When 36-year-old Rigel Darkmoore booked an appointment with a chiropractor, he had no idea that the adjustment would land him in the hospital. Now, he’s shared his story on TikTok to warn others of the risks, and his video quickly went viral.
In a video that’s been viewed more than 4 million times, Rigel explains the situation while laying in a hospital bed, “Three days ago, I went to the chiropractor because I had ringing in my ear and I didn’t have medical insurance so I didn’t want to go spend money on doctor’s visit. I figured $100 to the chiro, let them adjust a few things, maybe get rid of the pressure, and if all else fails, I’ll just go to the doctor.”
But later on, he started feeling extremely weird. “Well, a chiropractor adjusted me and then that night I went home and later on I ended up with a splitting headache. The headache went from, like, my temples all the way down around my ears into the bottom of my neck. I couldn’t take it anymore. So I took ibuprofen and went to bed. The next day I woke up and I had the worst dizzy spells. Like, I felt loopy. I felt like I couldn’t focus or concentrate on anything when I looked around.”
His symptoms were so alarming that Rigel ended up in the emergency room, where doctors ordered a CT scan. “He found that the chiropractor — when he was aligning or whatever they do when they work on your neck — he actually ruptured, what they called dissecting, and I guess he dissected my carotid artery in my neck on the left side.”
The carotid arteries are two blood vessels that run up the sides of your neck, carrying freshly oxygenated blood from your heart up into your brain. When there’s a tear in the lining of this artery, doctors call it a dissection. A dissection can cause issues with blood flow into the brain, triggering a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a stroke.
Artery dissections can be caused by neck injuries, but they’ve also been known to happen after activities ranging from riding a roller coaster to doing yoga, and sometimes they can occur with no obvious cause at all. Following a carotid dissection, some people may only experience minor symptoms, but it more commonly can lead to serious neurological deficits and/or death.
Luckily, Rigel’s case seems to be more on the milder side — but still quite serious. Hospital staff checked on him frequently and took precautions to avoid further injury. From his hospital bed, he said, “I have bands on me that say ‘fall risk’, and if I get up from the bed, it sends off an alarm. And that’s because the damage the chiropractor did to my neck was so severe that I can have a blood clot which can cause a stroke or kill me. So my $100 chiropractor appointment has now turned into thousands and thousands of dollars of medical bills.” Watch the full video below:
In the comments, people have so much to say about Rigel’s experience. Some folks chimed in to share that they’ve also been injured after a chiropractic visit.
While others said that chiropractic adjustments have been really beneficial for them.
And some questioned whether Rigel’s injury was caused by the chiropractor or whether the ringing in his ears that prompted him to make the appointment was a precursor to the arterial dissection. However, Rigel clarified in an email to me that he has had tinnitus for many years and sought chiropractic care after learning that it can be related to neck tension.
To learn more about the risks of seeing a chiropractor, I reached out to Dr. Betsy Grunch, MD, FAANS, FACS. She’s a Georgia-based neurosurgeon who also shares accessible health education on her TikTok and YouTube channel.
Dr. Grunch shared one of her videos with me that breaks down the odds of experiencing a chiropractic injury. In the video, she explains, “I’m talking specifically about only one type of chiropractic manipulation and that is high velocity, neck manipulation. Basically getting your neck popped or cracked. And one of the feared complications of this type of manipulation is vertebral artery dissection. It’s unclear how common this complication is, but we do know it’s rare.”
Like the carotid arteries, the vertebral arteries carry oxygenated blood up the neck. They run up the spinal column and run similar risks of dissection. In the video, Dr. Grunch shows an illustration of where these arteries sit, saying, “You can see where the vertebral artery may get somewhat stretched whenever you turn your head. So if you’re in a situation in which your neck has rapidly turned to the side, you could potentially dissect that artery that can cause a stroke. Symptoms of vertebral artery dissections are headaches, vertigo, and dizziness, but could also be numbness or weakness on one side of your body.”
