Person getting an adjustment from a chiropractor.

Chiropractic Malpractice: Can a Neck Manipulation Cause a Stroke?

When Katie May passed away suddenly from a stroke at just 34 years old, it was initially ruled an accident. After further investigation, a coroner determined the stroke that claimed the model and single mother’s life was caused by injuries sustained during neck manipulation by a chiropractor. And Ms. May is not the first to be affected by this seemingly harmless procedure. 

Chiropractic medicine is widely regarded as an effective and less invasive treatment for joint pain and related musculoskeletal symptoms. However, certain procedures carry a small risk of serious health complications. Even the miniscule risk of a grave injury should be thoughtfully considered.

Find answers to common questions about chiropractic injury below.  

Q1: Is it safe to go to the chiropractor?

Medical treatments can have a risk of side effects much like medications. It may be difficult to find a treatment that is 100% risk-free. Furthermore, there is no denying many thousands of happy patients who report that seeing a chiropractor regularly has helped relieve them of migraines, joint pain and other potentially debilitating conditions. Chiropractic care is also covered by many health insurance policies.   

In other words, there is no reason to say chiropractic medicine is a bad thing altogether.

The Mayo Clinic has identified several risk factors for individuals who are more likely to experience complications from a chiropractic adjustment, including:

  • Severe osteoporosis
  • Numbness, tingling or loss of strength in an arm or leg
  • Cancer of the spine
  • An increased risk of stroke, including family history of strokes  
  • A known bone abnormality in the upper neck

Consult a physician about your suitability for chiropractic services and ask them to refer you to a licensed professional in your area before seeking treatment.

Q2: What health issues can be caused by chiropractic manipulation?

Chiropractors typically use their hands to apply pressure to joints, aiming to help alleviate pain and improve body function. This is referred to as a chiropractic adjustment.

Adjustments are commonly performed for neck and/or back pain. Although the Mayo Clinic says the risk of a serious complication is relatively small, these complications can include:

  • A herniated disk, or worsening of an existing herniated disk
  • Compression of nerves in the lower spinal column
  • Stroke, which can result in paralysis or death

The last item on this list is particularly concerning.

Patients who receive neck manipulation are at risk for a stroke caused by vertebral artery dissection. Located in the neck, the vertebral arteries supply blood to the brain and can be torn by stretching and sudden force applied during a neck adjustment.

Studies have shown that vertebral artery dissection occurs in approximately 1 in 100,000 people and can be caused by something as simple as cracking your neck.

Q3: What are the symptoms of a stroke caused by chiropractic injury?

The symptoms of vertebral artery dissection may begin soon after receiving a neck manipulation. In other cases, such as Katie May’s, the symptoms may linger for days or weeks.

According to the University of Michigan, signs of a stroke caused by vertebral artery dissection can include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Sensory loss
  • Weakness of the arm or leg on one side of the body
  • Vertigo or difficulty walking
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Neck pain or headache

It is critically important to seek immediate medical treatment if you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of a chiropractic injury. 

Q4: How could a chiropractor be responsible for a patient’s injury?

Although the risk of being seriously injured by a chiropractor is low, tragic accidents can and do happen. If you or a loved one believe you have been the victim of medical malpractice, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney.

Explaining how an injury or medical error occurred will help your attorney determine the potential liability of a chiropractor and any other involved parties. A chiropractor’s liability could fall into a legal category such as: 

  • Failure to Diagnose a Medical Condition – The chiropractor breaches a duty of care to their patients by failing to diagnose an underlying medical condition. This could occur when a patient reveals or exhibits symptoms of a severe issue, such as a stroke, and is not referred for appropriate medical attention. 
  • Lack of Informed Consent – A patient is treated without being properly informed of the potential risks or side effects, and experiences an injury from that treatment.  
  • Negligent Manipulation – The patient’s body is adjusted by the chiropractor in such a way that it causes a new injury or worsens an existing injury. This could also include manipulation of a patient who is pregnant and goes into premature labor.  
  • Chiropractic Induced Injury – A patient suffers injury, permanent irreversible damage such as paralysis or wrongful death as the direct result of a chiropractic manipulation.

To find out whether or not you may have a case, please discuss your concerns with a qualified personal injury attorney.   

Q5: What should I do if I think I have been injured by chiropractic manipulation?

A personal injury attorney can help recover compensation for victims of medical malpractice, including those who have experienced a chiropractic injury. Surviving loved ones can also pursue their case after a family member’s wrongful death.

An attorney will help you collect documents, photos and other items pertaining to your case – but staying organized early in the process will be helpful. Try to preserve important documents, such as:

  • Photographs before and after treatment
  • Medical records and medical bills
  • Receipts, appointment confirmations and other paperwork from your chiropractor

There is a time limit to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, referred to as a statute of limitations, so contact a personal injury attorney as soon as you are able.

The Law Firm of Padberg, Corrigan and Appelbaum Can Help  

The attorneys at Padberg, Corrigan and Appelbaum in St. Louis are committed to seeking justice for victims of medical malpractice and their loved ones, including patients who have experienced a chiropractic injury. Our firm also works on a contingency fee basis, which means clients are not expected to pay for anything unless compensation is recovered.

Recently, our legal team successfully negotiated a confidential settlement for a patient who suffered a traumatic herniated disk with severe spinal cord encroachment after their chiropractor performed a neck adjustment. The patient needed an emergency cervical fusion to relieve spinal cord compression and treat the herniated disc. Three other recent cases of neck manipulation resulting in a vertebral artery dissection successfully resulted in confidential settlements for our clients. 

Contact our office today to for a free consultation to discuss your potential case or call us at (314) 621-2900.

Read more about medical malpractice and wrongful death litigation, including more of our firm’s notable cases