The case of a 91-year old male patient developing acute neuropathic pain along the sciatic nerve distribution following spinal manipulation has been reported. Manipulative treatment with an Activator Adjusting Instrument (AAI) had been performed. During this treatment, three applications of the AAI were administered. The applications were bilateral (1) over the sacroiliac joint, (2) gluteal area, and (3) paraspinal region just above the iliac crest.
Within 24 hours, the patient developed severe 10/10 pain originating from the left gluteal area at the site of one of the activator deployments with radiation all the way down his left leg to the foot. He was able to maintain distal left leg strength and sensation. Subsequently, the patient developed insomnia, confusion, and adrenal gland dysfunction in response to changes in steroids, gabapentin, and other drugs, thus highlighting some nuances of managing elderly patients with back pain.
Relief was achieved with subsequent physical therapy techniques aimed at relaxing the patient’s deep gluteal muscles, raising the hypothesis of temporary injury to the deep gluteal muscles, with painful contractions resulting in gluteal region pain as well as sciatic nerve inflammation as the nerve passed through that region.
The authors concluded that this clinical case illustrates some of the perils and risks of spinal manipulation, particularly in the elderly, and the need for careful patient selection.
The authors of this (stranely incomplete) case report discuss whether any manipulation was truly necessary or indicated as part of his initial chiropractic treatment plan. They state that, given that complications associated with similar practices are not often reported in the literature, this case highlights important considerations to be made in the elderly given the potential impact of transient/permanent neuropathic pain in that population subset.
Somehow, I doubt that we can be certain that the patient improved due to the physical therapy and not due to the drugs he received. Moreover, I question the authors’ repeated assertions that such adverse effects of chiropractic spinal manipulation are truly rare. Here is a section from our own 2002 systematic review of the subject:
A systematic review of five prospective investigations of the risks of spinal manipulation concluded that mild-to moderate transient adverse reactions occur in approximately half of patients who undergo spinal manipulation. The largest of these studies involved 1058 patients who received a total of 4712 treatments from 102 chiropractors in Norway. At least one adverse reaction was reported by 55% (n 580) of patients. About one quarter (n 1174) of treatments resulted in at least one adverse reaction. The most common reaction reported was local discomfort. Eighty-five percent (n 824) of reactions were described as “mild or moderate” and 1% (n 14) as “unbearable.” Seventy-four percent (n 1052) of reactions disappeared within 24 hours. No serious, permanent complications of spinal manipulation were reported, but follow-up was not described. These results were confirmed by a similar study in Sweden with 625 patients and a smaller one (68 patients) from the United Kingdom …
Non-life-threatening adverse effects after spinal manipulations are not rare – they are merely rarely reported!