Is Chiropractic Safe for Neck Pain?

Neck pain is an exceedingly common problem, with an estimated two-thirds of people experiencing it at some point in their lives. While neck pain often resolves on its own, it can become a chronic issue for many. Chiropractic is a popular alternative treatment option for those seeking relief from neck pain. But is it actually safe?

Chiropractors use spinal manipulation techniques to treat neck pain by attempting to restore normal motion and alignment to the vertebrae in the neck. They may also incorporate other techniques like heat, massage, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation. Some key points on the safety of chiropractic for neck pain:

  • Manipulation has risks. There are reported cases of stroke, disk herniation, and aggravated facet joint injury after neck manipulation. However, these serious complications appear to be rare.
  • Risk may be reduced with proper screening. Chiropractors should thoroughly examine patients and not manipulate necks with certain pre-existing conditions like arthritis or recent trauma. Proper manipulation technique also reduces risk.
  • It has a low rate of adverse effects. A 2010 study found only about half of those receiving cervical manipulation had mild adverse effects like temporary neck pain or stiffness. Serious complications were very uncommon.
  • It compares favorably to medication risks. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) commonly used for neck pain have risks like gastrointestinal bleeding. Muscle relaxants can cause sedation. Narcotics carry risks of addiction and overdose. The risks associated with cervical manipulation appear low in comparison.
  • Precautions can be taken. Avoiding certain neck positions during manipulation can reduce risk. Techniques like low-force adjustments may also be safer. Patients should see chiropractors who have extensive training and experience.
  • Benefits may outweigh risks in many cases. For patients with frequent or debilitating neck pain, potential benefits of chiropractic like improved range of motion, reduced pain, and avoided drug side effects can outweigh low risks. However, benefits tend to be short-term.

While cervical manipulation does carry some risks, current evidence suggests in most cases it is a reasonably safe treatment option for neck pain compared to other treatments. However, patients with certain conditions may want to avoid it. Consulting with your health care provider is recommended to determine if chiropractic is right for your individual case of neck pain. Combining chiropractic with other conservative treatments like exercise, massage, and proper ergonomics may be the optimal multi-modal approach. But when performed by a well-trained and experienced chiropractor using proper technique, chiropractic manipulation can be a safe part of treating common neck pain for many patients.