DEBUNKED: The Odd Myth That Chiropractors Cause Strokes Revisited

Part 2 of 3

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This week we are in Episode #2 of the 3 episodes where we are systematically debunking the odd myth that chiropractors cause strokes. I’m not having it folks. The chiropractors cause strokes myth is old and tired and in need of retirement. In this episode, we will discuss research papers demonstrating and validating benefits of having cervical manipulation treatments. Or chiropractic adjustments to the neck. We will talk about the benefits, according to research, for neck pain as well as for headaches. And we’ll also talk a little about where this chiropractors cause strokes myth came from and why it perpetuates to this day.

Before we get started, I want to draw your attention to the reviews over at iTunes. If you would be kind enough to leave us a great review we sure would appreciate you! This is a new podcast and we need all the help we can get!

Right now though, it’s time for bumper music!

Welcome to the podcast today, I’m Dr. Jeff Williams and I’m your host for the Chiropractic Forward podcast where we talk about issues related to health, chiropractic, evidence, chiropractic advocacy, and research. Thank you for taking time out of your day I know your time is valuable and I want to fill it with value so here we go. I can’t think of a more valuable way to spend you time if you’re a chiropractor than to learn how to debunk the chiropractors cause strokes myth and shut people down on it.

Let’s begin this episode by thanking those of you that sent emails to me after this chiropractors cause strokes myth series kicked off last week. You guys are great. The best way you can help is to share these episodes with as many people as you can. We can get this myth debunked and we can put it to rest right here, right now. But, obviously, I can’t do it myself. I need your help to do it.

I also want to remind you that this is part 2 of a three part series on the chiropractors cause strokes myth. Last week was part one of the chiropractors cause strokes myth where we discussed some risky odds, some case specific discussion, some signs and symptoms of vertebral artery dissection, and some research dealing with common treatments within the medical profession.

Be sure to go back and listen to it if you have not. It’s essential.

Then next week we will discuss other risky interventions, papers having to do with the risk, or lack thereof, of chiropractic adjustments to the cervical region specifically, and then a wrap up of the information putting the chiropractors cause strokes myth to bed once and for all.

Don’t miss it folks.

Now, let’s get on with our risk vs. reward discussion with the BENEFITS of cervical manipulation therapy.

I want to start off with the benefits of cervical manipulation for neck pain specifically. Each paper mentioned includes a short description of the conclusion for each paper cited. Also each of these papers is referenced in the show notes and can be very easily reviewed independently. You have to know that I am going to absolutely murder some of these names and I don’t even care. I’m small town South y’all. I’m not fancy at all. All I can is do my best but I assure you I’m not going to do backflips trying to figure out the correct pronunciation of each of these names. Be sure though, the days of Dr. Smith or Dr. Jones doing all of the research are no longer Take this first name as an example.

