MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

The objective of this paper was to review the 10 most recent case reports of cervical spine manipulation and cervical artery dissection for convincing evidence of the causation of cervical artery dissection by cervical spine manipulation. The author, Steven P. Brown, a chiropractor (who is quoted as “the authors have declared that no competing interests exist”), lists the following 10 cases:

Case 1: Yeung et al. (2023) [17]

Yeung et al. [17] reported that a “48-year-old female went to a chiropractor for chronic neck pain and developed right-sided weakness, nausea, dizziness, and vomiting immediately after neck manipulation.” Imaging showed occlusion of the V1 segment of the right vertebral artery and cerebellar stroke.

The adverse event immediately following cervical spine manipulation (CSM) was the cerebellar stroke, not the cerebral artery dissection (CAD). Right-sided weakness, nausea, dizziness, and vomiting are symptoms of cerebellar ischemia, not right VAD. The neck pain prior to the CSM is consistent with a CAD being present prior to CSM, not caused by CSM.

Even if CSM had caused the CAD, it is not biologically possible for a thrombus large enough to occlude the vertebral artery to form immediately [6]. Therefore, the CAD was likely pre-existing to CSM. While an existing thrombus may have been aggravated by the CSM, it was not caused by the CSM. In this case, it is plausible that CSM may have suddenly repositioned an already large thrombus in such a way that it blocked the V1 segment of the right vertebral artery, resulting in thrombotic ischemic stroke from vascular occlusion [26]. The practitioner failed to exclude CAD and performed CSM when it was contraindicated [7]. So, while thrombotic stroke may have been causally related to the CSM, the CAD was not.

Cases 2 and 3: Chen et al. (2022) [18]

Chen et al. [18] reported that “a 51-year-old man with a history of mild hypertension noted new-onset right neck pain two days following chiropractic manipulation.” Imaging revealed dissection of the C3 segment of the right ICA and right-sided stroke.

Chen et al. [18] also reported a second case in which “a 55-year-old man with a history of cigarette smoking, no other cerebrovascular risk factors, received chiropractic cervical manipulation 1 day prior to presentation to the emergency department with new onset of left hemiparesis, facial paralysis, right neck pain, and dysarthria lasting for 5 hours.” Imaging revealed dissection of the C3 segment of the right ICA and right-sided cerebral stroke.

In these two case reports, the symptoms that prompted the patients to seek CSM were not documented. In the first case, neck pain started two days after CSM. In the second case, neck pain started 19 hours after CSM.

In these two cases, there was no adverse event immediately following CSM. As there was no neck pain, headache, or ischemic symptoms noted immediately after CSM, it is not likely that CSM caused the ICA dissection or the stroke. Furthermore, the C3 segment of the ICA is intracranial and has not been identified as an area for strain by CSM.

Case 4: Arning et al. (2022) [19]

Arning et al. [19] reported the case of a 47-year-old female with a two-week history of non-traumatic right neck pain who had increased, severe right neck pain immediately after CSM, and paresis of the right deltoid muscle and hypalgesia in the right C3 and right C4 dermatomes. MRI revealed a dissection of the V2 segment of the right vertebral artery.

The adverse event immediately following CSM was a stroke, not a CAD. Paresis and hypalgesia are symptoms of brain ischemia, not right VAD. The right neck pain prior to the CSM is consistent with a right VAD being present prior to CSM, not caused by CSM.

Prior to CSM, cervical spine disc herniation had been ruled out by MRI. Upon review, the pre-CSM MRI also showed dissection of the right V2 segment, which had initially been overlooked by the radiologist. The practitioner performed CSM when it was contraindicated. Therefore, while the CSM may have caused the ischemic stroke by a thromboembolic mechanism, the CSM did not cause the CAD.

Case 5: Abidoye et al. (2022) [20]

Abidoye et al. [20] reported, “This is a 40-year-old male with a medical history of migraine headaches and cervicalgia, evaluated for a sudden onset of headache, associated with nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, and dizziness, two months after a chiropractic manipulation. He also reported rigorous exercise and sexual intercourse prior to the headache onset. Vital sign is significant for a 10/10, non-radiating right-sided headache. Neurological examination revealed right ptosis and miosis. Labs were unremarkable. CTA of neck showed tapering of the right ICA with near occlusion at the skull base.” No imaging evidence or diagnosis of stroke was documented. However, with ischemic symptoms of nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, dizziness, right ptosis, and right miosis, it is likely that this patient suffered a stroke.

