Paramedic, 23, Left Partially Paralyzed After Stretching Neck Caused A Stroke

Sometimes, even the most innocent thing can cause a severe health issue. While we are told that cracking the joints can bring nothing good our entire life, It seems that in most cases, an unfortunate incident or a first-had experience is a lesson well learned.

The story of a 23-year-old paramedic from Harrow in London shows the risks associated with cracking and popping the joints. After a night out, Natalie Kunicki was watching movies in bed with her friend. She stretched her neck and heard a loud crack, but she thought nothing of it.

Fifteen minutes after she fell asleep, she woke up to go to the washroom, and as she tried to get out of the bed, she collapsed.

She thought she was drunk or drugged, as she couldn’t walk, and didn’t want to call an emergency service, as she was embarrassed that they might tell her that she was just tipsy.

In reality, the crack in the neck had caused a vertebral artery to rupture, which led to a blood clot in her brain and triggered a stroke.

When she called in for help, the blood pressure and heart rate were extremely high, and she also had coordination issues.

When she arrived at the University College London Hospital, tests confirmed she had suffered a stroke and needed emergency surgery. The procedure lasted for three hours, and doctors found the burst artery and repaired it with a stent. Yet, they could not completely clear the blood clot in her brain.

After the surgery, the stroke diagnosis shocked the girl. Natalie was left “emotionless for days”, she needed help for even the simplest daily tasks, she felt a burning and tingling sensation throughout the left side of her body, couldn’t lift her arm or wiggle her toes, and needed a wheelchair.

She said:

“When the consultant told me I’d had a stroke I was in shock. The doctors told me later that just that stretching of my neck had caused my vertebral artery to rupture. It was just spontaneous and there’s a one in a million chance of it happening.

I don’t smoke, I don’t really drink and I don’t have any family history of strokes so it’s quite strange it happened to me when I was just moving in bed. 

I was just completely shut off, trying to compute what had happened. People said I was a bit like a robot and didn’t show much emotion.”

Yet, the rehabilitation process after a stroke is always long and tough. Yet, Natalie soon recovered movement and touch sensation on the left side and is expected to be able to return to work with light duties within a year.

Natalie added:

“The doctors just say things like “we’re hoping for a full recovery” and won’t give an exact time because they don’t want to get my hopes up. But I’m determined to get back to work as soon as I can. I just love it.”

Natalie used her case to raise awareness about this issue:

“People need to know that even if you’re young something this simple can cause a stroke. Mine was one in a million but a ruptured vertebral artery is actually quite a common cause of strokes in young people.”

Neck cracking is bad in many ways, and a 2003 study showed that it increases the risk of stroke by 6.62-fold.

Yet, the rupture of the vertebral artery may also result from other things, such as genetic predispositions,  artery weakness, hypermobility, neck accidents, and injuries.

When the blood supply to a brain area is cut off, one experiences a stroke. As the brain cells start to die, it causes brain injury, disability, or death. This medical condition requires immediate attention and treatment.

Therefore, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of a stroke: slurred speech or an inability to speak, inability to smile, the face drooping on one side, sudden confusion, and a sudden weakness and numbness that makes lifting both arms impossible.

It might be easier to remember the acronym F.A.S.T:

F – Face: Ask the person to smile and check if one face side droops

A-Arms: Ask the person to lift both arms to check if one arm lifts harder or drift downwards

S – Speech: Check for slurred speech

T – Time: It is time to call 911 if you see any of the above signs

One should never take a stroke lightly. The cause of Nathalie’s stroke may be a rare occurrence, but we should all try to lower our risk, by following a healthy lifestyle and ensuring the blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels are healthy.