  1. Korthalis-de Bos IB, et. al. – “Manual therapy (spinal mobilization) is more effective and less costly for treating neck pain than physiotherapy or care by a general practitioner[1].”
  2. Dewitte V, et. al. – “Based on key features in subjective and clinical examination, patients with mechanical nociceptive pain probably arising from articular structures can be categorized into specific articular dysfunction patterns. Pending on these patterns, specific mobilization and manipulation techniques are warranted. The proposed patterns are illustrated in 3 case studies. This clinical algorithm is the corollary of empirical expertise and is complemented by in-depth discussions and knowledge exchange with international colleagues. Consequently, it is intended that a carefully targeted approach contributes to an increase in specificity and safety in the use of cervical mobilizations and manipulation techniques as valuable adjuncts to other manual therapy modalities[2].”
  3. Dunning JR, et. al. – “The combination of upper cervical and upper thoracic HVLA thrust manipulation is appreciably more effective in the short term than nonthrust mobilization in patients with mechanical neck pain[3].”
  4. Brontfort G, et. al. – “For participants with acute and subacute neck pain, SMT was more effective than medication in both the short and long term. However, a few instructional sessions of HEA resulted in similar outcomes at most time points[4].”
  5. Puentedura EJ, et. al. – The objective of the paper was as follows: “Thrust joint manipulation to the cervical spine has been shown to be effective in patients presenting with a primary report of neck pain. It would be useful for clinicians to have a decision-making tool, such as a clinical prediction rule, that could accurately identify which subgroup of patients would respond positively to cervical thrust joint manipulation.” In the results, they showed if 3 or more of the 4 attributes were present,” the probability of experiencing a successful outcome improved from 39% to 90%[5].”
  6. Yu H, et. al. – “Chiropractic management of atlantoaxial osteoarthritis yielded favorable outcomes for these 10 patients[6].”
  7. Puentedura EJ, et. al. – “Patients with neck pain who met 4 of 6 of the CPR criteria for successful treatment of neck pain with a thoracic spine thrust joint manipulation demonstrated a more favorable response when the thrust joint manipulation was directed to the cervical spine rather than the thoracic spine. Patients receiving cervical thrust joint manipulation also demonstrated fewer transient side-effects[7].”
  8. Miller J, et. al. – “Moderate quality evidence supports this treatment combination (cervical manual therapy combined with exercise) for pain reduction and improved quality of life over manual therapy alone for chronic neck pain; and suggests greater short-term pain reduction when compared to traditional care for acute whiplash[8].”
  9. Hurwitz EL, et. al. – “Our best evidence synthesis suggests that therapies involving manual therapy and exercise are more effective than alternative strategies for patients with neck pain[9].”
  10. Muller R, et. al. – “In patients with chronic spinal pain syndromes, spinal manipulation, if not contraindicated, may be the only treatment modality of the assessed regimens that provides broad and significant long-term benefit[10].”
  11. Zhu L, et. al. – “There was moderate level evidence to support the immediate effectiveness of cervical spine manipulation in treating people with cervical radiculopathy[11].”
  12. Giles LG, et. al. – “The consistency of the results provides, despite some discussed shortcomings of this study, evidence that in patients with chronic spinal pain, manipulation, if not contraindicated, results in greater short-term improvement than acupuncture or medication[12].”
  13. Bronfort G, et. al. – “Our data synthesis suggests that recommendations can be made with some confidence regarding the use of spinal manipulative therapy and/or mobilization as a viable option for the treatment of both low back pain and neck pain[13].”

There you have a fairly thick list of research papers demonstrating the effectiveness of chiropractic adjustments for uncomplicated neck pain but neck pain is not the only reason to have a chiropractic adjustment delivered to the cervical region. Another very common reason for neck adjustments would be for the treatment of acute and chronic headaches.

In fact, I have an episode of this podcast that dealt with a paper showing the effectiveness of chiropractic for headaches. Episode #6 to be exact.

Here is a listing of papers demonstrating the benefits of cervical manipulation for headaches. Each paper mentioned includes a short description of the conclusion for each paper cited. Also each of these papers is referenced in the show notes and can be very easily reviewed independently

  1. Malo-Urries M, et. al. – “Upper cervical translatoric spinal mobilization intervention increased upper, and exhibited a tendency to improve general, cervical range of motion and induce immediate headache relief in subjects with cervicogenic headache[14].”
  2. Espi-Lopez GV, et. al. – “In short, manual therapy techniques and manipulation applied to the suboccipital region for four weeks or more showed great improvement and in effectiveness for several aspects that measure the quality of life of a patient having suffered from tension type headaches[15].”
  3. Dunning J, et. al. – “Six to eight sessions of upper cervical and upper thoracic manipulation were shown to be more effective than mobilization and exercise in patients with cervicogenic headache, and the effects were maintained at 3 months[3].”
  4. Hurwitz EL, et. al. – “Utilization and expenditures for headache treatment increased from 2000 to 2009 across all provider groups. MD care represented the majority of total allowed charges in this study. MD care and DC care, alone or in combination, were overall the least expensive patterns of headache care. Risk-adjusted charges were significantly less for DC-only care[16].”
  5. Bronfort G, et. al. – “SMT appears to have a better effect than massage for cervicogenic headache. It also appears that SMT has an effect comparable to commonly used first-line prophylactic prescription medications for tension-type headache and migraine headache[17].”
  6. Bronfort G, et. al. – “Chiropractic is effective in acute, subacute, and chronic low back pain, migraines and headaches originating from the neck, for the treatment of some forms of dizziness, extremity and joint issues, as well as mid back and acute and subacute neck pain[18].
  7. Tuchin PJ, et. al. – “The results of this study support previous results showing that some people report significant improvement in migraines after chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy. A high percentage (>80%) of participants reported stress as a major factor for their migraines. It appears probable that chiropractic care has an effect on the physical conditions related to stress and that in these people the effects of the migraine are reduced[19].”
  8. McCrory D, et. al. – “Cervical spinal manipulation was associated with improvement in headache outcomes in two trials involving patients with neck pain and/or neck dysfunction and headache. Manipulation appeared to result in immediate improvement in headache severity when used to treat episodes of cervicogenic headache when compared with an attention-placebo control. Furthermore, when compared to soft-tissue therapies (massage), a course of manipulation treatments resulted in sustained improvement in headache frequency and severity[20].”