In this case, there was no adverse event immediately following CSM, and the most recent CSM was two months prior to the onset of symptoms. As there was no neck pain, headache, or ischemic symptoms noted immediately after CSM, it is not likely that CSM caused the ICA dissection or the stroke.

The patient’s medical history of neck pain and headaches are risk factors for CAD. If there was existing right ICA dissection, it is plausible that rigorous exercise and sexual intercourse could have dislodged a loosely adherent ICA thrombus and caused immediate stroke by a thromboembolic mechanism. However, this is not possible to determine as the temporality from exercise and intercourse to ischemic symptoms of stroke was vaguely documented as “prior to.”

Case 6: Yap et al. (2021) [21]

Yap et al. [21] reported a 35-year-old male who presented with a two-day history of expressive dysphasia and a one-day history of right-sided weakness. The patient reported having CSM for pain relief sometime in the prior two weeks. Imaging showed left ICA dissection and left middle cerebral artery stroke. The dissected segment of the left ICA was not documented.

In this case, there was no adverse event immediately following CSM. As there was no neck pain, headache, or ischemic symptoms noted immediately after CSM, it is not likely that CSM caused the ICA dissection or the stroke.

Case 7: Xia et al. (2021) [22]

Xia et al. [22] reported a case of a 44-year-old male with chronic neck pain who reported sudden-onset left homonymous hemianopia after CSM a few days prior. The patient reported progression from a left homonymous hemianopia to a left homonymous inferior quadrantanopia. Imaging revealed bilateral VAD at the left V2 and right V3 segments, and right medial occipital lobe stroke. The authors noted that a right posterior communicating artery stroke was likely embolic from the right V3 and left V2 dissections. They also noted that the patient likely had a migrating embolus as evidenced by the progression from a homonymous hemianopia to a quadrantanopia.

The adverse event immediately following CSM was the stroke, not the CAD. Left homonymous hemianopia is a symptom of brain ischemia, not VAD. The neck pain prior to the CSM is consistent with VAD being present prior to CSM, not caused by CSM.

Even if CSM had caused the CAD, it is not biologically possible for a thrombus to instantly form and dislodge to cause sudden-onset thromboembolic stroke [6]. Therefore, the CAD was likely pre-existing to CSM. While an existing thrombus may have been aggravated by the CSM, it was not caused by the CSM. In this case, it is possible that CSM dislodged a loosely adherent vertebral artery thrombus to cause thromboembolic stroke [26]. The practitioner failed to exclude CAD and performed CSM when it was contraindicated [7]. So, while thromboembolic stroke may have been causally related to the CSM, the CAD was not.

Case 8: Lindsay et al. (2021) [23]

Lindsay et al. [23] reported a case of a 47-year-old male who presented with left neck pain and headache. His medical history was notable for dyslipidemia and a cerebellar stroke six years prior. Imaging revealed dissections of the left vertebral artery extending from the origin of the artery to the V3 segment. The patient also had a dissection of his right renal artery. There was no evidence of a stroke.

Six years prior, the patient had presented with a one-week history of left neck pain and headache, as well as left facial numbness and dizziness. The pain was not relieved with ibuprofen and previously been evaluated and treated by a chiropractor. Imaging done six years prior showed no evidence of CAD but did show a left cerebellar stroke.

There is no plausible biological mechanism by which CSM six years prior could cause a current VAD. Therefore, it is not likely that there was a causal relationship between CSM and CAD in this case.

Ultimately, the patient was diagnosed with vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a disorder that causes connective tissue weakness and makes a patient susceptible to arterial dissection. This diagnosis is consistent with the left VAD and right renal artery dissection.

