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What You Should Know Before Going to the Chiropractor

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Back in January, Playboy model Katie May tweeted that she "pinched a nerve" in her neck during a photo shoot. She then followed up to say that she visited her chiropractor on two separate occasions to get "adjusted." Just a few days later, May suffered a stroke, was put on life support, and later died. As if that weren't tragic enough, TMZ is now reporting that May's death certificate reveals a cause of death due to an injury stemming from "neck manipulation by chiropractor." Apparently, the blunt force injury is said to have torn her left vertebral artery and cut off blood flow to her brain.

This terrifying announcement stirs up alarming questions about how the 34-year-old model could die after what appeared to be a rather routine visit for a common ailment. A pinched nerve is essentially nerve compression that can interfere with the signals your nervous system sends out to the rest of your body (tissues, organs, muscles), which can often cause pain. A chiropractor can identify that you do in fact have a pinched nerve, and he or she can typically offer an "adjustment" by applying specific force to your spine to eliminate that interference, therefore, hopefully, eliminating the pain.

According to Matt Tanneberg, D.C., C.S.C.S., a sports chiropractor in Phoenix, it's imperative that your chiropractor perform exams and use imaging before making any adjustments on your back or neck "Some offices will do no exam, no X-rays or MRIs—they will simply adjust you and hope that it works out okay," he says. "You need to have an examination and have some sort of imaging to figure out if the problem is a chiropractic one and where the primary causative factors are so that they can be addressed properly." These kinds of exams are crucial for finding any underlying or lingering risk factors for an impending stroke. So if you are experiencing nerve pain, as seen with May, or have a headache that is worse or different from anything you have experienced previously, or feel any unusual sensations down one or both of your arms, head straight to your doctor or nearby emergency room, says Tanneberg. Because without first addressing those risks, something as simple as checking your blind spot while driving or putting your head back into the sink at the beauty salon could result in a stroke.

The good news is that May's unfortunate outcome is exceedingly rare, with roughly one out of every 3 million adjustments causing a stroke, says Tanneberg. So while May's story doesn't mean you should avoid the chiropractor the next time you have a kink somewhere, it does highlight the need to speak up and ask about proper precautions and testing to be done before anyone lays a finger on you.

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