What is a neck adjustment?

A neck adjustment (cervical manipulation) is a precise procedure that may relieve neck muscle tension, treat headaches, and align your upper cervical spine. Patients typically sit upright or lay on a padded table while a chiropractor performs either a physical rotation/stretch or an instrument-assisted movement to adjust neck alignment.

Neck adjustments and chiropractic adjustments, in general, can be great alternatives to surgery and pharmaceuticals for patients looking for a less invasive approach.

What are the symptoms of neck misalignment? You may need a neck adjustment if you experience any symptoms of misalignment. These symptoms include:

  • Chronic pain, especially neck pain but also in the middle and lower back
  • Shoulder pain
  • Chronic headaches
  • Migraines
  • Ménière’s disease
  • Post-concussion syndrome
  • Balance issues
  • Soft tissue pain, which is often a secondary protective mechanism caused by the nervous system contracting muscles to protect joints from the risk of injury

Properly-performed adjustments are generally safe. The most common chiropractic neck adjustment side effects are mild soreness, numbness, tingling, stiffness, or weakness for 24-48 hours after the adjustment.

How does a chiropractor adjust your neck?

A conventional doctor of chiropractic may adjust you in any one of several different ways. They may use their hands or a specialized table to adjust. Usually, they rotate or stretch your neck, creating a popping or cracking sensation. This may be done by “dropping” a section of an adjustment table.

This is known as a medium-to-high-velocity, low-amplitude neck adjustment.

In contrast, a qualified upper cervical chiropractor adjusts your neck using precise manual or instrument-assisted adjustments — some table-mounted and some handheld. These instrument-assisted neck adjustments are safe, precise, and comfortable.

Some chiropractors “adjust” your neck by cracking it somewhat violently. That’s their primary focus, and it’s the wrong focus. High-velocity chiropractic manipulation increases the risk of adverse effects.

Before performing a cervical adjustment, your chiropractor will perform a brief physical exam. If you’re new to a chiropractic office, they may also recommend x-rays and develop a treatment plan for pain management or other health needs.

Benefits of Neck Adjustments

Proper manipulation of the cervical spine offers benefits including pain relief and relief of certain symptoms of health conditions. The most notable benefits of neck adjustments may include:

Read Next: Upper Cervical Chiropractic Treats 14 Conditions [Is it safe?] 

Are neck adjustments safe?

Yes, a chiropractic neck adjustment is safe as part of comprehensive chiropractic treatment. When performed by a qualified professional, neck adjustments are more about aligning the upper cervical spine than “cracking” the neck, which may increase the risk of blood vessel strain.

Upper cervical chiropractors use instruments to deliver safer, gentler, and more precise neck adjustments than typical chiropractors. These instrument-assisted adjustments are painless and less jarring, whereas typical neck adjustments may lead to some discomfort for some people.

We like to say that a precise, high-quality neck adjustment should be safe and gentle for the frailest grandmother.

Is chiropractic safe? Chiropractic adjustments lead to stroke or death significantly less often than:

Why does my neck hurt after the chiropractor adjusted it? Your neck may hurt after the chiropractor adjusted it because the realigned vertebrae have moved slightly. This can lead to soreness in your muscles or spinal joints, but don’t worry. It’s a sign that alignment has happened.

Is it normal to feel severe neck pain after a chiropractic adjustment? While mild soreness often happens, severe neck pain is not normal after any chiropractic adjustment. This may indicate a poorly-performed adjustment, new injury, or aggravation of a previously unknown issue.

If you experience severe pain after your adjustment, contact your chiropractor immediately.

Side Effects of Neck Adjustments

What are the risks of neck adjustments? Known neck manipulation side effects include:

  • Muscle soreness when spinal discs move and realign (mild soreness is very normal)
  • Strain on blood vessels
  • Tingling or mild numbness
  • Stiffness or weakness of neck muscles
  • Wearing down of the uncinate process of the vertebrae, which may cause destabilizing of the cervical spine
  • Worsened disc herniation (consult a neurologist if you have a herniated disc and are seeking spinal manipulation therapy)
  • Bone fracture, if you have very brittle bones or osteoporosis and your chiropractor does not adjust their manual therapy accordingly
  • Stroke, paralysis, or similar serious complications (in very rare cases)

Instrument-assisted adjustments from upper cervical chiropractors are far safer and more precise than typical neck adjustments (high-velocity, low-amplitude rotations or stretches). Side effects of orthospinology adjustments are generally limited to muscle soreness.

