Monday, October 24, 2011
Stay away from chiropractic neck manipulation
From time to time I answer questions from reporters about alternative medicine. In general, the coverage given my comments has been accurate and fair. One such accurate a fair representation of my words appeared recently in Readers Digest: "Over the years, a number of my patients have had strokes after chiropractic neck manipulation. It can cause something called vertebral artery dissection, where the main artery leading to the back of the brain actually splits. Now I tell patients, if you want to see a chiropractor, fine, but never let him touch your neck."
Shortly after this was published, I began to receive phone calls and letters from chiropractors around the country. They were not happy. Here's a typical example: "Dear [Dr Pal],
"Really! You really felt the need to outright lie in a national publication. 'Over the years, a number of my patients have had strokes after chiropractic neck manipulation.' A number of your patient's [sic], you lie. I am willing to bet you have never had a case of stroke caused by chiropractic among your patients. This issue of stroke and chiropractic has been studied and studied. It's been proven that the odds of a stroke after a chiropractic adjustment are infinitesimally small yet you lied.
"I was going to quote the studies conducted by the Canadian government and NIH and give you statistics from my malpractice carrier, the largest insurer of chiropractors in the United States to prove you wrong, but you already know you lied. I don't have to prove it to you.
"Watch next month's issue of Reader's Digest to the publication having to correct its outrageous error in printing your lie.
"I don't know what your motivation was and I really don't care. I just wanted you to know that 'we' as a profession know you lied and the majority of the public who have benefitted [sic] from safe chiropractic care know your profession has a history of failure and safety that will always surpass my profession by a high margin."
Unfortunately, most of the mail has been about this quality, with statements such as "you lie" and "I would give you safety statistics but I don't want to."
I am sure there are better defenders of chiropractic neck manipulation out there, but so far I haven't heard from them. The letter basically consists of multiple accusations of lying. Of course, he has no way to know if I'm lying or not, and if he knows anything about confidentiality, he knows that it would be unwise for me to give him specific numbers of patients. I can tell you that the number isn't large, but is certainly greater than one. I certainly cannot show him charts to prove anything.
And of course, correlation does not prove causation. It may be that these patients, who had vertebral artery dissections shortly after chiropractic neck manipulation represent coincidences. Plausibility and the medical literature suggest causation however.
He apparently also has an ax to grind with real doctors about our "history of failure and safety." That's an old saw from altmed folks that I've addressed many, many times, and I'll leave it to the archives for now.
The evidence in the literature is quite clear. Vertebral artery dissection (VAD), a type of stroke, is associated with chiropractic neck manipulation. It is not a common outcome, perhaps 1.5/100,000 manipulations, but it happens. What's left is a somewhat subjective decision regarding the risks vs. benefits of the procedure.
VAD is an uncommon type of stroke that affects the back of the brain. Rather than go into the details, I think we can all agree that strokes are a bad outcome, and that if a procedure carries that risk, it better have a lot of benefit. For example, coronary artery bypass surgery carries a definite risk of stroke, but the benefits are strong: bypass helps people with heart disease live better and longer, and in many cases saves lives. The risk of stroke is often less than the risk of not having surgery.
The best literature has failed to show a significant benefit of chiropractic neck manipulation vs. more conservative therapy for the treatment of neck pain.
What we have here is an intervention that carries a small but real risk of a catastrophic complication, whose benefits are unclear at best. While I don't recommend chiropractic treatment to my patients, for those who use it I give them this information. I succinctly tell them that they should not let a chiropractor manipulate their neck. It's just not worth it. I do the same for "mainstream" medical therapies whose risk benefit ratios are not favorable. It's just good medicine.
Reuter, U., Hamling, M., Kavuk, I., Einhaupl, K., Schielke, E. (2006). Vertebral artery dissections after chiropractic neck manipulation in Germany over three years. Journal of Neurology, 253 (6), 724-730 DOI: 10.1007/s00415-006-0099-x
Norris JW, Beletsky V, & Nadareishvili ZG (2000). Sudden neck movement and cervical artery dissection. The Canadian Stroke Consortium. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 163 (1), 38-40 PMID: 10920729
Rothwell DM, Bondy SJ, & Williams JI (2001). Chiropractic manipulation and stroke: a population-based case-control study. Stroke, a journal of cerebral circulation, 32 (5), 1054-60 PMID: 11340209
Ernst, E. (2003). Chiropractic spinal manipulation for neck pain: a systematic review. The Journal of Pain, 4 (8), 417-421 DOI: 10.1067/S1526-5900(03)00735-1
Peter A. Lipson, ACP Member, is a practicing internist and teaching physician in Southeast Michigan. After graduating from Rush Medical College in Chicago, he completed his internal medicine residency at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. This post first appeared at his blog, White Coat Underground. The blog, which has been around in various forms since 2007, offers "musings on the intersection of science, medicine, and culture." His writing focuses on the difference between science-based medicine and "everything else," but also speaks to the day-to-day practice of medicine, fatherhood, and whatever else migrates from his head to his keyboard.
Contact ACP Internist
Send comments to ACP Internist staff at email@example.com.
- QD: News Every Day--Patients benefit knowing death...
- There's always something new to learn
- NEJM review on breast cancer screening gets to the...
- QD: News Every Day--'Zero bars' for connection bet...
- Study looks into new afib treatment and finds it's...
- Drug smuggler takes huge risk in swallowing 72 cap...
- QD: News Every Day--Antimicrobial stewardship havi...
- 'No-touch' technology changing the feel of the phy...