Case 9: Monari et al. (2021) [24]

Monari et al. [24] reported a case of a 39-year-old pregnant female with a history of tension headaches presenting with vertigo, vomiting, nystagmus, dizziness, and hindrance in the execution of fine movements of the right arm. The patient reported having CSM by an osteopathic specialist “in the days preceding the beginning of the symptoms.” Imaging showed a dissection of the V2 segment of the right vertebral artery and a right-sided stroke.

In this case, there was no adverse event immediately following CSM. As there was no neck pain, headache, or ischemic symptoms noted immediately after CSM, it is not likely that CSM caused the right vertebral artery dissection or the stroke. Medical history of headache prior to the CSM is consistent with a VAD being present prior to CSM, not caused by CSM. Pregnancy is also a risk factor for CAD.

Case 10: Ramos et al. (2021) [25]

Ramos et al. [25] reported a case of a 48-year-old female with a history of chronic neck pain who experienced sudden neck pain and generalized weakness during CSM. Imaging showed bilateral VAD and occlusion and bilateral acute cerebellar stroke. There was also tetraplegia noted at the C5 sensory level, C5 and C6 vertebral fracture, spinal cord injury, epidural hematoma, and acute disc herniation.

There is convincing evidence that CSM caused CAD and stroke in this case. This case is exceptional as the CSM was contraindicated by pre-existing cervical spine pathology. Cervical spine bony ankylosis was noted which existed prior to the CSM. The CSM appears to have been a posterior-anterior manipulation of the cervical spine at the level of C5-C6, which was contraindicated due to the presence of the bony ankylosis [27].

The practitioner failed to exclude cervical spine pathology and performed CSM when it was contraindicated. The spinal pathology in this case could have been diagnosed with a cervical spine X-ray examination.

As the Ramos et al. [25] study provided limited case information, a case report from Macêdo et al. [28] provides additional information on this exceptional case.

“A 47-year-old Afro-Brazilian woman with long-standing back pain sought chiropractic care for symptomatic relief. Until then, she had never consulted a doctor to treat her axial pain and was not aware of having any specific spinal pathology. Since childhood, she had a moderate cognitive deficit, which probably compromised her ability to adequately describe the pain and, thus, led the family to seek medical advice. During her last session of spinal manipulation, she mentioned new-onset paresthesia beginning on the upper limbs and progressing to the lower limbs. Her complaint was disregarded, and the session continued, at the end of which she was unable to stand. Urinary retention ensued a little after. The patient was referred to our service only a week after, completely bedridden. Spine MRI revealed a transdiscal fracture at C5-C6, resulting in critical stenosis and compressive myelopathy. CT angiography revealed traumatic thrombosis of the vertebral arteries emerging on this level. Whole spine-imaging evidenced multiple syndesmophytes giving a characteristic bamboo spine appearance, as well as ankylosis in sacroiliac joints, uncovering the diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis. She underwent laminectomy from C2 to C6 and arthrodesis from C2 to T2 for spine stabilization but did not recover mobility. Even though a systematic review did not find an increased risk of significant adverse events related to spine manipulation therapy, there have been descriptions of vertebral fracture following a session on patients with ankylosing spondylitis and unsuspected multiple myeloma.”

The author concluded that nine out of the 10 case reports of CSM and CAD did not provide convincing evidence of the causal relationship between CSM and CAD. Only one case report provided convincing evidence of a causal relationship between CAD and CSM. This case was exceptional as the CSM was contraindicated by pre-existing cervical spine pathology. Therefore, we conclude that practitioners of CSM should exclude cervical spine pathology before performing CSM.

I must say that I find it difficult or even impossible to follow most of the arguments of Mr Brown. Do they teach them a different kind of physiology and pathophysiology in chiro-school? Foremost, he seems to think that case-reports can/should establish cause and effect. Do they teach research methodology at all in chiro-school?

Here is what Wiki tells us, for instance:

In medicine, a case report is a detailed report of the symptomssignsdiagnosis, treatment, and follow-up of an individual patient. Case reports may contain a demographic profile of the patient, but usually describe an unusual or novel occurrence. Some case reports also contain a literature review of other reported cases. Case reports are professional narratives that provide feedback on clinical practice guidelines and offer a framework for early signals of effectiveness, adverse events, and cost.

