in which your hearings were held, 4,296 people died as a direct result of their medical care.

Who provided the informed consent for that?

Very Truly Yours,


Avery L. Jenkins, D.C.