And although these injuries are rather rare, about one in thousands, Dr. Grunch says, “In my practice as a neurosurgeon, I typically see one to two of these vertebral artery dissections that are associated with a chiropractic visit per year. Unfortunately, I’ve even had patients in their 20s that have passed away due to vertebral artery dissection in association with a chiropractic visit. Therefore, even though the risk is rare, I would not recommend high velocity neck manipulation to any of my patients.”
And Dr. Grunch told me that chiropractic adjustments can also sometimes cause other issues. “Besides dissection and stroke, there are other risks such as worsening pain (muscle soreness, aching), disc herniation, cauda equina syndrome, or fracture (especially in patients with osteoporosis or unknown spinal tumors).”
She also shared the advice she gives to her own patients. “I typically help patients formulate a treatment plan for their spine utilizing evidence-based, proven therapies and treatment that we know can help with their back pain. Back pain is very common and typically does not need ongoing therapeutic ‘adjustments.’ Utilizing a good diet, stretching, and maintaining a healthy weight and a strong core can help tremendously with chronic pain. If you have concerns about your spine pain or other health concerns, please make sure to seek the guidance of a licensed medical doctor.”
As for Rigel, he told me that he shared his story to help raise awareness that getting a neck adjustment comes with risks. “As someone who has never spent a day in a hospital bed, it was all new and unsettling. I was going through a rollercoaster of emotions and I thought it would be important for others to see what can happen if you do suffer an accident like mine, if not worse. I’m a pretty easy-going person and I’ve never really looked up what can or cannot go wrong at a chiropractor. I’ve always just assumed that they’re a professional in their field, so they wouldn’t hurt me or put me in the hospital.”
He also shared some frustration with people blaming him for not having health insurance, when in my humble opinion, that’s on America for not having universal healthcare already. Rigel said, “There are a lot of people who gave me crap for not having health insurance to begin with, but as a self-employed person living in California, a decent health plan would cost me $300-$400 a month. That’s just not possible. It wasn’t my lack of care; it was a lack of money. Do I want to eat? Or should I have health insurance and eat PB&J’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
He’s also heard from a lot of people who don’t want to accept that his injury was caused by the neck adjustment. “People who don’t have medical degrees are also trying to diagnose me with things that have already been ruled out by medical professionals and when I say, ‘that was ruled out,’ they say, ‘check it again.’ This small percentage can’t handle the fact that the injury was sustained from a chiropractic adjustment and nothing more.”
But he’s also gotten an outpouring of support as well. “I have also received thousands of comments and DM’s from people sharing similar stories that they themselves or loved ones have suffered and are very sympathetic and caring. To be honest, I didn’t even realize these kinds of injuries existed. So, if someone would have said, ‘If you go to the chiropractor just know that it’s not uncommon to tear your arteries or end up paralyzed,’ I would’ve been like, ‘Oh, hell no.’ It’s just not worth it.”
Rigel also gave me an update on how he’s doing now. “Emotionally I feel much better. When I was first discharged and given three months’ worth of blood thinners I was very ‘doom and gloom.’ I thought any moment I was going to fall over and die from my injury. Sneezing scared the life out of me. I had to turn off TikTok and my social media for a week just so I wouldn’t see all of the negative comments trying to diagnose me with strange medical conditions I’ve never heard of. Things like that only make your mental health worse.”
“But it’s now week three and I feel pretty good. I try not to dwell on my condition. I just take my medication and am thankful that it hasn’t been much worse. Medically, I feel much better. The dizziness has pretty much gone away. Headaches stopped. Ear ringing still exists, unfortunately.”
Finally, he shared what he would say to someone who’s thinking about getting a chiropractic adjustment. “I guess I’d say what the neurologist told me and that’s, ‘There isn’t anything wrong with going to a good chiropractor — but don’t ever let them touch your neck.’ I’ve received so many comments from people who have family members that have been paralyzed, had their backs broken, necks broken, hips displaced. The stories I’ve seen will probably keep me away from a chiropractor for the next 10 lifetimes.”
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