So, case reports “offer a framework for early signals of adverse events”. To expect that they demonstrate a causal link is ill-informed. Their significance in relation to risks lies mostly in providing a signal, particularly if the signal becomes loud and clear due to numerous repetitions, as is the case in chiropractic manipulations. Once the signal is noted, it needs further investigation to determine its nature. In the absence of conclusive further studies, a signal that has emerged hundreds of times, as in chiropractic, it has to be taken seriously. In fact, the precautionary principle demands that we then assume causality until proven otherwise.

As to the research effort of Mr Brown in assembling 10 case reports, I must say it is frightfully daft for the following reasons:

  • Most cases do probably not get connected to a CSM at all.
  • Many lead to litigation and are not published.
  • In the end, very few get published in the medical literature.
  • Being retrospective, they all lack important detail and are thus incomplete.
  • None prove causation and only some render it likely.
  • A sample size of 10 is laughable.
  • Brown’s desire to white-wash chiropractic is plapable.
  • So is his naivety.

17 Responses to Cervical spine manipulation and cervical artery dissection: an embarrassingly daft attempt of a white-wash

  • Really frightening. How can they not get stomach ache when they manipulate necks?

    In real (honest) health care, the outcomes of every kind of intervention are carefully monitored and any suspicion of adverse effect is registered. And “[i]n the absence of conclusive further studies, a signal that has emerged hundreds of times […] has to be taken seriously. In fact, the precautionary principle demands that we then assume causality until proven otherwise.”
    How is it possible for any human being to ignore that? Is fact resistance taught in chiropractic schools?

    • Olle: In real (honest) health care, the outcomes of every kind of intervention are carefully monitored and any suspicion of adverse effect is registered

      Not in the USA. The only ones that universally report AEs are MDs and DOs. Not PT, OD, DDS or DC.

    • Olle Kjellin asked: “Is fact resistance taught in chiropractic schools?”

      David Nette on Tuesday 04 October 2022 at 16:32

      LOL…perhaps it’s time for the Chiropractors to just put the shovel down and stop digging.
      They are in way over their heads on this Blog.

      Once again, it’s overwhelmingly evident, that when grasping for straws in any failing exchange, (and failing to back up silly claims with little or no real supporting evidence), these Chiros continually don’t even appear to identify what their own “schools” are promoting and their own current teaching literature exposes!

      The bells are ringing, the gates are down, lights are flashing… but the train she isn’t coming.
      Smells like BS to me.

      Dale Thompson’s sock puppet ‘DC’

      What schools may or may not teach or have on their web page isn’t necessarily representative of what practicing chiropractors may or may not believe.

      David Nette on Tuesday 04 October 2022 at 19:03

      Well, that’s rich.
      So what pray tell then is the point in getting accredited at a Chiropractic School, if at the end of the day it is the student who gets to cherry-pick and choose what to believe as accurate or factual scientific based teachings? Can you imagine an Internal Medical Doctor applying the same logic?

      Hence, your own words betray your position on this topic and confirm the fallacies that propagate Chiropractic current teachings.

      The more I delve into trying to understand Chiropractic, the more I understand what happened to my wife.
      If it wasn’t so catastrophic and tragic it would make for a good horror story.

      R. Daneel on Tuesday 04 October 2022 at 19:27

      DC, Thanks for confirming that the entire field of chiropractic is nothing by smoke and mirrors.

  • Calling this an attempt to whitewash is disingenuous. Apparently, seeing “chiropractor” attached to something initiates a confirmation bias reflex response. This article is obviously exposing the likely connection between cervical manipulation and stroke. It is also worth reviewing cognitive distortions as made popular by David Burns–a medical physician, not a chiropractor. In particular mental filter, failing to acknowledge the positive, and magnifying the negative.

