Chiropractic History

By August 29, 2014Articles
The actual profession of chiropractic – as a distinct form of health care — dates back to 1895. However, some of the earliest healers in the history of the world understood the relationship between health and the condition of the spine. Hippocrates advised: “Get knowledge of the spine, for this is the requisite for many diseases.”

 Herodotus, a contemporary of Hippocrates, gained fame curing diseases by correcting spinal abnormalities through therapeutic exercises. If the practice member was too weak to exercise, Herodotus would manipulate the practice members’s spine. The philosopher Aristotle was critical of Herodotus’ tonic-free approach because, “he made old men young and thus prolonged their lives too greatly.”

Adjustment of the spine was still crudely and misunderstood until Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer discovered the specific spinal adjustment. He was also the one to develop the philosophy of chiropractic which forms the foundation for the profession.

“I am not the first person to replace subluxated vertebrae, but I do claim to be the first person to replace displaced vertebrae by using the spinous and transverse processes as levers…and to develop the philosophy and science of chiropractic adjustments.” D.D. Palmer, Discoverer of Chiropractic I

The following information is a synopsis of chiropractic’s rich and colourful history. Much of the following has been sourced from the text by Walter Wardwell, PhD., entitled, “Chiropractic: History and Evolution of a New Profession” Published by Mosby, 1993.

The Early Years… Dr. Daniel David Palmer – The Father of Chiropractic

The first chiropractic adjustment was performed in Davenport, Iowa in the year 1895 by a man named Daniel David Palmer. D.D. Palmer was a frontier renaissance man. During his lifetime, Palmer would be a school teacher, a farmer–developing a new variety of raspberry, which he called “Sweet Home”–a grocer and eventually practicing as a “Magnetic Healer” in Davenport for a number of years prior to founding chiropractic.

Contrary to what its name suggests, magnetic healing had nothing to do with magnets. Rather it was a cross between massage and meridian therapies–which is based upon the concepts of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Magnetic healing rose up as an alternative to mainstream medicine at the end of the civil war. In 1895 it was still common for medical doctors to use blood letting as a method for curing disease.

D.D. Palmer’s own words describing his magnetic healing practice…

“In 1886 I began as a business. Although I practiced under the name of magnetic, I did not slap or rub, as others. I questioned many M.D.s as to the cause of disease. I desired to know why such a person had asthma, rheumatism, or other afflictions. I wished to know what differences there were in two persons that caused on to have certain symptoms called disease which his neighbour living under the same conditions did not have…In my practice of the first 10 years which I named magnetic, I treated nerves, followed and relieved them of inflammation. I made many good cures, as many are doing today under a similar method.”

As the above quotation states, Palmer was interested in finding the true cause(s) of disease. He wanted to know why two people who lived in the same house, drank the same water, breathed the same air and often had the same parents, could have two dramatically different constitutions, one being healthy and free of disease and the other sickly. Palmer felt that there must be something other than environmental factors or bad luck that influenced an individual’s health. His theory was that this internal factor was the function of the nervous system. On September 18, 1895, D.D. Palmer would have the chance to prove his theory.

“Harvey Lillard a janitor in the Ryan Block, where I had my office, had been so deaf for 17 years that he could not hear the racket of a wagon on the street or the ticking of a watch. I made inquiry as to the cause of his deafness and was informed that when he was exerting himself in a cramped, stooping position, he felt something give way in his back and immediately became deaf. An examination showed a vertebrae racked from its normal position. I reasoned that if that vertebra was replaced, the man’s hearing should be restored. With this object in view, a half-hour’s talk persuaded Mr. Lillard to allow me to replace it. I racked it into position by using the spinous process as a lever and soon the man could hear as before. There was nothing “accidental” about this, as it was accomplished with an object in view, and the result expected was obtained. There was nothing “crude” about this adjustment; it was specific, so much so that no Chiropractor has equaled it.”

Palmer felt that Lillard’s hearing loss was due to a blockage of the spinal nerves which control the inner ear. This nerve blockage, in Palmer’s estimation, was caused by an irritation of the spinal nerves by a misaligned vertebrae. When Palmer corrected the misalignment by pushing the vertebrae back into place, the nerve pathways were reopened and thus Lillard’s hearing was restored. Today we know that the mechanism involved with spinal misalignments (The Vertebral Subluxation Complex) is much more complicated than originally postulated by Palmer. However, Palmer’s basic concept of nervous system interference adversely effecting health has held true over the last 100 plus years.

The term “chiropractic” was first coined by D.D. Palmer’s close friend, the Reverend Samuel H. Weed. The term chiropractic was taken from the two Greek words:

Cheir (Chiro), Meaning “Hand”

Praxis (Practic), Meaning “Practice”

Thus chiropractic means “Done by Hand”

In 1898 Palmer took on his first chiropractic student. That fist year there was one student, in 1899 there were three and four in 1902. The course was six months in duration and cost $500. Among those four students in 1902 was D.D.’s twenty year old son Bartlett Joshua Palmer (know as B.J.). It is also interesting to note that five of D.D.’s first fifteen students were either M.D.s or D.O.s.

Dr. B. J. Palmer – The Developer of Chiropractic

Palmer son, B.J. would become the most significant figure in chiropractic’s first fifty years. He took over the day to day running of the Palmer School and Infirmary of Chiropractic in 1902.

B.J. was a much more flamboyant spokesmen for chiropractic than his father. It was during his tenure at the Palmer School that chiropractic would grow and fight its first battles with the medical profession. In fact, during 1903 B.J. would be charged with practicing medicine without a license. During the prosecution of his case B.J. would be forced to close down the school until sometime in 1904. The indictment was eventually thrown out, but B.J. would not be allowed to practice chiropractic, however, he was still able to teach it and in 1905 held the first official graduation from the Palmer School.

First Use of X-Rays

Besides writing the first chiropractic textbook and running the first chiropractic college, D. D. Palmer’s son B. J. pioneered in imaging technology. In 1910, he became one of the first health educators in the world to include the new, X-ray imaging technology or, as he called it, “spinography” into the Palmer curriculum. X-rays had been discovered in France in 1895, the same year chiropractic was born.

Turbulent History

Chiropractic’s history has been anything but ‘plain sailing’. The attacks on this renegade profession by the vested interests of the medical and pharmaceutical cartels have been unrelenting. The constraints imposed on chiropractic by the media and government is nothing short of criminal. And yet, despite all of this, chiropractic is now the third largest health care discipline in the world.

Chiropractic has ‘seeded’ numerous other professions including a whole range of Kinesiologies, Touch for health, Bowen and Emotional release techniques to name a few.

Although the profession has advanced tremendously since the days of D.D. and B.J., the basic tenets and understanding of chiropractic as a drug-free method of correcting vertebral subluxations in order to remove nerve interference still stand.

Additional resources

http://www.historyofchiropractic.org/