Source Tom Blackwell, National Post

A new court ruling has again called into question a widely used but controversial chiropractic treatment, concluding that a Newfoundland practitioner made a patient deaf in one ear and caused other debilitating injuries by performing a neck manipulation on him.

The judge in the civil suit found the chiropractor negligent and will decide later what compensation to award Abe Gallant, who says he had to leave his $80,000-a-year job because of the damage.

The decision follows a series of public inquiries and inquests that have blamed cervical manipulation for strokes, some of them fatal, and the filing of a $500-million class action suit in Alberta that targeted the allegedly dangerous chiropractic therapy.

” This is not something new … they’ve been maiming people all over the country,” Mr. Gallant said in an interview yesterday, suggesting the procedure be banned. “I’m lucky that I can talk about what happened. Most of them are dead or on respirators.”

The practice has generally continued unchecked, however, and chiropractors argue that the most recent scientific evidence indicates manipulations are fully safe.

“We had previously erred on the side of caution by saying there was a risk,” said Wanda Lee MacPhee, past president of the umbrella group for chiropractic regulators. “But that was prior to having the newer data…. It doesn’t appear that there is a causal relationship.”

Meanwhile, that Alberta class-action suit was actually thrown out last week.

In the Newfoundland judgement earlier this month, Justice Michael Harrington said Debbie Brake-Patten, a Stephenville, N.L., chiropractor, was negligent both for causing the injuries and failing to tell Mr. Gallant about the risks of the treatment so he could give informed consent.

She essentially misled him to believe the procedure was virtually risk free, the judge said.

Some experts testified the manipulation likely tore an artery in the patient’s neck, triggering a clot that blocked blood flow to his inner ear, leaving him partially deaf, constantly off balance and suffering from tinnitus.

Dr. Brake-Patten’s lawyer could not be reached for comment. The chiropractor had argued she did inform Mr. Gallant of the risks, while her experts said the injuries likely resulted from a virus.

Cervical manipulations involve a chiropractor rapidly twisting the neck, a treatment for a type of spinal ailment that practitioners call “subluxations.” Chiropractors blame subluxations for a variety of medical complaints, although the phenomenon has little scientific backing.

Most research on the issue suggests manipulation can cause strokes by unintentionally tearing arteries in the neck that send blood into the brain, injuries called dissections.