Answers to Questions about Chiropractic:
Was My Chiropractic Treatment for Whiplash
Necessary or Excessive?

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Question

I went to a chiropractor to fix my whiplash (hit by a shopping cart). After about 3 or 4 adjustments, I felt better and wanted to stop., but the chiropractor said I needed to go through at least 12 adjustments for a proper treatment. He said that I had subluxation of the cervical spine (neck) due to the injury and that the curvature must be restored. He said that he would start from the base of my spine to correct everything.

After the 11th adjustment, I felt numbness in the back of my knee area and my whole arm starting from my shoulder blade. The chiropractor said I would need at least 15 to 16 adjustments as it is the norm and that I was rushing him through it (as I told him earlier I wanted to get it completed as soon as possible so I can get on with my life). 

At his advice, I went back for the 12th adjustment. This time, the numbness became worse in my left arm (from the shoulder blade to the fingers) and leg (from the buttocks to the calf and feet), radiating throughout.

So, on the 14th visit (13th adjustment), I told him that the adjustment made it worse than before. This time, I had additional lower back pain (pinched nerves) and mid back pain (muscle). Then, I felt pain on my right knee, making me unable to walk half a day. My neck creaks when I move it and I still have neck pain and severe headaches. The chiropractor then said that he does not understand and the pain does not correlate with the treatments and that I should be getting better, not worse. Instead, he said he wants to release me and refer to a pain-management doctor, as he does not understand how I am getting all this and there is nothing more he can do for me.

I got scared mainly because of the numbness as it gets worse when I sit down or stand for 15 minutes or longer. I was afraid I might get paralyzed. So, I decided to consult the head chiropractor at the practice. He examined me and told me that it cannot be a pinched nerve and that I still have the subluxation in the neck and if I could come back for more treatment.

According to him, they have fixed my whiplash, even though I complain of the headaches and the neck pain still existing, plus the additional numbness in my left arm and leg. He said it could be the traction stretch table I was put on during the last six visits and the exercises that they have asked me to do at home, including use of a wedge under my neck while laying down to establish the curvature in my cervical spine. According to him, these exercises are causing inflammation of my muscles, making them tense up. He said to stop the exercises for a week and took x-rays of my neck and lower spine (sideways). He would discuss the x-ray with me then and believes the numbness and the other pain symptoms will go away by then. 

I still believe the treatments caused the numbness. Plus, the headaches come on and off with the numbness being aggravated more when I stand or sit a bit longer than 15 minutes. It has been 3 days since I last saw the head chiropractor.

I assume that the only way to prove that they caused these additional problems is by seeing a specialist to confirm my suspicions.

I also found it funny that each time I complained of a pain area, the chiropractor used the "Impulse IQ" instrument to target the spots, including my shoulders, arms, elbows, hands, legs, behind the knees, etc. Plus, he used a lot of force on my cervical spine. I also have scoliosis of the spine and they told me that they needed to straighten the spine to help with the overall treatment of the whiplash which consists of correcting the subluxation.

Please advise me what to do if my symptoms persist after another week. I know an MRI would help spot the problem but I cannot afford it. The chiropractic treatments have already cost me a huge sum of money. I just want to get well and get on with my life. I am 51 years old and have lost weight because of this (from 104 lbs to 98 lbs).

Answer

Answer: You should immediately and permanently disconnect from this chiropractic practice. Unfortunately, your letter is typical of many that I receive from people whose condition has been worsened by unnecessary treatment for a minor problem that will normally resolve with time. A diagnosis of "subluxations," often coupled with a report describing loss of neck curve, atlas misalignment, scoliosis, or an uneven pelvis, is always a red flag portending prolonged and unnecessary treatment. A structural scoliosis or a compensatory reversal of a cervical spine curve cannot be changed. There is no reason to work on the lower back or pelvis when there is a neck injury. Tapping on the spine with a spring-loaded stylus is an ineffective and gimmicky treatment claimed to locate and correct the alleged "subluxations." 

Treatment for a neck or back problem should be discontinued when symptoms have resolved. Ongoing treatment to correct "subluxations" or to change spinal curves is inappropriate treatment that creates new symptoms, perpetuating unnecessary and harmful treatment. Few people are able to evaluate the treatment they receive, especially treatment offered by chiropractors who use misinformation to keep patients coming back. For this reason, it is a good rule of thumb to remember that treatment should be discontinued when symptoms resolve, worsen after one week, or persist after two weeks. When symptoms interfere with sleep or persist longer than a month, the family physician should be consulted for possible referral to a selected specialist.

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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 March 19, 2015.