  • CERVICAL ARTERY DISSECTION & CERVICAL SPINE MANIPULATION

    Research does not support a causal association between cervical spine manipulation (CSM) and cervical artery dissection (CAD). CSM causes little or no strain on the cervical arteries [1] [2]. In a statement from the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, Biller et al. found that biomechanical evidence is insufficient to establish the claim that CSM causes CAD and recommended that practitioners should strongly consider CAD as a presenting symptom prior to CSM [3]. Church et al., a group of neurosurgeons from Penn State Hershey Medical Center, found no convincing evidence that CSM can cause CAD in an otherwise healthy artery [4].

    CERVICAL ARTERY DISSECTION & STROKE

    The onset of symptoms of ischemic stroke immediately after CSM is often assumed to be the onset of CAD [5]. However, research shows that in cases of stroke immediately following CSM, the patient likely had an existing CAD before the CSM [6] [7]. Biller et al. recommended that practitioners should strongly consider CAD as a presenting symptom prior to CSM [3].

    References

    [1] B. Symons and W. Herzog, “Cervical artery dissection: a biomechanical perspective,” J Can Chiropr Assoc, vol. 57, no. 4, pp. 276–278, Dec. 2013.

    [2] L. M. Gorrell, A. Sawatsky, W. B. Edwards, and W. Herzog, “Vertebral arteries do not experience tensile force during manual cervical spine manipulation applied to human cadavers,” J Man Manip Ther, vol. 31, no. 4, pp. 261–269, Aug. 2023, doi: 10.1080/10669817.2022.2148048.

    [3] J. Biller et al., “Cervical arterial dissections and association with cervical manipulative therapy: a statement for healthcare professionals from the american heart association/american stroke association,” Stroke, vol. 45, no. 10, pp. 3155–3174, Oct. 2014, doi: 10.1161/STR.0000000000000016.

    [4] E. W. Church, E. P. Sieg, O. Zalatimo, N. S. Hussain, M. Glantz, and R. E. Harbaugh, “Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Chiropractic Care and Cervical Artery Dissection: No Evidence for Causation,” Cureus, vol. 8, no. 2, p. e498, Feb. 2016, doi: 10.7759/cureus.498.

    [5] R. C. Turner, B. P. Lucke-Wold, S. Boo, C. L. Rosen, and C. L. Sedney, “The potential dangers of neck manipulation & risk for dissection and devastating stroke: An illustrative case & review of the literature,” Biomed Res Rev, vol. 2, no. 1, 2018, doi: 10.15761/BRR.1000110.

    [6] J. D. Cassidy et al., “Risk of vertebrobasilar stroke and chiropractic care: results of a population-based case-control and case-crossover study,” Spine (Phila Pa 1976), vol. 33, no. 4 Suppl, pp. S176-183, Feb. 2008, doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e3181644600.

    [7] J. D. Cassidy, E. Boyle, P. Côté, S. Hogg-Johnson, S. J. Bondy, and S. Haldeman, “Risk of Carotid Stroke after Chiropractic Care: A Population-Based Case-Crossover Study,” J Stroke Cerebrovasc Dis, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 842–850, Apr. 2017, doi: 10.1016/j.jstrokecerebrovasdis.2016.10.031.

    • “Research does not support a causal association between cervical spine manipulation (CSM) and cervical artery dissection (CAD)” claim chiros, while almost the rest of the world knows that research does support a causal association between cervical spine manipulation (CSM) and cervical artery dissection (CAD).
      Who is correct?
      The ones who earn their living through CSM, or the ones who weight the evidence more objectively?

      • I also get the impression that chiros find proper, solid evidence rather less important when it comes to the purported benefits of their work …

      • “There is no convincing evidence to support a causal link between chiropractic manipulation and CAD.”

        E. W. Church, E. P. Sieg, O. Zalatimo, N. S. Hussain, M. Glantz, and R. E. Harbaugh, “Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Chiropractic Care and Cervical Artery Dissection: No Evidence for Causation,” Cureus, vol. 8, no. 2, p. e498, Feb. 2016, doi: 10.7759/cureus.498.

