Chiropractic practice was founded in 1985 in the United States by a man named Daniel David Palmer. D.D. Palmer was not a doctor, but was fascinated with finding the “root” of ailments in the human body. His hypothesis was that the cause of 95% of ailments in the human body could be attributed to “subluxations” (blockages along the spinal cord caused by nerve compressions due to misalignment of the vertebrae). The premise was that manipulations of the spinal cord could prevent or cure almost any disease or illness by keeping the nervous system free of interruption.
When the chiropractic system was first being developed, much of the philosophy that is was based on had a metaphysical bent to it, as Palmer claimed that misalignment interrupted the flow of “Innate Intelligence” through the body, resulting in dis-ease or dis-harmony in the body.
To discount chiropractic due to its less-than scientific beginnings would be as foolish as outright discounting today’s medical sciences, based on its theories at the turn of the last century, which included diagnosing “hysterical” women as having a womb that wandered unchecked throughout the body. Many things have changed in the last 100 years, although the stink of controversy has never quite left chiropractic.
A Short History
Chiropractic medicine is most commonly practiced in North America. The United States has approximately 70,000 practicing chiropractors, and Canada has about 5,000. Australia and the UK each have a respectable presence, with 2,500 and 1,200 respectively, and there are a few scattered among 50 other countries worldwide. While traditional medicine considers illness to be caused by outside factor such as germs, toxins, and viruses, chiropractic considers a more holistic, naturopathic approach which considers preventative treatment (in chiropractic’s case, though adjustments) to strengthen the body’s resistance.
Up until 1983, the American Medical Association (AMA) deemed it unethical for a medical practitioner to associate or refer to a chiropractor, as chiropractic practice was considered by the AMA to be “unscientific” and cult-like. The Federal Appeals Court of the United Stateds ruled that, while there were insufficient scientific studies to show that chiropractic is a valid form of healthcare, the AMA had been engaged in a “massive disinformation campaign” to undermine and discredit chiropractic in the eyes of insurers, patients, and medical community so that medical sciences could “maintain a medical physician monopoly over health care in [the United States].” The court ruling did concede to the fact that, while there was no scientific studies proving chiropractic’s effectiveness, there was anecdotal evidence to that effect.
While a lingering unease in the medical field regarding chiropractic’s dubious philosophical roots—that the root of all disease was linked to misalignment of the spine—remains, chiropractic has found a place in the holistic medical movement that has become increasingly popular in North American culture. Traditionally, holistic and naturopathic medicine, which looks at a host of factors including lifestyle, environment, nutrition, electromagnetic energies, and musculoskeletal conditions, have been met with suspicion in medical practice. These suspicions linger due to the fact that not all healing in holistic approaches have been established using scientific methodology.
Very little funding has been available to prove chiropractic methods as being scientifically sound, but chiropractic professionals have begun to see the validity in trying to establish its credibility using research and the publication of such research in peer-reviewed journals, as is the accepted practice in scientific research.
One of the roadblocks to this type of research has been dissention among the various practitioners of chiropractic. There are several schools of thought within the field of chiropractic, falling along a spectrum of adherence to the traditional or original philosophy that gave birth to chiropractic. Those practitioners who adhere to Palmer’s original theory are called “straight” practitioners. They analyze the spine and concentrate on correcting subluxations. These practitioners are not worried about diagnosing ailments, believing that alleviating the interference of sublixations in the spine will eliminate risk of illness. Straights do not believe in immunization, invasive surgery or drug treatment, and see chiropractic as a primary healthcare system, not as a complimentary practice to other forms of treatment.
After the straights come the “mixers,” who take the traditional methods and incorporate other diagnostic and treatment approaches, such as naturopathic remedies and physical therapy devices. They treat musculoskeletal issues after ruling out other possible disorders. While they still incorporate a form of sublixation, they redefine it as joint dysfunction.
Finally, there are reformers who focus more on chiropractic as treatment for non-disease-related ailments such as functional back disorders, causing back pain, neck pain, and stress headaches. Reformers see their role in healthcare as a complimentary treatment to other forms, such as are available in the medical field, or other holistic fields. Accepting their position as a complimentary treatment option, as well as rejecting the sublixation theory, puts the reformers on the outs with the many other factions of chiropractic.
One good way to find out if a chiropractor you are considering falls within your comfort level in his or her philosophical views of chiropractic is to ask him or her what diseases chiropractic treatment cannot benefit. A straight practitioner will see no limitations in their treatments, while a reformer will likely express that their limitations fall outside of anything other than musculoskeletal problems.
Before you go to a chiropractor, consult your medical doctor on whether or not your condition can be helped by the added chiropractic treatments. Make sure that a medical diagnosis precedes a chiropractic visit, as there is no scientific proof to date that chiropractic can treat ailments such as cancer, heart disease, kidney disease or other possible roots of your back pain.
Ask your potential chiropractor about their views on traditional medical treatments such as surgery and drugs, and make sure that their views are in line with your own. Be suspicious of chiropractors who push dietary supplements or herbs on you, and find out how this fits into their overall theory of chiropractic, which is traditionally against drug therapy. (Despite opinions to the contrary, herbal supplements can change the chemical balances in the body, much like drugs, so this would seem to be contradictory to chiropractic philosophy.) Also, be wary of chiropractors who don’t believe in immunization—especially for children—or who believe that children should receive adjustments and x-rays at a very early age.
Like any healthcare field, chiropractic will have its quacks, and will have its effective practitioners. Many people who see chiropractors on a regular basis find fast relief for several kinds of pain, largely to do with the back, neck and head. They also find, for the most part, that chiropractors take more time to listen to them, and they feel more personally cared for by chiropractic practitioners than traditional medical doctors. Even the AMA , in 1997, conceded that “manipulation has been shown to have a reasonably good degree of efficacy in ameliorating back pain, headache, and similar musculoskeletal complaints.” And that is not small praise from an association who, just 14 years previous, deemed consorting with chiropractors to be unethical practice.