A 28-year-old man in Oklahoma tore a vertebral artery in his neck that leads to his brain, causing him to suffer a stroke, ABC affiliate KOCO News reports. According to the news outlet, Josh Hader of Guthrie, Oklahoma ruptured the artery simply by cracking his neck.
“The moment I heard the pop, everything on my left side started to go numb,” Hader told KOCO. “I got up and tried to get an ice pack from the fridge, and I remember I couldn’t walk straight.”
Hader’s father-in-law took him to the emergency room, where doctors found Hader had gotten lucky. “He could have formed more clot on that tear and had a life-ending stroke. He could have died,” Vance McCollom, a doctor at Mercy Hospital, told KOCO.
But Hader wasn’t completely unscathed. KOCO reports a muscle attached to his eye was weakened because the nerve was injured. Hader had blurry and double vision, and had to wear an eye patch for several days. He also had to use a walker for a few days, and still has some trouble walking. Additionally, he had painful hiccups for a week and a half.
“If you want to pop your neck, just kind of pop it side to side. Don’t twist it,” McCollom told KOCO. “Whenever you twist it there’s a risk of tearing that vessel... I suspect he just turned it real sharp and up, sharp and up and back. That’s what really pinched it.”
This type of injury isn’t unheard of. A 2013 meta-study published in PLOS One found more 700 cases of strokes associated with chiropractic spine manipulation. And a case report from 2011 described a 42-year-old woman with a torn vertebral artery who repeatedly cracked her neck. Fortunately, she survived.
“Twelve days prior, [the patient] had had ‘the worst headache of her life,’ which began in her left lower cervical spine and extended to her left temporal region,” the case study reads. “[She] reported that she would regularly self-manipulate or ‘crack’ her neck to reduce neck pain. She reported that she had performed this self-manipulation of her neck several times a day for the past several years.”
Before McCollum went into surgery he apologized to his wife, according to the doctor who operated on him. “He wanted to tell his wife he was sorry that he had popped his neck,” McCollom told KOCO. “His wife had been telling him, ‘Don’t pop your neck. You’re going to cause a stroke.’”