When you visit a chiropractor for a spinal adjustment, you hope to leave feeling refreshed, relieved, and relaxed. For many people, that’s exactly what happens. Others feel more energetic and “lighter” than usual, with the high energy and upbeat attitude needed to exercise or complete household chores.
However, not everyone has such a positive experience immediately after leaving the chiropractor’s office or in the days that follow. Aching and soreness are common complaints, as are headaches, neck pain, and other discomforts. If you’re concerned about chiropractic adjustment side effects, learn about some of the most common sensations you may experience, why they happen, and whether you should be worried.
What is Chiropractic Care?
Chiropractic care is a field of medicine that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of disorders, conditions, and injuries affecting the musculoskeletal system. Doctors of Chiropractic (DCs) must earn a degree from medical school, complete clinical training, and obtain a state license before opening or joining a practice.
Chiropractors can treat both acute and chronic pain using a combination of advanced modalities designed to help patients heal without surgery or prescription drugs. Patients of all ages with diverse medical issues can benefit from chiropractic care. Many people visit a chiropractor to relieve back pain and neck problems, but spinal adjustments also help with migraines, vertigo, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and much more.
What Happens During a Chiropractic Adjustment?
Chiropractors perform chiropractic adjustments to correct spinal misalignment, also known as subluxation. Many people assume this involves forceful movements and painful cracking of your back and neck joints.
However, adjusting the spine is like gently tapping a bent nail with a hammer. Smashing the nail into the wood only bends it further, possibly making it impossible to straighten. That’s why chiropractors are more likely to correct problem areas by gentle tapping and nudging rather than using brute force.
To help them make the correct adjustments, chiropractors go through a mental checklist when assessing each patient:
- In what direction has a vertebra become misaligned? Backbones can pivot, twist, and bend in all three dimensions, so this is a critical question to answer.
- What is the minimal amount of force needed to realign the spine?
- Is it better to adjust the patient while having them lie on their stomach or their side?
- Are any factors present that could prevent a successful adjustment?
- Is the client relaxed enough to facilitate an adjustment?
Common Reactions to Chiropractic Adjustments
Most reactions to spinal manipulations are completely harmless. They typically arise shortly after treatment and dissipate within 24 to 48 hours. Consider how the body may react to a chiropractic adjustment and how to relieve your symptoms.
Mild Aching or Soreness
This is the most common side effect of a chiropractic adjustment, accounting for roughly two-thirds of all reactions. Aching joints or sore muscles, especially in the treatment area, may occur within the first few hours post-treatment and should last no longer than 24 hours. Apply an ice pack to the sore area to help the pain dissipate more quickly.
Headaches and Neck Pain
Cervical spine (neck) manipulations are considered safe procedures. The goal is to improve joint mobility, restore normal range of motion, reduce muscle spasms, and relieve tension or pressure in the neck. Still, temporary headaches and neck pain account for 10% of reactions in people who receive cervical spine adjustments. Ice and rest are the best tips for recovering from these side effects.
While some patients feel energized after their appointment, the opposite can also occur. Fatigue, or a lingering sense of tiredness, accounts for 10% of chiropractic adjustment reactions. Fortunately, this side effect is short-lived. If possible, avoid strenuous activity until your normal energy levels return.
Nausea or Dizziness
These reactions are uncommon, with patients reporting them less than 5% of the time. Rest, drink plenty of water, and stick with light, mild food until these side effects subside.
Why Do Chiropractic Adjustments Cause Side Effects?
If people visit the chiropractor to feel better, why do some patients leave the office feeling worse? While negative reactions don’t always occur, here are some explanations for why they sometimes happen.
Chiropractic adjustments relieve tension and increase blood flow. This, in turn, triggers the body to release toxins and poisons from the system. Detoxification can cause noticeable external reactions, including headaches, fatigue, sniffles, and even a slight fever. Once the toxins are fully released, you should feel rejuvenated, but this might take a day or two.