- Minute clinics threaten doctors: Who wins?
- QD: News Every Day--Novel mechanism may improve st...
Members of the American College of Physicians contribute posts from their own sites to ACP Internistand ACP Hospitalist. Contributors include:
Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000.
And Thus, It Begins
Amanda Xi, ACP Medical Student Member, is a first-year medical student at the OUWB School of Medicine, charter class of 2015, in Rochester, Mich., from which she which chronicles her journey through medical training from day 1 of medical school.
Ira S. Nash, MD, FACP, is the senior vice president and executive director of the North Shore-LIJ Medical Group, and a professor of Cardiology and Population Health at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases and was in the private practice of cardiology before joining the full-time faculty of Massachusetts General Hospital.
Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews.
Controversies in Hospital
Run by three ACP Fellows, this blog ponders vexing issues in infection prevention and control, inside and outside the hospital. Daniel J Diekema, MD, FACP, practices infectious diseases, clinical microbiology, and hospital epidemiology in Iowa City, Iowa, splitting time between seeing patients with infectious diseases, diagnosing infections in the microbiology laboratory, and trying to prevent infections in the hospital. Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Richmond, Va., with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands).
db's Medical Rants
Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP, contributes short essays contemplating medicine and the health care system.
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care.
Juliet K. Mavromatis, MD, FACP, provides a conversation about health topics for patients and health professionals.
Dr. Mintz' Blog
Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, has practiced internal medicine for more than a decade and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients.
Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, blogs about the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st century.
Vineet Arora, MD, FACP, is Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. Her education and research focus is on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. She is also an academic hospitalist.
John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, provides transparency on the workings of medical practice and the complexities of hospital care, illuminates the emotional and cognitive aspects of caregiving and decision-making from the perspective of an active primary care physician, and offers behind-the-scenes portraits of hospital sanctums and the people who inhabit them.
Ryan Madanick, MD, ACP Member, is a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and the Program Director for the GI & Hepatology Fellowship Program. He specializes in diseases of the esophagus, with a strong interest in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have difficult-to-manage esophageal problems such as refractory GERD, heartburn, and chest pain.
Mike Aref, MD, PhD, FACP, is an academic hospitalist with an interest in basic and clinical science and education, with interests in noninvasive monitoring and diagnostic testing using novel bedside imaging modalities, diagnostic reasoning, medical informatics, new medical education modalities, pre-code/code management, palliative care, patient-physician communication, quality improvement, and quantitative biomedical imaging.
William Hersh, MD, FACP, Professor and Chair, Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology, Oregon Health & Science University, posts his thoughts on various topics related to biomedical and health informatics.
David Katz, MD
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACP, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care.
Richard Just, MD, ACP Member, has 36 years in clinical practice of hematology and medical oncology. His blog is a joint publication with Gregg Masters, MPH.
Kevin Pho, MD, ACP Member, offers one of the Web's definitive sites for influential health commentary.
Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.
Elaine Schattner, MD, FACP, shares her ideas on education, ethics in medicine, health care news and culture. Her views on medicine are informed by her past experiences in caring for patients, as a researcher in cancer immunology, and as a patient who's had breast cancer.
Mired in MedEd
Alexander M. Djuricich, MD, FACP, is the Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education (CME), and a Program Director in Medicine-Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, where he blogs about medical education.
Rob Lamberts, MD, ACP Member, a med-peds and general practice internist, returns with "volume 2" of his personal musings about medicine, life, armadillos and Sasquatch at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind).
David M. Sack, MD, FACP, practices general gastroenterology at a small community hospital in Connecticut. His blog is a series of musings on medicine, medical care, the health care system and medical ethics, in no particular order.
Reflections of a Grady
Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP, reflects on the personal side of being a doctor in a community hospital in Atlanta.
The Blog of Paul Sufka
Paul Sufka, MD, ACP Member, is a board certified rheumatologist in St. Paul, Minn. He was a chief resident in internal medicine with the University of Minnesota and then completed his fellowship training in rheumatology in June 2011 at the University of Minnesota Department of Rheumatology. His interests include the use of technology in medicine.
Technology in (Medical)
Neil Mehta, MBBS, MS, FACP, is interested in use of technology in education, social media and networking, practice management and evidence-based medicine tools, personal information and knowledge management.
Peter A. Lipson,
Peter A. Lipson, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing internist and teaching physician in Southeast Michigan. The blog, which has been around in various forms since 2007, offers musings on the intersection of science, medicine, and culture.
Why is American Health Care So Expensive?
Janice Boughton, MD, FACP, practiced internal medicine for 20 years before adopting a career in hospital and primary care medicine as a locum tenens physician. She lives in Idaho when not traveling.
World's Best Site
Daniel Ginsberg, MD, FACP, is an internal medicine physician who has avidly applied computers to medicine since 1986, when he first wrote medically oriented computer programs. He is in practice in Tacoma, Washington.
Other blogs of note:
American Journal of
Also known as the Green Journal, the American Journal of Medicine publishes original clinical articles of interest to physicians in internal medicine and its subspecialities, both in academia and community-based practice.
A collaborative medical blog started by Neil Shapiro, MD, ACP Member, associate program director at New York University Medical Center's internal medicine residency program. Faculty, residents and students contribute case studies, mystery quizzes, news, commentary and more.
Michael Benjamin, MD, ACP member, doesn't accept industry money so he can create an independent, clinician-reviewed space on the Internet for physicians to report and comment on the medical news of the day.
The Public Library of Science's open access materials include a blog.
One of the most popular anonymous blogs written by an emergency room physician.