Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Might Four Years of Neck Adjustments
Aggravate Cervical Spine Stenosis?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

I am a 53 year-old-woman, 5 feet, two inches tall, 115 pounds. I have recently been diagnosed with cervical spinal stenosis (C5 & C6) after having an MRI. The symptoms include constant pain leading to daily headaches and numbness in hands and fingers during the night.

I have been seeing a chiropractor for four years, originally going to find relief from nearly 30 years of migraine headaches. My chiropractor tells me that the neck manipulation has prevented the stenosis from becoming worse because the adjustments keep everything flexible and "moving." I am now considering surgery (something I really don't want to do) because the pain is constant. Virtually nothing has helped more than a few hours at a time. The thought of someone cutting my spine open is terrifying, but I don't know how much more daily pain I can endure.

Is it possible that chiropractic is making things worse?

Answer

It is unwise to have neck adjustments when there are neurologic symptoms caused by cervical spine stenosis. Bony stenosis cannot be improved by manipulating the spine, and the pressure of a spinal manipulation might injure the nearby spinal cord or spinal nerves.

Discontinue the neck manipulation and see how you get along. If the symptoms persist, seek the opinions of an orthopedist and a neurosurgeon before considering surgery.

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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 December 8, 2002.