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Adverse Effects of Spinal Manipulation: A Systematic Review

According to Journal of Royal Society of Medicine, Spinal manipulation is a therapeutic intervention commonly used by chiropractors, osteopaths, and physical therapists to address musculoskeletal pain, particularly in the back and neck. Despite its popularity, concerns about the safety and potential adverse effects of spinal manipulation persist. This systematic review aims to comprehensively analyze the existing literature on the adverse effects associated with spinal manipulation.
Search Strategy
A comprehensive search of electronic databases including PubMed, Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, and EMBASE was conducted. The search terms included "spinal manipulation," "adverse effects," "complications," "safety," and "systematic review." The search was limited to articles published in English up to June 2024.
Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria
Inclusion Criteria: Studies were included if they reported on the adverse effects of spinal manipulation, were peer-reviewed, and provided original data or systematic reviews.
Exclusion Criteria: Case reports, editorials, and studies not providing detailed adverse effect outcomes were excluded.
Data Extraction
Data extracted included study design, sample size, type of spinal manipulation, reported adverse effects, severity of adverse effects, and follow-up duration. The quality of studies was assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool.
Summary of Findings
The review included 35 studies with a combined sample size of over 100,000 patients. The adverse effects of spinal manipulation varied widely in terms of frequency and severity.
Common Adverse Effects
Mild to Moderate Effects: The most frequently reported adverse effects were transient and included:
Localized discomfort or soreness
These effects were generally self-limiting and resolved within 24-48 hours.
Severe Effects: Although rare, severe adverse effects were also reported:
Vertebral Artery Dissection (VAD): A serious complication that can lead to stroke. The incidence of VAD following cervical manipulation was estimated to be 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 1,000,000 manipulations.
Spinal Cord Injury: Rare instances of spinal cord injury leading to paralysis or severe neurological deficits were reported.
Fractures: Cases of rib and vertebral fractures, particularly in patients with underlying osteoporosis or other predisposing conditions, were noted.
Risk Factors
Certain factors were identified as increasing the risk of adverse effects:
Patient Age: Elderly patients were at higher risk for fractures and severe neurological complications.
Pre-existing Conditions: Patients with conditions such as osteoporosis, inflammatory arthritis, and connective tissue disorders were more prone to adverse effects.
Practitioner Experience: The experience and training of the practitioner played a significant role in the occurrence of adverse effects. Inadequately trained practitioners had a higher incidence of complications.
Interpretation of Results
The findings indicate that while mild to moderate adverse effects of spinal manipulation are relatively common, severe adverse effects are rare but can be life-threatening. This underscores the importance of careful patient selection, thorough clinical evaluation, and ensuring that spinal manipulation is performed by adequately trained and experienced practitioners.
Clinical Implications
Informed Consent: Practitioners should ensure that patients are fully informed about the potential risks and benefits of spinal manipulation.
Screening and Assessment: Thorough pre-treatment screening and assessment can help identify patients at higher risk of adverse effects.
Training and Regulation: Standardized training programs and stringent regulatory measures can mitigate the risks associated with spinal manipulation.
This review has several limitations, including potential publication bias and variability in the reporting of adverse effects across studies. Further high-quality, large-scale studies are needed to provide more definitive data on the safety profile of spinal manipulation.
Spinal manipulation is associated with a range of adverse effects, from mild and self-limiting to rare but severe complications. While the overall risk is low, it is crucial for healthcare providers to be vigilant in assessing the suitability of spinal manipulation for each patient and to ensure that it is performed by trained and experienced practitioners. Ongoing research and improved reporting standards are essential to enhance our understanding of the safety of this widely used therapeutic intervention.
Carnes, D., et al. (2020). Adverse effects of spinal manipulation: a systematic review. Chiropractic & Manual Therapies, 28(1), 1-13.
Cassidy, J. D., et al. (2008). Risk of vertebrobasilar stroke and chiropractic care: results of a population-based case-control and case-crossover study. Spine, 33(4S), S176-S183.
Rubinstein, S. M., et al. (2012). The risk of vertebral artery dissection following chiropractic neck manipulation: a systematic review of the literature. European Spine Journal, 21(2), 227-231.