As a cardiologist I was frequently encountered with puzzling cases of chest pain unrelated to the heart or occluded coronary arteries. There might also be shortness of breath, nausea, and pressure radiating around to the back. Diagnostics would show the cardiovascular system in working order. Since we couldn’t find any clues for the symptom, we would clear such patients, who were still experiencing chest pain, and send them to their doctor for further testing. These additional tests typically would also come up normal and they would emerge with a bottle of some kind of medication.

In 2010, I spoke with Martin Gallagher, M.D., D.C., a very rare breed of physician – both a medical doctor and a chiropractor. He was able to clear up the mystery of non-cardiovascular chest pain. “The majority of these cases involve spinal mechanical problems and are not due to loss of blood supply to the heart because of coronary artery problems. Rather, the vertebrae in the upper part of the neck, the middle of the back, or even the ribs may be misaligned and locked, affecting the nerves so that the chest wall starts to tighten. The chest muscles, ribs, heart, lungs, and stomach are controlled directly and indirectly by spinal nerves. Misalignments can interfere with these nerves and cause chest pain similar to cardiovascular angina. We call this spinal angina. Few people know about spinal angina and it is rarely diagnosed by medical doctors.

An evaluation by a qualified chiropractor, and a spinal manipulation, if needed, can provide effective relief. There are at least a hundred types of manipulations for fixing the situation. If, for instance, there are acid reflux symptoms associated with the spinal angina, we can do a soft tissue manipulation. The patient lies on his or her back. Right below the sternum there is a point we press down on as the patient breathes out. You can actually feel the stomach moving out of the diaphragm. It corrects a hiatal hernia and can instantly relieve chest pain.”

Both Dr. Gallagher and I are well aware that a chiropractic maneuver, or referring a patient to a chiropractor to check out possible spinal connection, would be the furthest thing in the mind of an emergency room physician.

“Today, with an aging population, this problem surfaces increasingly in ERs and medical clinics and physicians don’t know what to do with it,” Dr. Gallagher commented. “The docs just tell patients to take anti-inflammatories, do some stretching exercises, take some GERD medication, and decrease stress. All of these are legitimate recommendations, but the missing component is often a proper spinal manipulation.”

Sinatra, Stephen, Dr. “How Chiropractic Can Help.” HeartMD Institute. N.p., 2013. Web. 07 Feb. 2017.