Chiropractic treatments may cause minor, temporary side effects, such as discomfort, stiffness, or a headache. In rare cases, people also report severe events, including spinal cord injury, artery dissection, and stroke.

Chiropractic treatments may include stretching, applying pressure, and manipulations, which involve a chiropractor making a thrusting movement on a joint. Chiropractic treatment may aim to relieve pain and improve function and mobility.

However, further research is necessary on the safety of chiropractic treatments. These treatments may have potential side effects and risks and, in rare cases, may cause severe complications.

This article discusses the potential risks of injury due to chiropractic adjustment, including the next steps and when to get further help.

A person lying on their front with a chiropractor performing spinal manipulation on their neck and head.-2Share on Pinterest
Zorica Nastasic/Getty Images

A chiropractor is a healthcare professional who manipulates or adjusts the spine. People may visit a chiropractor to help with various conditions relating to the musculoskeletal system, such as neck pain or back pain.

An appointment with a chiropractor may be similar to a standard doctor’s visit. During an initial appointment, a chiropractor may perform tests and examinations to develop a treatment plan.

They may also advise other treatments, such as certain exercises or nutritional counseling.

People may experience a temporary worsening of pain or discomfort after chiropractic treatment, including stiffness or a headache. These effects are usually mild to moderate and may resolve within 24 hours.

According to a small 2020 study involving 200 people, around half of people having spinal manipulation may experience benign adverse side effects, which are usually minor and temporary.

The most common minor and benign side effects of spinal manipulation are:

  • soreness or pain
  • stiffness
  • a headache

Learn more about chiropractors.

Severe risks

According to a 2018 review, cervical arterial dissection is a potential risk that may link to spinal manipulation of the neck.

Cervical arterial dissection is a tear of the inside wall of an artery in the neck and can be life threatening. It can significantly increase the risk of:

However, although research suggests a link between chiropractic treatments and a risk of arterial dissection, more evidence is necessary to prove whether current chiropractic treatments and methods cause arterial dissection.

A 2021 case report details a case of life threatening hemopneumothorax occurring after chiropractic manipulation to the chest and spine.

Hemopneumothorax occurs when there is both blood and air between the chest and the lung, preventing the lung from fully inflating.

Older research lists other potential complications of chiropractic treatment, including:

According to a 2020 study, around 50% of people who have spinal manipulation experience benign side effects, most of which are minor and temporary, such as:

  • pain or feeling sore
  • stiffness
  • headaches

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), preexisting health conditions may increase the risks of chiropractic treatments.

However, more research is necessary to accurately estimate the prevalence of serious side effects of chiropractic treatments.

According to a 2018 review, arterial dissection linked to chiropractic treatment is rare. The review provides the following data from research:

  • Arterial dissection occurred following cervical manipulation once in 8.06 million office visits, with only 1 in 48 chiropractors experiencing it in their careers.
  • 901 cases of arterial dissection in the head and neck area have occurred in relation to chiropractic manipulation.
  • In 707 of the above cases, people developed a stroke.

Compare the risks to the benefits of chiropractors.

There are no set guidelines for action to take after chiropractic injury.

Insurance may partially or completely cover chiropractic treatment as a complementary health approach.

If people experience an injury due to chiropractic treatment, they may be able to request a refund, although this may be at the chiropractor’s discretion.

According to law firms, chiropractors have a standard of care that may vary between states. People may contact a medical malpractice attorney if they feel a chiropractor has not met these standards, caused injury, or been negligent in their practice.

People can also report injuries to their state medical boards or whatever board licenses and regulates chiropractors in their state.

A 2018 review recommends that people consult a medical doctor or their primary care physician for medical clearance before receiving chiropractic treatment, particularly spinal manipulations on the neck.

Sudden neck pain and a headache may indicate artery dissection. If people experience sudden neck pain, stopping chiropractic treatment and seeking emergency help may help prevent severe complications.

People with an increased risk of artery dissection may require magnetic resonance angiography testing to examine blood vessels and assess risk.

This may help prevent a person from having chiropractic treatments that may be potentially dangerous for them.

People must call 911 or seek immediate medical help if they experience severe symptoms following chiropractic treatment, such as:

These symptoms can indicate a stroke, which requires emergency help.

Learn other stroke symptoms.

The safety of chiropractic treatments is still unclear, and there is a potential risk of injury. People with existing health issues may be at higher risk of complications.

Minor side effects may include a temporary increase in pain or discomfort. Reports of severe side effects with chiropractic treatment include herniated discs, fractures, artery dissection, and stroke.

Chiropractic manipulation, particularly on the neck, still requires further research to understand its safety and if techniques need altering to prevent the risk of injury or complications.

Before receiving chiropractic treatment, people should get medical clearance from a medical doctor or their primary care physician and undergo a thorough evaluation and discussion with a licensed practitioner.