        This conclusion is from a 2016 study published in a peer reviewed medical journal by neurosurgeons from Penn State Hershey Medical Center. No “chiros” were involved in this study. It was not published in a chiropractic journal. The authors of this study do not earn their living through CSM. The authors weighed the evidence objectively and this was their conclusion. Authors of this study listed here:

        Ephraim W. Church
        Department of Neurosurgery, Penn State Hershey Medical Center

        Emily P. Sieg
        Department of Neurosurgery, Penn State Hershey Medical Center

        Omar Zalatimo
        Department of Neurosurgery, Penn State Hershey Medical Center

        Namath S. Hussain
        Department of Neurosurgery, Penn State Hershey Medical Center

        Michael Glantz
        Department of Neurosurgery, Penn State Hershey Medical Center

        Robert E. Harbaugh
        Department of Neurosurgery, Penn State Hershey Medical Center

    • Mr Brown’s interpretation of his references is different from mine. E.g.,:
      [my formatting for clarity]

      Steven Brown (from above)

      Research does not support a causal association between cervical spine manipulation (CSM) and cervical artery dissection (CAD). CSM causes little or no strain on the cervical arteries[1][2]. In a statement from the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, Biller et al. found that biomechanical evidence is insufficient to establish the claim that CSM causes CAD and recommended that practitioners should strongly consider CAD as a presenting symptom prior to CSM [𝟑].

      Reference 𝟑: Biller et al. 2014‑08‑07

      Cervical artery dissection (CD) is most prevalent in the upper cervical spine and can involve the internal carotid artery or vertebral artery. Although current biomechanical evidence is insufficient to establish the claim that cervical manipulative therapy (CMT) causes CD, clinical reports suggest that mechanical forces play a role in a considerable number of CDs and most population controlled studies have found an association between CMT and VAD stroke in young patients.

  • “In a statement from the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, Biller et al. found that biomechanical evidence is insufficient to establish the claim that CSM causes CAD and recommended that practitioners should strongly consider CAD as a presenting symptom prior to CSM.”

    This is from a 2014 peer reviewed study published by 11 MDs and 1 “chiro” on behalf of the American Heart Association Stroke Council and endorsed by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and Congress of Neurological Surgeons.

    J. Biller et al., “Cervical arterial dissections and association with cervical manipulative therapy: a statement for healthcare professionals from the american heart association/american stroke association,” Stroke, vol. 45, no. 10, pp. 3155–3174, Oct. 2014.

    At least 11 authors of this study do not earn their living through CSM. The authors weighed the evidence objectively and this was their conclusion. Authors of this study listed here:

    José Biller, MD, FAHA

    Ralph L. Sacco, MS, MD, FAHA

    Felipe C. Albuquerque, MD

    Bart M. Demaerschalk, MD, MSc

    Pierre Fayad, MD, FAHA

    Preston H. Long, DC, PhD

    Lori D. Noorollah, MD; Peter D. Panagos, MD, FAHA

    Wouter I. Schievink, MD

    Neil E. Schwartz, MD, PhD

    Ashfaq Shuaib, MD, FAHA

    David E. Thaler, MD, PhD, FAHA

    David L. Tirschwell, MD, MSc

    On behalf of the American Heart Association Stroke Council.

    • I am not going to play pigeon chess with you

    • In a statement from the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, Biller et al. found that biomechanical evidence is insufficient to establish the claim that CSM causes CAD and recommended that practitioners should strongly consider CAD as a presenting symptom prior to CSM

      This is from a 2014 peer reviewed study published by 11 MDs and 1 “chiro”

      This is NOT from the 2014 paper.

      Why not quote from THE CONCLUSIONS of the paper itself. Steven? Pete Atkins has the relevant piece above.

      clinical reports suggest that mechanical forces play a role in a considerable number of CDs and most population controlled studies have found an association between CMT and VAD stroke in young patients.

      • “Why not quote from THE CONCLUSIONS of the paper itself. Steven?”
        The answer is simple: because he is a member of the chiro cult.

        • Furthermore, in his comment on Tuesday 02 July 2024 at 14:12 he is not quoting from his published paper, which uses different reference numbers.

          It seems that the “evidence is insufficient to establish” whether the various errors in his comments are caused by “lying for chiropractic” (pious fraud), or incompetence on a par with the plethora of chiropractors who can’t manage to put the patient ID on each page of the paperwork submitted to Medicare, as discussed previously.

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