The History of Chiropractic Care
Chiropractic, a discipline rooted in the belief that spinal health is fundamental to overall well-being, has a rich and fascinating history. Developed in the late 19th century, chiropractic practices have evolved, faced challenges, and gained widespread acceptance over the years. This blog aims to take you on a journey through the history of chiropractic, exploring its origins, key figures, controversies, and the modern landscape of this alternative healthcare approach.
This is obviously an abbreviated description of the history of the profession for the sake of a blog, I encourage you to go forth and read the references listed at the bottom for more information about the profession’s origins and controversial past.
“Medicine says, all is matter, never mind.
Christian science says, there’s mind, never matter.
But Chiropractic says, there’s mind, working through matter”.
Unattributed Chiropractic Aphorism taken from Moore 19931
The History of Chiropractic Care
The history of chiropractic care is traced back to the United States in the late 19th century. In 1895, Daniel David Palmer, a spiritualist and magnetic healer with a keen interest in alternative medicine, made a ground-breaking discovery. Palmer claimed to have restored the hearing of a man named Harvey Lillard by performing the first Chiropractic adjustment of his spine1,2. Inspired by this success, Palmer developed the concept that misalignments or subluxations in the spine could lead to various health issues.
Palmer’s ground-breaking revelation laid the foundation for chiropractic as a distinct healthcare system. In 1897, he founded the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, which became the first formal institution dedicated to teaching chiropractic principles. The Palmer School of Chiropractic is known as the Fountain Head of Chiropractic teaching and philosophy.
DD Palmer is known as the founder of Chiropractic, his son B. J Palmer became the developer of chiropractic. In 1910, B. J Palmer introduced the use of X-rays to assess for Chiropractic subluxations3 and developed his father’s original hypotheses on subluxations, health and well-being.
Early Challenges and Legal Battles
The early years of chiropractic were marked by scepticism and opposition from the medical community. The concept of subluxations and the idea that spinal adjustments could cure various ailments were met with resistance. The American Medical Association (AMA) and other medical organizations actively campaigned against chiropractic, dismissing it as unscientific and potentially harmful.
Legal battles ensued, and chiropractors found themselves fighting for recognition and licensure in various states. The turning point came in 1987 when a landmark antitrust case, Wilk v. AMA, ruled that the AMA had engaged in a conspiracy to contain and eliminate the chiropractic profession. This decision marked a significant victory for chiropractors and contributed to a more accepting environment.
Scepticism is healthy for any medical or scientific discipline, as it demands rigorous testing and scrutiny of itself to prove it’s claims. Chiropractic is not exempt from this fact, and it has been testing its practices to prove its beneficial claims of improving patients’ health and well-being. Over the years, it has proven itself to be beneficial for many health complaints. The concept of subluxations remains controversial, but several authors continue to develop many different theories and hypotheses for this phenomenon4,5,14,6–13. In the UK, the General Chiropractic Council has relegated the term Chiropractic Subluxations and Subluxation Complexes to the history books15.
Evolution and Integration
Over the decades, chiropractic care has evolved, incorporating new techniques and approaches. Chiropractors began to emphasise not only spinal adjustments but also a holistic approach to wellness, addressing lifestyle factors, nutrition, and exercise.
In the latter half of the 20th century, chiropractic care has gained more mainstream acceptance. Chiropractors started working alongside medical professionals, and many healthcare plans began to cover chiropractic treatments. Research on the effectiveness of chiropractic interventions also contribute to its increasing credibility.
Modern Chiropractic Care
In the 21st century, chiropractic care has become a well-established and respected healthcare discipline. Chiropractors work in various settings, including private practices, multidisciplinary healthcare clinics, and sports medicine facilities. Chiropractors collaborate with other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive patient care.
The scope of chiropractic practice has expanded to include not only spinal adjustments but also preventive care, rehabilitation, and patient education. Chiropractors often work in conjunction with medical doctors, physiotherapists, and other healthcare providers to offer integrated and patient-centred treatment plans.
In the UK, Chiropractic has developed the Royal College of Chiropractors, which promotes quality, safety, and professionalism within the chiropractic profession. The Royal College also establishes clinical excellence in its various faculties including Sports Chiropractic, Pregnancy and Paediatrics, Orthopaedics and Animal chiropractic disciplines.
