One of the little-known facts about cervical manipulation by a chiropractor is that it presents a very real risk for a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA). Manipulation to cervical vertebrae can tear or twist the vertebral artery that goes to the brain. When damaged arteries deprive the brain of adequate oxygen and nutrients, brain cells in and around the site of the damage begin to die within minutes.
A stroke or TIA brings unsettling changes, either immediate or slow-developing, in basic functions like communication, motor skills, speech and personality. Symptoms of a stroke include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, weakness, slurred speech, sudden numbness on one side of the body, vision problems and severe headaches. In the most severe cases, death can result.
Signs may appear during or just after a chiropractic manipulation. However, in some cases more than a week can pass before the stroke occurs. The shorter the time period between the adjustment and the symptoms, the easier the connection is to prove.
Indeed, we have handled cases in which the time-delay between the adjustment and the stroke is literally seconds.
Our firm has represented numerous victims of stroke caused by chiropractic mishandling. Although all of our clients survived their injuries, each was left with catastrophic and life-changing neurological damage.
These cases can be tricky and are replete with pitfalls for the unwary practitioner. For example, identifying the precise breach of the standard of care can be difficult given Georgia’s prohibition on using res ipsa in medical negligence cases, especially when the defendant chiropractor claims to have performed the procedure in the normal and customary manner. Also, about 10% of cases involve vertebral dissections that are not visible on images. These, and other challenges, can be overcome, but only with the help of experienced, high-level expert witnesses.
According to the World Chiropractic Alliance, one in every three million adjustments results in a stroke. If, as the International Chiropractors Association claims, one million adjustments happen every working day in the U.S., then as many as three people in the U.S. risk stroke caused by chiropractic manipulation every day.
If a client comes to you who has suffered a stroke or stroke-like symptoms, ask if he or she has seen a chiropractor for a neck adjustment in recent days or weeks. The symptoms may be a sign of an arterial dissection as a result of chiropractic manipulation. In such a case, please feel free to call our office for a recommendation. We are always willing to review the matter promptly to determine if a viable claim may exist.