Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Is Numbness in My Fingers a Normal
Reaction to Chiropractic Adjustments?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

I have had lower back pain with radiation down my leg and foot for about a year. The symptoms have gotten worse, with numbness, tingling, weakness, etc. I went to a medical doctor and was told that I had sciatica and that I need an MRI exam. I do not have insurance and cannot afford such an expensive exam. One day, I received a flyer in the mail from a chiropractor who was offering x-rays and a complete examination for only $27 dollars, so I went to see him.

The chiropractor examined me, made some x-rays, and told me to come back the next day for the results. All the tests came back positive for nerve damage. He showed me the x-rays and told me that I had no L4 and L5 disc spaces. My C1 and C2 were also bad but not as bad as L4 and L5. This did not surprise me because I was told six years ago that my dizziness was caused by loss of blood supply to my brain because of neck problems.

I have learned to pamper my neck, and I know what and what not to do to avoid getting like that again. I have also been having weakness in my arms, which I thought was happening because of my lower back problems. The chiropractor told me that my back was off center in the L4 and L5 area, and that my neck was not curved like it is supposed to be. He showed me a video and started me on a schedule of adjustments, every day the first week, three times the second week, twice the third week, and then once a week till whenever.

I have just completed my first week. I am now experiencing numbness in my little finger and in my ring finger, which I did not have before. The chiropractor said this was normal and would pass as soon as there is more spacing between my bones. Should I continue seeing him? Should I continue getting neck adjustments? My lower back seems to be doing better, and I am not having the really bad pain I normally have. But this might be because I have not been doing my normal activities for about a week.

Answer

It is never a good idea to respond to free or discounted exams offered by chiropractors. Such ads may propose that a humanitarian effort is being made to "help more people who need care" when the real purpose is to build a larger practice by soliciting patients. You should discount any advice offered by such chiropractors.

Because you have a history of dizziness that has been attributed to circulatory insufficiency caused by neck problems, you should not have neck manipulation if there is a possibility that vertebral arteries are involved. Better safe than sorry.

Lower back problems have nothing to do with loss of the normal neck curve. Attempts to change the curve of the cervical spine by manipulating your neck could cause problems, such as the numbness in your fingers. The weakness in your arms and numbness in your fingers are not good signs and should be brought to the attention of an orthopedist or a neurologist. In fact, you should seek a thorough medical evaluation whether you believe you can afford it or not. Perhaps you can find a local clinic where fees are based on ability to pay. Meanwhile, since the chiropractor is "shooting blind" in addition to overselling himself, terminate your relationship.

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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 article was posted on April 5, 2003.