If you visited the chiropractor to treat subluxation, realigning your spine may activate muscles you haven’t used in years. Now that these weakened muscles are working again, they may feel sore, similar to what happens after starting a new exercise routine. The muscles in the treated area may even cramp up like a charley horse. Rest assured that these reactions are temporary and will disappear once your muscles get stronger.
Compressed Nerves Waking Up
Old injuries or compressed areas may reawaken during a chiropractic adjustment. While this is necessary for complete healing to begin, it may cause old feelings associated with the injury to resurface. Continue visiting your chiropractor to work toward total recovery and wellness.
What About Serious Adverse Reactions?
Perhaps you have heard claims suggesting that severe complications can arise from chiropractic adjustments. While some stories are accurate, many articles have limited evidence and are only published for the shock factor.
One of the most serious alleged complications of an improper cervical spine adjustment is vertebrobasilar artery (VBA) stroke. However, after studying the claims, researchers concluded that the perceived correlation had to do with patients seeking chiropractic treatment for VBA symptoms, including headaches and neck pain, before the stroke took place. But it is unlikely that the spinal adjustment caused the stroke in these patients. Even if there is a connection, the best estimates suggest the incidence rate is about one case in every 5.85 million cervical manipulations.
Critics also claim that cervical spine adjustments can cause brain stem injuries and hemorrhaging. While this is not impossible, documented incidents are extremely rare. As one report put it, “there is probably less than one death of this nature out of several tens-of-millions of manipulations.”
Of course, if chiropractors are reckless, inexperienced, or improperly trained, their services could cause adverse effects. But the same can be said of any medical provider. The fact is chiropractic care is a science and an art rolled into one. That’s why such extensive education and training are required to become a chiropractor. For your health and safety, only seek services from a licensed professional with the proper qualifications to deliver chiropractic care.
Are Chiropractic Adjustments Safe?
In the hands of an experienced chiropractor, spinal manipulation usually garners beneficial results and very few side effects. When you visit a chiropractor, share your specific symptoms and any concerns you have regarding the treatment you’re about to receive. This will help your doctor offer the safest, most effective treatment possible.
If you’re still nervous about spinal manipulation, you can always seek out other treatment regimens for the results you want without receiving a chiropractic adjustment. Here are some of your options:
- Physical therapy involves therapeutic stretches and exercises, ice and heat therapy, massage, and more.
- Spinal decompression gently stretches and elongates the spine using FDA-approved, non-surgical equipment.
- Active Release Technique is a soft tissue massage method for both treating and preventing injury in athletes and other physically active people.
- Hydromassage involves lying on a waterbed, where digitally controlled water jets move across your body to relieve joint and muscle pain.
- Massage therapy eases muscle tension and increases blood flow by manipulating the muscles in your back, neck, and elsewhere in your body.
- Acupuncture uses tiny, sterile needles to stimulate nerves, trigger an endorphin release, and reduce pain.
- Dry needling is similar to acupuncture, but it specifically targets tense muscles in the shoulders and back.
- Trigger point injections introduce non-toxic anti-inflammatory drugs into muscle knots to help relieve pain.
- Cold laser therapy employs low-level infrared and near-infrared light to promote accelerated healing.
- Whole-body vibration delivers vertical, oscillating, and elliptical vibrations to reduce back pain, improve strength, and slow degenerative bone loss.
- Ultrasonic wave technology sends sound waves into the body to promote regenerative healing processes.
- Kinesiotaping involves applying supportive tape to muscles and joints to promote quicker natural healing while still allowing a full range of motion.
Speak with a Chiropractor in Crofton or Millersville, MD
For many people, chiropractic care is the perfect solution for chronic back pain and neck problems. It’s non-invasive, drug-free, and customizable based on your overall treatment plan. Most importantly, it’s safe, offering a long track record of effective results and minimal side effects.
Do you wish to speak with a highly trained chiropractor at Effective Integrative Healthcare? Ready to schedule a free consultation? Either way, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Crofton or Millersville, MD office today.