According to Self Magazine, in November 2003, Christa Heck visited a new chiropractor for the first time.
The appointment went as they always did, except in the 24 hours following the visit, she began experiencing vertigo.Supcompserv/Flickr
“I turned my head to the left, and the room started spinning and I felt nauseous. It lasted only a second. I thought it was an inner ear infection.”
The following day, Heck returned to the chiropractor’s office, where she explained that her head hurt and that she was feeling dizzy and nauseous. In an attempt to eliminate her symptoms, the doctor tried cracking her neck again.
This time, her neck didn’t crack, and she was left feeling a little dazed and even more nauseous.
Ten minutes after Heck left her chiropractor’s office, she lost control of her body while sitting in the driver’s seat of her car. As one arm fell limp, the other began to spasm erratically. Thankfully, she was already stopped in a convenience store parking lot.
All Heck could do was “pray someone would help” her; she thought she “was going to die.” After several attempts, she was finally able to get her husband on the phone.
Through her slurred speech and tears, he was able to make out the name of the convenience store where she was parked. He was 45 minutes away. By the time he arrived, Heck was starting to feel a little better.
She told Self that they considered calling 911 but because they knew the ambulance would take her to a hospital where her husband once had a bad experience, they decided to go back home where she could continue to rest.
Heck’s husband then called M. Mehdi Kazmi, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a family friend. After explaining his wife’s symptoms and learning that she had just been to the chiropractor earlier that day, Kazmi said he needed to see Heck “right away.”
He told Self that Heck suffered two strokes after she had a “critical artery that keeps blood flowing to the brain” torn as a result of her neck adjustment:
“Christa is lucky to be alive. I knew the moment I saw her that she had had a stroke. [….] I see at least two cases like this or worse a year. Cervical manipulation is a preposterous thing to do, and it should be banned.”
The 43-year-old mom had been going to the chiropractor for 20 years in order to relieve the headaches and neck pain she suffered as a result of her job as a pharmaceutical representative, which required her to spend “her days driving to sales calls and her nights working long hours at the computer.”
And each appointment was met with relief of her pain. She had no idea there were risks involved in seeing a chiropractor regularly.
According to Self, strokes aren’t the only medical emergency that can occur after seeing a chiropractor; soft tissue damage, joint dislocations, bone fractures in the neck and back, and more commonly disk injury can also occur.
The result of a stroke after receiving a neck adjustment is rare, however, as Brad Stewart, M.D., a neurologist in Edmonton, Alberta, told Self:
“The expectation of benefit is almost negligible. The risk, though small, is very real. You can’t predict who this will happen to, and for that reason alone, it just shouldn’t be done.”
According to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, which analyzed 64 cases in which a stroke had occurred after spinal manipulation, it was found that:
The patients were predominantly women (mean age 39 years) who had consulted a chiropractor for neck pain or headache. In 48 cases, the onset of the stroke was within 30 minutes after spinal manipulation. The authors were unable to identify any risk factors that would discriminate high risk from low risk patients. Neurological status one year after the stroke was available for 46 patients: eight had made a full recovery, two had died, and the rest were still suffering from persistent neurological deficits.
And because it’s not a “black-and-white issue,” Wouter I. Schievink, M.D., director of the vascular neurosurgery program at Cedars-Sinai, told Self that it’s not always easy to determine that it was the chiropractor’s action that caused a stroke.
According to Schievink, “it’s not always clear what came first, the dissection or the manipulation,” because any sort of swift motion of the neck can cause an artery to tear.
As a result of the stroke, Heck now has trouble remembering certain things and has a bit of a slur when she talks, Self reports.
Heck took her chiropractor to court; the outcome of that lawsuit is unknown.