Is Chiropractic Safe?

Chiropractic care is booming in the United States. At a conference at Stanford University on September 18, 1998, Wes Alles, Ph.D. of Stanford presented a survey on consumer usage of "Complementary and Alternative Medicine." Key statistics for chiropractors were: Percentage of the population using chiropractic care in a 1990 study was 10% within the past year, and in this 1998 study it was 17% within the past year. In the 1998 study, 42% of the people had received chiropractic care at some time in their life. When asked "Do Complementary and Alternative Medicine therapies work?" the response for chiropractic was 81% cure or relieve symptoms considerably and 7% not effective. That 42% of the population has used chiropractic in their lifetime, and 81% of the people using it are satisfied with their care is quite remarkable; but is chiropractic safe?

Much has been alluded to over the years regarding the safety of "spinal manipulation." (This is what the medical and research community calls an adjustment.) Finally, someone has published statistics based on real research done by a relatively disinterested (and therefore objective) party. Ian Coulter, Ph.D., published an article in the journal Integrative Medicine, volume I, number 2, entitled "Efficacy and Risks of Chiropractic Manipulation: What Does the Evidence Suggest?" The article is a discussion of data obtained by the Rand Corporation regarding safety and efficacy of lumbar and cervical adjusting.

Here is the key data:

  • Over 90% of all manipulation in the US is performed by chiropractors.
  • Risk of complication with cervical adjusting is 6.39 per 10 million.
  • Risk of complication with lumbar adjusting is 1 in 100 million.

Compare this to:

  • Risk of complication for use of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflamatory Drugs (such as; Motrin, asprin, Tylenol, Naprosyn, etc.) is 3.2 per 1 thousand, or 32,000 per 10 million.
  • Risk of complication with cervical spine surgery is 15.6 per 1 thousand, or 156,000 per 10 million.

Comparing the numbers, cervical spine adjustments are:

  • 24,413 times less likely to cause complications than surgery, and
  • 5,008 times less likely to cause complications than NSAIDs.

Chiropractic care is 5,000 times safer than drugs! It comes as no surprise that of the people who utilize chiropractic care, many choose chiropractic first, and consider medicine to be the "alternative" health care system.