The Case for Case Reports

This section is compiled by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
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Paul Mullin, D.C. of Palmer University has generously donated this article to us for your continued use.
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Paul D. Mullin, D.C.

Research Forum 1985 (Summer); 123124

Abstract:   The technique for preparing a case report is presented. The use of the case report as a vehicle for the practicing chiropractor to present significant Clinical Findings is discussed.

The chiropractic profession has contributed little to the scientific literature (as of 1985, when this article was written). This is not due to a lack of clinical data, but rather a failure to write in a form recognized by the scientific community. The case report may provide a vehicle for introducing chiropractic clinical findings to scientific journals. Many other benefits may be derived from case reports:

  1. The case report represents "the first phase of clinical research". 1 It provides the basis, stimulus, and direction for further research.

  2. Case reports are written by clinicians for clinicians to share clinically useful information.

  3. Case reports are of great interest to clinicians since they are linked to the care of actual patients. 2 Case reports are not difficult to write and may provide a vehicle for those not involved in formal clinical research projects to present their findings. A case report may be a clinician's first significant paper. 3

  4. The writing of a case report focuses and solidifies the author's thoughts.

  5. Case reports may help to establish new standards of care.

The case report is an accurate, brief, and clear narrative report of a clinical experience. It requires the same rigorous analytical thinking and as much attention to detail as other research papers. 4   Hutht 5 states:

"Three kinds of case reports still occasionally merit publication:

(1)   the unique or nearly unique case that may represent a previously undescribed syndrome or disease

(2)   the case with an unexpected association of two or more diseases or disease manifestations that may represent an unsuspected casual relation

(3)   the case with an unexpected evolution suggesting a therapeutic effect or an adverse drug effect

The last two kinds of reports should open a vast area of publications for chiropractors. It may be useful to restate the last two reasons for reporting a case from a chiropractor's perspective:

    1. The unexpected association of a chiropractic subluxation and an attendent or resultant disease or condition. For example, the association between a chiropractic subluxation and bursitis or migraine headache.

    2. The case with an unexpected evolution suggesting a therapeutic effect or adverse effect of a chiropractic adjustment. An example may be the therapeutic effect of a chiropractic adjustment with regard to migraine headaches or, conversely, an adverse effect of a chiropractic adjustment with regard to vertebral artery sclerosis. Perhaps chiropractors have come to take these associations and results for granted.

Publishing case reports in refereed, indexed scientific journals is a way to advance the profession and contribute to the pool of scientific knowledge. Several factors are involved in writing a case report. Preliminary steps include:

    1. Compiling complete case records. These would also be required to support any narrative report.

    2. Selection of a case or cases for publication which will provide useful information to the journal's readers. 6

    3. Reviewing the literature on the specific topic to be reported. The review is usually relatively brief. Any college library should provide access to Index Medicus or the Medline file, both of which are a source of citations of published papers. Index Medicus is a periodical published by the National Library of Medicine, and Medline is a computer data base form of Index Medicus which may be quickly searched on-line and is available at minimal cost. The Index to Chiropractic Literature, which began in 1980 as a project of The Chiropractic Library Constortium (CLIBCON) and the Chiropractic Research Archives, published by Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, are available at chiropractic college libraries. The latter publication covers indexes from both the chiropractic and medical literature and includes citations and abstracts of interest to the chiropractic profession. Other chiropractic literature is not indexed.

The outline for a case report is fairly standard and consists of:

    1. Introduction
    2. Description of the case
    3. Comment or discussion
    4. Summary or conclusion

It may also include references, tables, graphs, illustrations and legends. 4 Case reports are ordinarily 700-900 words in length. 7

The Introduction consists of a paragraph stating why the case is worth reporting. That is, how the case meets the criteria mentioned earlier, and how the literature search support it. This will often involve cases familiar to chiropractors, but not previously published in refereed, indexed journals. For example, the introduction of a report entitled, "Trigeminal Neuralgia and Chiropractic Adjustments" may read:

Lay 8 in 1975 reported the management of trigeminal neuralgia by manipulation of cranial, spinal and sacral articulations. This treatment was found helpful and especially in cases diagnosed early. Pike 9 in 1984 hypothesized that ischemia of the spinal nucleus of the trigeminal nerve was a possible cause of trigeminal neuralgia and suggested that adjustments of the spinal articulations may relieve the neuralgia. This paper reports relief of trigeminal neuralgia following chiropractic adjustments.

The description of the case consists of a narrative of the salient features of the case:

  1. Biographical information age, sex, race and occupation.

  2. Historical information with regard to the patient's chief symptoms and especially the "present illness" and "past history" including previous diagnosis and treatment.

  3. Physical examination relevant chiropractic and other physical findings.

  4. Special studies radiographic, laboratory and others which support and document the diagnosis.

  5. Therapeutic management of the case program of adjustments, diet instructions, exercise or activity instructions to mention only a few.

  6. The patient's clinical course which signs and symptoms were altered and the patient's current status.

  7. Potential complications

The Discussion consists of an unbiased presentation of the implications of the case; literature or previous cases which may support or refute the authors findings are discussed. The author may present alternative explanations if he/she is aware of them.

The Conclusion consists of a brief summary of the significant aspects of the case and their clinical importance. It may also be appropriate to suggest further studies in the area reported. There are good examples of case studies in The Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics. A two-part article by DeBakey and DeBakey 4,   10 provides further guidelines for preparation of case reports.


  1. Jamison JR
    Educational preparation for chiropractic clinical research
    J Manipulative Physiol Ther 1984 (Jun); 7 (2): 109-117

  2. Petrosa ER, Weiss GB
    Writing case reports: an educationally valuable experience for house officers
    J Med Educ. 1982 (May); 57 (5): 415-417

  3. Willis J
    The chiropractic case report.
    ACA J Chiropractic 1980; 17: 30-32

  4. DeBakey L, DeBakey S
    The case report I: Guidelines for preparation
    Int J Cardiol. 1983 (Oct); 4 (3): 357-364

  5. Huth EJ
    How to write and publish papers in the medical sciences.
    Philadelphia: 151 Press 1982: 58-64

  6. Nahum AM
    The clinical case report: "Pot Boiler" or scientific literature?
    Head Neck Surg 1979 (Mar); 1 (4): 291-292

  7. Soffer A
    Case reports in the archives of internal medicine
    Arch Intern Med 1976; 136-1090

  8. Lay EM
    The osteopathic management of trigeminal neuralgia
    J Am Osteopath Assoc 1975 (Jan); 74 (5): 373-389

  9. Pike GD
    Trigeminal neuralgia - a hypothesis
    ACA J Chiropractic 1984; 18:61-67

  10. DeBakey, L, DeBakey S
    The case report II: Style and Form
    Int J Cardiol 1984 (Aug); 6 (2): 247-254


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