Many headache patients present to chiropractors after a considerable amount of time spent taking headache and migraine medications. Medications do not come without consequences. Certainly when taking long-term. Not only have they spent a considerable amount of time on medication, they often have had botox injections, steroid injections, and worse before finally going to the chiropractor.

It is a fact that patients should have the GUARANTEED of the best treatment that does the LEAST amount of harm. In that spirit, and considering that chiropractic is safe, effective, and non-pharmacologic, it makes sense that the medical field should actually PROMOTE chiropractic as a viable and valuable treatment for headaches and migraines rather than dismiss it as ineffectual and dangerous.

Having demonstrated study upon study validating the effectiveness and benefit of cervical manipulation for neck pain (acute, subacute, and chronic) and headaches (chronic, acute, subacute, tension-type, cervicogenic, and migraines), we can now focus attention on research papers and abstracts having to do with the risk of stroke instance (lack of risk) as a direct result of cervical chiropractic adjustments. Hopefully, you are getting a more clear picture of the chiropractors cause strokes myth and its absolutely foolishness.

But first, where would you think the idea of chiropractors running around stroking everyone out might come from? I believe there are at least a few root sources.

  • You guessed it: our old friend the American Medical Association and their state association underlings. This group deemed it unethical to refer to chiropractors or accept referrals FROM They tried to run us out of business by conducting conferences about chiropractic and generating literature that was anti-chiropractic. They then dispersed the misinformation down through the channels of the state medical associations all the way out to the medical doctors, nurses, and medical field profession out in the field, and then ultimately to their patient bases. The “Chiropractors Cause Strokes” myth was well within their ability to propagate. When your initiative is to rid the Earth of the chiropractic profession, you take advantage of what you can. The Federal Court decision in Wilk vs. AMA shows the AMA did just that.
  • The other likely culprit for the chiropractors cause strokes myth in my estimation would be patients visiting medical professionals after having been to a chiropractor and having suffering a stroke sometime afterward. I did not say chiropractors “causing” strokes. Research shows us that people are going to chiropractors already suffering arterial tears that are sometimes spontaneous in nature. While chiropractors have a high level of education, there are many out there that are simply untrained at catching red flags and making the proper referral. Other times, patients present with very common symptoms and there are no red flags present whatsoever. The chiropractor treats the patient thinking they are going to help improve a neck complaint or a headache while in reality they may be exacerbating a tear. When the patient reaches the medical professional, the link is easy to make for the uninformed: chiropractor causes stroke.
  • Ignorance – The simple lack of knowledge regarding the body of evidence and research that is available dealing with the chiropractors cause strokes myth perpetuates the myth. It is clear the benefits are present. It is clear the risks are not. End of story. But if one is ignorant of the literature,

This is where we are going to stop for this second episode of the chiropractors cause strokes series. Remember, it is a three part series.


The benefit is researched and it’s real. There is no denial possible.

Be sure to tune in next week for the third and final part of the three part series. Next week, we will discuss risky interventions, papers having to do with the risk, or lack thereof, of chiropractic adjustments to the cervical region specifically, and then a wrap up of the information.

Please feel free to send us an email at dr dot williams at and let us know what you think or what suggestions you may have for us for future episodes

If you love what you hear, be sure to check out As this podcast builds, so will the website with more content, products, and chances to learn.

We cannot wait to connect again with you next week for third and final part of the debunking of the chiropractors cause strokes myth. From Creek Stone, my office here in Amarillo, TX, home of the Chiropractic Forward Podcast flight deck, this is Dr. Jeff Williams saying upward, onward, and forward.

