My husband can tell you how annoyed I get whenever we are watching an action movie or show on TV in which the villain kills a victim by quickly twisting his neck. Part of me wants to laugh at how rediculous it is, but then I realize that people really believe this stuff. I’ve had so many patients who were terrified to have their necks adjusted because they watched too many of these movies. Let’s set the record straight: it is not possible to break someone’s neck by simply twisting it. I did a little research on this, and apparently there are ways to break someone’s neck that are taught in some martial arts and military training, but none of them involve twisting the neck. Usually it involves some type of headlock and then dropping the person to the ground to use their body weight to force the neck into extreme flexion or extension. Necks are primarily broken by either compression, such diving accidents and car accidents, or by sudden distraction, such as being hanged. The neck has several very strong muscles that prevent too much twisting. A forceful twist of the neck is much more likely to cause a muscle strain than a fracture.
So can a chiropractic adjustment break your neck? I don’t see how it would be possible, and I have never heard of it happening. Chiropractic adjustments actually use very little force. We rely more on speed and positioning to get a good adjustment. This takes years of training, so I don’t recommend people trying this at home. You may not be able to kill someone doing this, but you can give them a very sore neck if you don’t know what you are doing!
All this being said, if my patients are uncomfortable having their necks manipulated in this way, there are other options that do not involve twisting, such as drop-table adjustments, mobilization, Activator, traction, and trigger point release. I always try to tailor my treatment plan to a patient’s comfort level.