How Safe Is Chiropractic Care?…Let’s Compare.

It’s not uncommon for new patients to question me about the safety of chiropractic adjustments.  It usually occurs after they have read the Informed Consent form that identifies key risks which includes a roughly 1 in 2 million chance of a stroke following a cervical adjustment (and that’s IF you have certain stroke risk factors like blood clotting problems, hypertension, smoking, high cholesterol, use of BCPs, heart problems and trauma such as sport injuries or blows to the head from an accident.)  Nowadays, all of the hands-on health professionals like chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, etc all have patients read and sign an informed consent form prior to treatment. This is simply good practice both from a doctor-patient education point-of-view, as well as from a medico-legal perspective.  When’s the last time your family doctor outlined the risks of his/her proposed medication for you?  Have you ever really took the time to read the informational pamphlet in the medication box of that your pharmacist gave to you?  You might be surprised by some of the risks and possible side effects.

So for chiropractic it’s 1 in 2 million for a possible stroke.  Guess what your chances are for getting struck by lightning?….1 in 1 million.  Both are pretty rare.  How many people do you know who have been struck by lightning?

Let’s talk about insurance for a minute.  Insurance companies provide you coverage for home, auto, health, etc., based on certain current criteria as well as historical data including statistical data.  I don’t know what you pay for auto insurance, but my annual premium is currently at $1700 and I’ve been driving for 25 years.  A newer,  twenty year old male driver roughly pays almost twice that and possibly more.  Guess what chiropractors pay for malpractice insurance…$950.  So relatively speaking, I am at greater risk of harming myself and others by driving my car than I am administering a chiropractic adjustment.  Interesting?

And just for comparison, what does say a family doctor in Canada pay for malpractice insurance?…in 2007, it was $2040.  Some medical specialists will pay in the tens of thousands for insurance based on ‘higher risk’ procedures.  So you could say that it’s about equal risk to see either your family doc or me for your neck pain.  (And if you really want something to be mad about, taxpayers foot the bill for over 80% of our medical doctors’ insurance!!  But that’s a whole different topic.)

There’s no doubt that there is a health risk with chiropractic care.  But let’s be fair because there is some risk associated with ALL forms of health care.  Chiropractors should at least be applauded for initiating and being early leaders in the health care world for full disclosure of the risks of treatment.  At the end of the day, you as a patient and a health consumer have to weigh the relative risk to benefit of care.  And ultimately, it’s your choice and I personally would never push you to continue with chiropractic care if you were not comfortable with it.  Fortunately, I have other treatment methods in my arsenal that could still help.

I’m on my soapbox today because I recently had a new patient who brought up the whole “My family doctor and my orthopedic surgeon told me not to receive chiropractic care” issue.  It’s not the first time, certainly won’t be the last, but is always somewhat frustrating.  We discussed the risks, talked about other additional treatments I could do, and after thinking about it, she made the choice to include chiropractic adjustments as a part of her treatment plan.  After I delivered her first adjustments, she said what most people who were initially apprehensive about it say: “That’s it??”.  Yes, that’s it.  A simple, quick impulse applied to the spine in a predefined direction that restores movement to the spine and reduces pain.  That’s. It.

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