Adverse events from spinal manipulation in the pregnant and postpartum periods: a critical review of the literature

Chiropr Man Therap. 2012 Mar 28:20:8. doi: 10.1186/2045-709X-20-8.


Background: The safety of spinal manipulation during pregnancy and the postpartum periods has been a matter of debate among manual therapists. Spinal manipulative therapy during these periods is a commonly performed intervention as musculoskeletal pain is common in these patients. To date there has not been an evaluation of the literature on this topic exclusively.

Methods: A literature search was conducted on PubMed, CINAHL and the Index to Chiropractic Literature along with reference searching for articles published in English and French in the peer-reviewed literature that documented adverse effects of spinal manipulation during either pregnancy or postpartum. Case reports, case series, and any other clinical study designs were deemed acceptable for inclusion, as were systematic reviews. The appropriate Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) tools were used to rate included articles for quality when applicable.

Results: Five articles identifying adverse events in seven subjects following spinal manipulation were included in this review, along with two systematic reviews. The articles were published between 1978 and 2009. Two articles describing adverse effects from spinal manipulation on two postpartum patients were included, while the remaining three articles on five patients with adverse effects following spinal manipulation were on pregnant patients. Injury severity ranged from minor injury such as increasing pain after treatment that resolved within a few days to more severe injuries including fracture, stroke, and epidural hematoma. SIGN scores of the prospective observational cohort study and systematic reviews indicated acceptable quality.

Conclusions: There are only a few reported cases of adverse events following spinal manipulation during pregnancy and the postpartum period identified in the literature. While improved reporting of such events is required in the future, it may be that such injuries are relatively rare.