We recently tried a case for a client in his thirties who suffered a stroke 12 days after receiving a chiropractic manipulation.

The chiropractic insurance industry has financed and helped publish studies that dispute the relationship between chiropractic manipulation and stroke. Despite the position of the chiropractic industry, the medical community has long accepted and recognized the causal relationship between cervical manipulation and stroke.

What is an Arterial Dissection?

When a chiropractor adjusts a patient’s neck, the carotid, vertebral and basilar arteries are moved by the manipulation. When the arteries are twisted at a high velocity, there’s a risk that the arteries can tear or dissect, which is what happened to our client. The dissection doesn’t tear through the arteries: these are intimal tears, very small ones, on the inside lining of the arteries.

After the tear, blood enters the arterial wall and forms a blood clot, thickening the artery wall and often impeding blood flow. Sometimes it can cause immediate symptoms such as painful headaches.

When blood clots break off from the site of the tear, they form emboli (similar to scabs) that can travel through the arteries to the brain and block the blood supply to the brain, resulting in a stroke. There can also be a delay of symptoms by days or even weeks.

Our Client’s Injuries

When our client came to the emergency room, he was suffering from stroke symptoms. His medical care team asked him questions to learn his risk factors, which were hypertension and high blood pressure. Once they learned his history and that he had recently been manipulated by a chiropractor, several of the treating physicians recognized the likely relationship between the chiropractic manipulation and the stroke. All of this was documented in the patient’s medical charts.

In this case, the defense lawyers made the mistake of defending the body of chiropractic literature that attempts to refute the causal relationship between chiropractic cervical manipulation and stroke. Because the medical community doesn’t accept this position, that body of literature is virtually impossible to defend.

We were able to refer to another, more pertinent, set of documents: the detailed charts provided by the medical team that treated our client in the emergency room.

In the end, the jury was convinced of the relationship between the manipulation and the stroke, and found in our client’s favor. The jury entered a verdict for $1.4 million. A week after trial, the case was settled for the chiropractor’s $1 million policy limit.


KJMKenneth J. McKenna is an attorney at Dellecker Wilson King McKenna Ruffier and Sos.




Photo credit: kaex0r