The history of chiropractic care is a testament to the resilience of a discipline that faced scepticism and legal challenges but has emerged stronger and more accepted. From its humble beginnings in the late 19th century to its integration into modern healthcare, chiropractic has come a long way. Today, it stands as a valuable and recognized approach to promoting overall health and well-being through the maintenance of spinal health, exercise, and lifestyle modifications for their patients.
I hope you found this blog post interesting and thought provoking. As I said in our last blog post, for some chiropractors and parts of the profession, subluxations are an important part of the profession, making the discussion delicate at times. I feel it is important for us to learn from our history and recognise where we come from, to see where we are going. To not discuss or teach these concepts, no matter how controversial, is detrimental to our development, in my opinion.
Thank you so much for reading this blog post, I hope you enjoyed it.
By Mark Spriggs DC, MChiro, MSc, PGCE, FRCC
- Moore JS. Chiropractic in America: The History of a Medical Alternative. 1st ed. The John Hopkins University Press; 1993.
- Palmer DD, Palmer BJ. The Science of Chiropractic, It’s Principles and Adjustments. 1st ed. The Palmer School of Chiropractic.; 1906.
- Young KJ, Bakkum BW. The Hangover: The Early and Lasting Effects of the Controversial Incorporation of X-Ray Technology into Chiropractic. Aust New Zeal Soc Hist Med. 2016;18(1):111-136. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5401/healthhist.18.1.0111
- Harrison DE, Oakley PA. Necessity for Biomechanical Evaluation of Posture , Alignment , and Subluxation . Part I . the 6 Subluxation Types That Satisfy Nelson ’ S Criteria for Valid Subluxation Theory. J Contemp Chiropr. 2018;1(August):9-19.
- Senzon SA. The Chiropractic Vertebral Subluxation Part 1: Introduction. J Chiropr Humanit. 2018;25:10-21. doi:10.1016/j.echu.2018.10.002
- Senzon SA. The Chiropractic Vertebral Subluxation Part 2: The Earliest Subluxation Theories From 1902 to 1907. J Chiropr Humanit. 2018;25:22-35. doi:10.1016/j.echu.2018.10.009
- Senzon SA. The Chiropractic Vertebral Subluxation Part 3: Complexity and Identity From 1908 to 1915. J Chiropr Humanit. 2018;25(Fig 1):36-51. doi:10.1016/j.echu.2018.10.003
- Senzon SA. The Chiropractic Vertebral Subluxation Part 4: New Perspectives and Theorists From 1916 to 1927. J Chiropr Humanit. 2018;25:52-66. doi:10.1016/j.echu.2018.05.001
- Senzon SA. The Chiropractic Vertebral Subluxation Part 5: The First Research Era From 1928 to 1949. J Chiropr Humanit. 2018;25(Fig 1):67-85. doi:10.1016/j.echu.2018.10.004
- Senzon SA. The Chiropractic Vertebral Subluxation Part 6: Renaissance of D.D. Palmer’s Paradigm From 1949 to 1961. J Chiropr Humanit. 2018;25(Fig 2):86-98. doi:10.1016/j.echu.2018.05.002
- Senzon SA. The Chiropractic Vertebral Subluxation Part 7: Technics and Models From 1962 to 1980. J Chiropr Humanit. 2018;25(Fig 1):99-113. doi:10.1016/j.echu.2018.10.005
- Senzon SA. The Chiropractic Vertebral Subluxation Part 8: Terminology, Definitions, and Historicity From 1966 to 1980. J Chiropr Humanit. 2018;25:114-129. doi:10.1016/j.echu.2018.10.006
- Senzon SA. The Chiropractic Vertebral Subluxation Part 9: Complexes, Models, and Consensus From 1979 to 1995. J Chiropr Humanit. 2018;25(Fig 1):130-145. doi:10.1016/j.echu.2018.10.007
- Senzon SA. The Chiropractic Vertebral Subluxation Part 10: Integrative and Critical Literature From 1996 and 1997. J Chiropr Humanit. 2018;25:146-168. doi:10.1016/j.echu.2018.10.008
- GCC. Guidance on Claims Made for the Chiropractic Vertebral Subluxation Complex. Gen Chiropr Counc. 2010;(February):7713. http://www.gcc-uk.org/UserFiles/Docs/What Can I Expect/Vertebral Subluxation Complex.pdf