Other episodes of interest include:

CF 013: DEBUNKED: The Odd Myth That Chiropractors Cause Strokes (Part 1 of 3)

Source Material

  1. Korthals-de Bos IB, Cost effectiveness of physiotherapy, manual therapy, and general practitioner care for neck pain: economic evaluation alongside a randomised controlled trial. British Medical Journal, 2003. 326(7395): p. 911.
  2. Dewitte V, Articular dysfunction patterns in patients with mechanical neck pain: a clinical algorithm to guide specific mobilization and manipulation techniques. Man Ther, 2014. 19(2-9).
  3. Dunning J, Upper cervical and upper thoracic manipulation versus mobilization and exercise in patients with cervicogenic headache: a multi-center randomized clinical trial. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 2016. 16(64).
  4. Bronfort G, Spinal Manipulation, Medication, or Home Exercise With Advice for Acute and Subacute Neck Pain: A Randomized Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine 2012. Ann Intern Med, 2012. 156(1): p. 1-10.
  5. Puentedura EJ, Development of a clinical prediction rule to identify patients with neck pain likely to benefit from thrust joint manipulation to the cervical spine. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther, 2012. 42(7): p. 577-92.
  6. Yu H, Upper cervical manipulation combined with mobilization for the treatment of atlantoaxial osteoarthritis: a report of 10 cases. J Manipulative Physiol Ther, 2011. 34(2): p. 131-7.
  7. Puentedura EJ, Thoracic spine thrust manipulation versus cervical spine thrust manipulation in patients with acute neck pain: a randomized clinical trial. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther, 2011. 41(4): p. 208-20.
  8. Miller J, Manual therapy and exercise for neck pain: a systematic review. Man Ther, 2010. 15(4): p. 334-54.
  9. Hurwitz EL, e.a., Treatment of neck pain: noninvasive interventions: results of the Bone and Joint Decade 2000-2010 Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders. Spine, 2008. 33(4 Suppl): p. S123-52.
  10. Muller R, G.L., Long-term follow-up of a randomized clinical trial assessing the efficacy of medication, acupuncture, and spinal manipulation for chronic mechanical spinal pain syndromes. J Manipulative Physiol Ther., 2005. 28(1): p. 3-11.
  11. Zhu L, Does cervical spine manipulation reduce pain in people with degenerative cervical radiculopathy? A systematic review of the evidence, and a meta-analysis. Clin Rehabil, 2015.
  12. Giles LGF, M.R., Chronic spinal pain syndromes: a clinical pilot trial comparing acupuncture, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, and spinal manipulation. J Manipulative Physiol Ther, 1999. 22(6): p. 376-81.
  13. Bronfort G, Efficacy of spinal manipulation and mobilization for low back pain and neck pain: a systematic review and best evidence synthesis. Spine, 2004. May-Jun 4(3): p. 335-56.
  14. Malo-Urries M, Immediate Effects of Upper Cervical Translatoric Mobilization on Cervical Mobility and Pressure Pain Threshold in Patients With Cervicogenic Headache: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Manipulative Physiol Ther, 2017. 40(9): p. 649-658.
  15. Espi-Lopez G, e.a., Do manual therapy techniques have a positive effect on quality of life in people with tension-type headache? A randomized controlled trial. Eur J Phys Rehabil Med, 2016. 13(1): p. 4-13.
  16. Hurwitz EL, e.a., Variations in Patterns of Utilization and Charges for the Care of Neck Pain in North Carolina, 2000 to 2009: A Statewide Claims’ Data Analysis. J Manipulative Physiol Ther, 2016. May 39(4): p. 240-51.
  17. Bronfort G, Efficacy of spinal manipulation for chronic headache: a systematic review. J Manipulative Physiol Ther, 2001. 24(7): p. 457-466.
  18. Bronfort G, Effectiveness of manual therapies: The UK evidence report. Chiropr Osteopat, 2010. 18(3).
  19. Tuchin PJ, e.a., A randomized controlled trial of chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy for migraine. J Manipulative Physiol Ther, 2000. 23(2): p. 91-95.
  20. McCrory D, Behavioral and Physical Treatments for Tension-type and Cervicogenic Headache. Duke University Evidence-based Practice Center, Center for Clinical Health Policy Research.


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