Category: Chiropractic History

Early chiropractic history

November 14th, 2009 — 9:35pm
Greetings. To begin, I’d like to acknowledge the fact that these letters are a bit “dense”. I tend to reject the advice of the practice “gurus” who encourage chiropractors to “keep it simple” when connecting with patients. I personally don’t appreciate being “talked down to” and try to respect my patient’s intelligence and interest from the same orientation.
Over the next several posts I’m going to provide some details about chiropractic history in the hopes of creating perspective on the current status of our profession. Although there is evidence that other cultures developed spinal care techniques for the purpose of improving health as far back as the Greeks, the specific art, philosophy and technique of chiropractic began in this country in 1895. A magnetic healer in Davenport, Iowa named D.D. Palmer discovered quite by accident that the relationship between the spine and the nervous system has profound implications for health. He embarked on a journey of exploration and discovery that led to the development of a radically different approach to health care from that of allopathic medicine. He called it chiropractic, which is Greek for ” practiced with hands”. The most significant departure was rooted in the philosophy and intent of the practice. Rather than interacting with the human body as a mechanical machine which breaks down and then needs to be fixed from the outside with chemical and surgical intervention, chiropractic relied on the understanding of the human body as a vitalistic, self- regulating and self-healing organism. It recognized the critical role that the nervous system plays in mediating that regulating and healing potential and began to develop methods of helping the body to improve the relationship between the spine and the nervous system. Chiropractic did not claim to treat or cure disease, but instead to provide a non-invasive and non-directive method of supporting the body’s relentless tendency towards healing and normal function; from the inside-out rather than outside-in.

Through the first 15 years chiropractic developed in a very open playing field. Medicine had not yet politically and legislatively asserted itself as the sole guardian of health care in this country and chiropractic quickly exploded in popularity, with schools springing up and people benefiting from chiropractic in rapidly increasing numbers. The scope of practice was not restricted to symptomatic treatment of musculo-skeletal pain since the chiropractic premise was that all function in the body is controlled by the nervous system and therefore there is no specific health issue which could not be improved through appropriate spinal care. The divergent philosophies and applications of chiropractic and medicine, combined with chiropractic’s surging popularity set the stage for a showdown over health care control which would rage into the second half of the 20th century. This period will be discussed in my next post.




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