Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
What Is the Proper Arm Position
during a Neck X-ray Examination

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

I recently began having neck pains and went to a chiropractic clinic in Dallas where I live. The doctor took x-rays and adjusted me and my neck feels much better. He told me, however, that my neck was not curved but was straight and angled forward, that this was causing my pains and was beginning to cause bone spurs on my vertebrae. He told me he could help me with approximately three months of treatments three times a week, with maintenance visits after that. He suggested that I prepay the $3,200 for the treatments, which was a discounted rate. He told me that failure to take this action would lead to further debilitation of the spine. I told him I would think about it.

This seemed very suspicious to me, since the view of my neck he showed me was taken from the side while I was holding my arms out in front of me. The frontal view he took looked normal, but the side view showed bone spurs and a straight forward-angled neck. Is this a legitimate x-ray procedure?

Answer

I would advise against paying any chiropractor in advance for three months of treatment.

Don't worry abut your neck curve. It's not unusual to have a straight or reversed neck curve. When your neck was x-rayed while you were holding your arms out in front, muscle contraction and a change in the center of gravity would tend to change the position of your head and straighten your cervical spine. Follow-up neck x-rays with your arms down (made after a series of treatments) would show an "improvement" in your neck curve.

Neck x-rays should not be made while holding your arms out in front. Doing so may simply provide a gimmick to show fabricated changes in before and after x-rays.

Everyone gets some degenerative changes (disc degeneration and spur formation) as a consequence of aging. A series of neck adjustments is not going to change the cervical curve or prevent further degenerative changes.

You should not have neck manipulation when you feel OK. Since there is risk of injury or stroke associated with neck manipulation, I would certainly advise against undergoing neck manipulation in a "preventive maintenance" program.

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Dr. Homola is a second-generation chiropractor who has dedicated himself to defining the proper limits on chiropractic and to educating consumers and professionals about the field. His 1963 book Bonesetting, Chiropractic, and Cultism supported the appropriate use of spinal manipulation but renounced chiropractic dogma. His 1999 book Inside Chiropractic: A Patient's Guide provides an incisive look at chiropractic's history, benefits, and shortcomings. Now retired after 43 years of practice, he lives in Panama City, Florida.

This page was posted on July 18, 2002.