While chiropractic as an actual organized profession did not come about until the early 1900’s, there is evidence of spinal and joint manipulation for the relief of back pain as far back as 2700 B.C. in ancient Chinese and Greek literature. Good old Hippocrates himself recommended: “Get knowledge of the spine, for this is the requisite of many diseases.”
The chiropractic profession has a very colorful and controversial history. It was founded by spiritualist and magnetic healer D.D. Palmer in Davenport, Iowa in 1895. He got the idea when he supposedly restored a man’s hearing by manipulating a vertebra in his neck. Based on this event and his knowledge of human anatomy, D.D. devised a theory that went something like this:
1. The brain and spinal cord controls all the functions of the body.
2. The spinal column surrounds and protects the spinal cord.
3. Small misalignments, or “subluxations”, can irritate or compromise the spinal nerves that go from the spine to the muscles and organs.
4. These subluxations lead to dysfunction and “dis-ease” in the body.
Early chiropractors adhered very strictly to this theory, claiming that subluxations were the root cause of almost all health problems. The early chiropractic profession was more akin to a religious cult than a form of healthcare. As a result, many early chiropractors were thrown in jail for “practicing medicine without a license”. Some modern chiropractors (“straight” or traditional chiropractors) still follow this dogma religiously, but most realize that well-being depends on several factors, such as genes, diet, lifestyle, and germs.
Despite these setbacks, the chiropractic profession gained popularity and acceptance during the 20th century, eventually being recognized as a true profession in all fifty states. There is ample evidence now for the effectiveness of chiropractic care for several musculoskeletal problems, although chiropractic manipulation’s effect on other diseases is still somewhat controversial. There are now 18 accredited four-year postgraduate chiropractic colleges in the U.S., and several more abroad. Chiropractors have to pass both state and national boards in order to be licensed and must complete 12 hours of continuing education every year to keep a license.
In case you are wondering where I stand in regards to chiropractic theory:
My undergraduate training was in biotechnology, and I have always tended to have more faith in science and reason than religion. Based on the scientific literature and my own experience, I believe that chiropractic manipulation, in addition to soft-tissue work and exercises, is the most effective treatment for many musculoskeletal conditions. I also believe that a spinal nerve that is being irritated may cause dysfunction of the organs as well. How else can I explain how some patients tell me that their constipation or asthma is relieved after getting adjusted? However, I certainly do not believe that subluxations are the cause of all disease. The human body is very complex and there are usually many causitive factors in each disease. But I do believe that for optimal health, one should get adjusted regularly in addition to eating healthy, exercising, taking vitamins, managing stress, and getting enough sleep.