Paralyzed: A third visit to a chiropractor results in tragedy

A case study published in May in a medical legal journal reveals the potential harm in chiropractic. It’s not small potatoes, that’s for sure.

Another wheelchair filled with the help of a chiropractor | Edzard Ernst.

Ernst describes the case. You can read the actual case study here.

A 45 year old male with presented to his internist with a two-week history of right sided neck pain and tenderness, accompanied by tingling in the hand. The internists’ neurological examination revealed nothing abnormal, except for a decreased range of motion of the right arm. He referred the patient to a chiropractor who performed plain X-rays which apparently showed “mild spasm” (how anyone can see spasm on an X-ray is beyond me!). No magnetic resonance imaging study was done.

The chiropractor proceeded manipulating the patient’s neck on two successive days. By the morning of the third visit, the patient reported extreme pain and difficulty walking. Without performing a new neurological examination or obtaining a magnetic resonance study, the chiropractor manipulated the patient’s neck for a third time.

Thereafter, the patient immediately became quadriplegic. Despite undergoing an emergency C5 C6 anterior cervical diskectomy/fusion to address a massive disc found on the magnetic resonance scan, the patient remained quadriplegic. There seemed to be very little doubt that the quadriplegia was caused by the chiropractic spinal manipulation.

The patient sued both the internist and the chiropractor, and the total amount of the verdict was $14,596,000.00 the internist’s liability was 5% ($759,181.65).

The patient had been medically diagnosed with hypertension, diabeties (Type I) with a history of diabetic retinopathy, depression/anxiety disorder (insomnia, panic attacks), leg ulcers, weight gain/obesity, cellulitis, and high cholesterol. And he was referred to a chiropractor. After the second spinal manipulation, the patient reported feeling worse yet a third procedure was done that resulted in the quadriplegia.

Yes, this may be rare but its a REAL risk of chiropractic. Since chiropractic has been shown to be basically ineffective, the risk is not worth it.


  2 comments for “Paralyzed: A third visit to a chiropractor results in tragedy

  1. August 8, 2013 at 4:25 PM

    Those rare-but-real risks always scare me. Having had a rare-but-real reaction to a medication (1 in 10,000 people who use steroid nasal sprays for allergies or congestion develop glaucoma as a side effect…and guess what!), stuff like that always makes me edgy.

  2. Hoofhearted
    August 11, 2013 at 5:12 PM

    Every once in a while I have back pain and usually I can get a friend to walk along my back which cracks it back into alignment and it is fine within a few hours. As my friends have been getting heavier over the years, I decided to try a “legitimate” chiropractor instead.

    He took two X-rays of my back – one above and one below the problem area, completely ignoring where the pain originated. He drew alternating lines on the x-rays, along every other vertebrae in what turned out to be a pretty good optical illusion. A quick look makes it appear your spine is terribly misaligned. Cover the lines and it looks perfectly fine. After the second session, the pain was worse. The chiro wanted me to sign up for an extended therapy contract. I said that it does not appear to be working and if I just wait a few more days, the problem always goes away on its own. He then said he may not be able to fix my back problem, but he will help with my acid reflux. I immediately got up to leave. He called to the receptionist who loudly told me I had to pay before leaving, which I intended to do.

    The one good thing about waiting to pay for quack service, is having time to complain out loud about how a back “specialist” who admits he cannot fix back problems, says he can fix gastrointestinal issues. On my way out, I held the door for a nice woman who appears to have changed her mind and left the same time I did. She said “thank you” as she exited and I like to think that it was not for me holding the door.

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