When you get an upper cervical adjustment at Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic, you can rest assured that your safety and overall healthcare are our top concerns.

Do chiropractic adjustments cause stroke?

There is a 1 in 1,000,000-5,800,000 chance that improper chiropractic adjustments may lead to stroke. (Some studies estimate stroke occurs in 1 out of half a million adjustments, while others estimate 1 out of 5.8 million. Many estimates fall in between.)

This risk increases when your chiropractor focuses more on cracking your neck than aligning it.

Very rarely, a stroke after a chiropractic adjustment may occur due to vertebral artery dissection. This can be caused by poorly performed, rough, high-velocity neck adjustments. Higher velocity adjustments are a risk factor for blood vessel strain.

The signs of a stroke after a chiropractic adjustment include:

  • Weakness of the arm or leg on one side of your body
  • Loss of sensation
  • Slurred speech
  • Vertigo/dizziness
  • Trouble walking normally
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Neck pain, particularly on one side

If you or a loved one experience these signs after a chiropractic adjustment, seek emergency medical attention.

This risk goes down when a qualified professional utilizes safer, more precise instrument-assisted adjustments. The gentler the adjustment, the safer it is.

Can you adjust your neck at home?

No, even a chiropractor can’t adjust their neck at home. Addressing subluxation in the upper cervical spine requires thorough training and, preferably, targeted instruments.

Cracking your own neck over and over in a non-specific way doesn’t offer a benefit to your spinal health. You’re no more doing a neck adjustment than stabbing your leg with a scalpel would be performing surgery.

Persistent self-manipulation of the neck may eventually lead to the weakening of the ligaments in the neck and a wearing down of the uncinate process of the vertebrae. As the uncinate process is partly responsible for the stability of the upper cervical spine, this may cause destabilization and, in turn, problems with the musculoskeletal system around the neck area.

Orthospinology practitioners (generally, upper cervical chiropractors) avoid neck “cracking” for many reasons, and wearing down the uncinate process is one major reason. Many orthospinologists see this destabilization in patients chronically over-adjusted by traditional chiropractors (3-5 times weekly for 6 or more months).

Who should not get their neck adjusted?

Your provider should inform you if you have risk factors that exclude you from safely receiving a neck adjustment.

In general, you should not receive traditional chiropractic adjustments on your neck if you have:

  • A herniated disc in your upper cervical spine
  • Very brittle bones
  • Severe osteoporosis or osteoarthritis
  • Tumors in or around your cervical spine
  • Severe, acute neck injury
  • Increased risk of vertebral artery dissection

In some cases, a chiropractor may adjust treatment for patients with these conditions to avoid high-velocity adjustments. However, the safest option would be to seek out the help of a qualified orthospinology provider for instrument-assisted adjustments. 

Traditional Chiropractic vs. Upper Cervical Neck Adjustment

Traditional chiropractors treat the whole spine with manual therapy, manipulation, and mobilization (“manual” means using the hands).

Many crack your back or neck, which shouldn’t be the goal of chiropractic care. Also, traditional chiropractic adjustments may include quick, rough, uncomfortable motions.

Upper cervical chiropractors focus on the upper two vertebrae of your spine (C1 and C2, or the atlas and the axis), which are in the neck area. Using instrument-assisted adjustments, upper cervical neck adjustments are safer, more comfortable, and more precise.

Also, upper cervical chiropractors emphasize precise diagnostics using x-rays that closely follow patients’ progress after each manipulative therapy session.

Dr. Ty Carzoli owns and operates Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic. He is an orthospinology qualified in upper cervical spinal adjustments but also qualified to work on the whole spine.

However, Dr. Carzoli has found that many health problems can be addressed with upper cervical chiropractic care alone.

Schedule a Neck Adjustment in Denver, CO

Set up your appointment with Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic for safe, precise, painless, instrument-assisted neck adjustments. We reserve Fridays for out-of-town patients.

New patient? Find out what you should expect and how to move forward.

Want to hear more about Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic? Our patients’ success stories speak for themselves.According to the American Chiropractic Association, 20 million Americans visit chiropractors each year. They seek relief from lower back pain, migraines, sciatica, car accident injuries, and so much more. You could make that number 20,000,001.

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