Posted on January 15, 2013
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.
Posted on January 11, 2013
My husband can tell you how annoyed I get whenever we are watching an action movie or show on TV in which the villain kills a victim by quickly twisting his neck. Part of me wants to laugh at how rediculous it is, but then I realize that people really believe this stuff. I’ve had so many patients who were terrified to have their necks adjusted because they watched too many of these movies. Let’s set the record straight: it is not possible to break someone’s neck by simply twisting it. I did a little research on this, and apparently there are ways to break someone’s neck that are taught in some martial arts and military training, but none of them involve twisting the neck. Usually it involves some type of headlock and then dropping the person to the ground to use their body weight to force the neck into extreme flexion or extension. Necks are primarily broken by either compression, such diving accidents and car accidents, or by sudden distraction, such as being hanged. The neck has several very strong muscles that prevent too much twisting. A forceful twist of the neck is much more likely to cause a muscle strain than a fracture.
So can a chiropractic adjustment break your neck? I don’t see how it would be possible, and I have never heard of it happening. Chiropractic adjustments actually use very little force. We rely more on speed and positioning to get a good adjustment. This takes years of training, so I don’t recommend people trying this at home. You may not be able to kill someone doing this, but you can give them a very sore neck if you don’t know what you are doing!
All this being said, if my patients are uncomfortable having their necks manipulated in this way, there are other options that do not involve twisting, such as drop-table adjustments, mobilization, Activator, traction, and trigger point release. I always try to tailor my treatment plan to a patient’s comfort level.
Posted on January 9, 2013
During their initial consultation, I frequently have patients express concern about having their neck adjusted. They may have heard that cervical manipulation can cause a stroke, or they may have watched too many action movies in which giving a quick twist of the neck is an efficient way to kill someone instantly. (Side note: did you see the episode of Lost where Sayeed snaps a guy’s neck using only his legs? I had to laugh at that one!)
Whatever the reason, I can assure you that chiropractic adjustments are one of the safest forms of treatment for musculoskeletal complaints. In most cases, there are no negative side effects. In fact, most people report a sense of relief following an adjustment. Occasionally there may be some soreness at the aadjustment site, similar to post-workout soreness. Severe side effects are very rare, which is why we chiropractors enjoy one of the lowest malpractice rates among physicians.
Probably the most often cited and controversial serious side effect to neck adjustments is vertebal artery dissection. A very small percentage of the population has a compromised vertebral artery. With extension and rotation of the neck, this artery can tear, causing a stroke. What is controversial is the timing of the stroke. Early symptoms of a vertebral artery dissection include neck pain and headache, which may lead someone to a chiropractor. The person may then have a stroke in the hours or days following the adjustment. The question is, did the adjustment actually cause the stroke or would it have happened anyway? It could have just as easily happened by looking up at the stars, turning the head to back up the car, or getting a shampoo at the salon.
With all things considered, the best current evidence indicates that vertebral artery dissection is only associated with chiropractic manipulation in 1 of every 5.85 million adjustments. To put this in perspective, you are 585 times more likely to be struck by lightning and 58,500 times more likely to die in a car crash. You are more at risk driving to your appointment than you are on the adjusting table!