Tom Ballard, ND's blog

Spreading Fear of Chiropractic
November 11, 2010, 10:01 am
Filed under: Commentary | Tags: , , , ,

“Chiropractors are dangerous,” is a statement I’ve heard repeatedly over the years. I’d never looked up any studies, but reasoned, “If they’re so dangerous, why is their malpractice insurance so low compared to MDs?” (Naturopathic malpractice insurance is even lower.)

Well, now we have a defining article, picked up by WebMD from The International Journal of Clinical Practice (2010:64(10)), entitled “Death after Chiropractic: A Review of Published Cases.”

The author searched the medical literature and found 26 deaths! Chiropractic is so dangerous, those deaths must have been in the last week, right? Month? Year? Ah, no, that’s since 1934.

The author’s conclusion: “Numerous deaths have occurred after chiropractic manipulations. The risks of this treatment by far outweigh its benefit.” She was particularly alarmed since most deaths from chiropractic are not reported. There are probably several times this number of deaths. Alarming!

Any deaths from medical treatment are sad and we should do anything we can to stop them. However, let’s put these numbers into perspective. In a 2000 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the authors found hard evidence for 225,000 deaths per year from iatrogenic (MD) causes. They estimated that only about 10% of adverse drug reactions are reported.

Now, back to the chiropractic numbers. Let’s say they are underreported by 1000 %. So, in 76 years there may have been 26,000 deaths from chiropractic. This is slightly over 1/10th of the deaths that are caused by MDs EVERY YEAR.

When MDs are confronted with their death statistics they defend themselves by saying that’s the price we pay for having the best medical system in the world (However, we don’t have the best medical system in the world, actually rating quite poorly on longevity, infant mortality, and many other parameters.) For chiropractic, on the other hand, it’s considered a scandal of the first order if the entire profession contributes to a death about every three years. Every chiropractor in the U.S. (estimated 100,000) would have to contribute to the death of 2.25 patients a year to keep up with MDs.

You want fear mongering? There are approximately 700,000 MDs working in the U.S. That means that each year, statistically, one in three MDs kills a patient. By these calculations (225,000 deaths from 700,000 MDs), going to an MD is, statistically, one of the most dangerous things you can do. You’d have a better chance of living if you walked in a high-crime neighborhood with money sticking out of your pockets.

It’s natural for any group to defend themselves against those considered to be their rivals. It would be a better use of time, however, for MDs to look at ways to cooperate with chiropractors, or at least stick to cleaning up their own problems, since calling chiropractors “dangerous” clearly doesn’t hold up.


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