Study design: Potential precipitating events and risk factors for vertebrobasilar artery dissection were reviewed in an analysis of the English language literature published before 1993.
Objectives: To assess the literature pertaining to precipitating neck movements and risk factors for vertebrobasilar artery dissection in an attempt to determine whether the incidence of these complications can be minimized.
Summary of background data: Vertebrobasilar artery dissection and occlusion leading to brain stem and cerebellar ischemia and infarction are rare but often devastating complications of cervical, manipulation and neck trauma. Although various investigators have suggested potential risk factors and precipitating events, the basis for these suggestions remains unclear.
Methods: A detailed search of the literature using three computerized bibliographic databases was performed to identify English language articles from 1966 to 1993. Literature before 1966 was identified through a hand search of Index Medicus. References of articles obtained by database search were reviewed to identify additional relevant articles. Data presented in all articles meeting the inclusion criteria were summarized.
Results: The 367 case reports included in this study describe 160 cases of spontaneous onset, 115 cases of onset after spinal manipulation, 58 cases associated with trivial trauma, and 37 cases caused by major trauma (3 cases were classified in two categories). The nature of the precipitating trauma, neck movement, or type of manipulation that was performed was poorly defined in the literature, and it was not possible to identify a specific neck movement or trauma that would be considered the offending activity in the majority of cases. There were 208 (57%) men and 158 (43%) women (gender data not reported in one case) with an average age of 39.3 +/- 12.9 years. There was an overall prevalence of 13.4% hypertension, 6.5% migraines, 18% use of oral contraception (percent of female patients), and 4.9% smoking. In only isolated cases was specific vascular disease such as fibromuscular hyperplasia noted.
Conclusions: The literature does not assist in the identification of the offending mechanical trauma, neck movement, or type of manipulation precipitating vertebrobasilar artery dissection or the identification of the patient at risk. Thus, given the current status of the literature, it is impossible to advise patients or physicians about how to avoid vertebrobasilar artery dissection when considering cervical manipulation or about specific sports or exercises that result in neck movement or trauma.