Chiropractors can play important roles in helping people recover after accidents and keep their backs healthy. However, not every chiropractor is equally skilled. When bad chiropractors make mistakes, they can cause permanent harm and make existing injuries worse.
When this happens, it is known as chiropractic malpractice and may be grounds for legal action. Here is what you need to know about this type of medical malpractice and what you can do if you have been injured by a chiropractic adjustment.
Are Chiropractors Medical Professionals?
One of the most common questions people have about the chiropractic profession is whether practitioners count as real medical professionals. This confusion is reasonable, as many people are unaware of the differences between chiropractic and massage.
To be clear, chiropractors are not medical doctors. However, they are medical professionals, similar to opticians and podiatrists. They are licensed healthcare workers who must attend significant specialized schooling and receive a doctorate in chiropractic before being permitted to practice.
In California, chiropractors are licensed by the state Board of Chiropractic Examiners. Once certified by the board, they are obligated to follow standards of care when treating patients and remain within their scope of practice. They are permitted to offer services including:
- Spinal manipulation
- Diagnosis of musculoskeletal problems through physical examinations and the use of x-rays and ultrasound equipment
- Prescribing stretches and exercises to assist with mobility and pain
- Employ food, supplements, and vitamins in the course of treatment
Licensed chiropractors do have limitations, though. They are not permitted to:
- Perform any kind of surgery
- Prescribe any kind of drug or medicine officially recognized by the FDA
- Practice obstetrics or use ultrasounds to diagnose or treat fetuses
In short, they can perform hands-on treatments, provide physical exercises, and recommend dietary changes, but they may not prescribe medications or surgically alter your body.
Types of Chiropractor Medical Malpractice
Like any other licensed health professional, chiropractors are responsible for providing their patients safe, effective care within their scope of practice. If they exceed their scope or act negligently and harm a patient, they are committing medical malpractice. Some of the most common examples of chiropractic medical malpractice include the following:
The most common way that a chiropractor may hurt you is by performing an adjustment incorrectly. Many adjustments involve sudden firm pressure on delicate areas of the back and neck. When done poorly, this can make injuries worse or even cause new problems.
These injuries are particularly likely if you have conditions like severe osteoporosis, nerve problems with your arms and legs, known bone abnormalities, or an increased risk of stroke. Chiropractors are supposed to speak with and examine new patients to determine if they can safely receive these treatments. If they do not do so and treat someone with one of these conditions, they may be liable for any harm they cause.
Misdiagnoses and Inadequate Treatment
While good chiropractors are happy to act as part of a larger healthcare team, not every practitioner is good. Some chiropractors may suggest they can diagnose and treat conditions that do not have evidence of successful chiropractic treatment.
Studies have demonstrated that chiropractic adjustments can improve issues such as neck pain, trigger points, and sports injuries. However, some practitioners claim they can assist patients with problems ranging from asthma to gastrointestinal problems to autism. Suppose a chiropractor misdiagnoses you or attempts to treat you for these issues instead of referring you to a doctor. In that case, they may be liable for worsening your condition.
Risks of Chiropractic Malpractice
Every type of medical care has potential side effects or adverse outcomes. However, chiropractic treatment has a particularly high likelihood of causing harm for two reasons. First, chiropractor negligence can have lifelong impacts. The Mayo Clinic lists the risks of chiropractic adjustments as follows:
- A herniated disk or a worsening of an existing disk herniation
- Compression of nerves in the lower spinal column
- Strokes after neck manipulation
These issues can lead to permanent pain, paralysis, and even death. Chiropractors must be cautious in every treatment to ensure they are not causing additional harm to patients who frequently already experience chronic pain. Negligent adjustments actively worsen injuries and may cause significant pain in patients who would have otherwise healed on their own.
The other reason chiropractic injuries are unfortunately common is the frequency of treatment. Many insurance companies will cover monthly or even weekly adjustments for people with chronic pain in place of covering costly medication. If you are receiving adjustments multiple times a month, that provides many opportunities for a negligent chiropractor to harm you. Most other medical procedures only happen a few times a year, and so have a significantly lower chance of something going wrong.
The combination of treatment frequency and severity of potential chiropractor adjustment injuries means that chiropractic malpractice is an overlooked type of medical malpractice. If a chiropractor made your back worse or otherwise harmed you, you have every right to take legal action against them for reducing your quality of life and causing you pain.
Qualified Legal Counsel for Chiropractic Medical Malpractice
If you have been harmed by a chiropractor, you are not alone. You may be able to hold them accountable for your injuries by filing a medical malpractice claim against them.
At The Law Offices of Michael Oran, APC, our team of experienced attorneys has been representing victims of medical malpractice for more than 30 years. From our Los Angeles offices, we work hard to help our clients pursue compensation for their injuries and make negligent chiropractors and other medical professionals take responsibility for their actions. You can learn more about how we can help you by scheduling your consultation today.