History of Chiropractic


Chiropractic history began in 1895, started by D.D. Palmer in Iowa, who started a chiropractic school in 1896. The first chiropractic adjustment was on a partially deaf janitor, Harvey Lillard, who mentioned a few days later to Palmer that his hearing seemed better. The word "chiropractic" was coined from Greek root words.

Early chiropractic bore similarities to osteopathy and was criticized as practicing medicine without a license. Opposition from the medical profession led to many chiropractors, including D.D., being jailed.

In 1906, D.D.'s son B.J. Palmer took control of the Palmer school of chiropractic. B.J. began to accept the use of technology such as X-rays within chiropractic care. Dr. Solon Langworthy was the first to use the word "subluxation", and published the first book on chiropractic, called "Modernized Chiropractic" — "Special Philosophy — A Distinct System", in 1906.

Division within the profession has been intense, with mixers combining spinal adjustments with other treatments, and "straights" relying solely on spinal adjustments. A conference in 1975 spurred the development of chiropractic research.

Health care at the time chiropractic began

In 1895, the world was in the second industrial revolution, marked by innovation and creativity. Health care had emerged from the practice of heroic medicine. All varieties of treatments and cures including scientific medicine, vitalism, herbalism, magnetism and leeches, lances, tinctures and patent medicines were competing to be the new method for the century. Neither consumers nor many practitioners had much knowledge of either the causes of, or cures for, illnesses.[1] The theory of modern medicine, fueled by Louis Pasteur's refutation of the centuries-old spontaneous generation theory in 1859, was growing as Charles Darwin published his book on natural selection. The German bacteriologist Robert Koch formulated his postulates, bringing scientific clarity to what was a new field. Drugs, medicines and quack cures were becoming more prevalent and were unregulated. Concerned about what he saw as the abusive nature of drugging, MD Andrew Taylor Still[2] ventured into magnetic healing (meaning hypnotism) and bone-setting in 1875. He opened the American School of Osteopathy (ASO) in Kirksville, Missouri in 1892.[3]

The first chiropractic adjustment


Harvey Lillard 1906

                                 Daniel David Palmer (D.D. Palmer), a teacher and grocer turned magnetic healer, opened his office of magnetic healing in Davenport,
Iowa in 1886. After nine years,[4] D.D. Palmer gave the first chiropractic adjustment to Harvey Lillard, on September 18, 1895.

Palmer and his patient Harvey Lillard gave differing accounts of when and how Palmer began to experiment with spinal manipulation. Palmer recalled an incident in 1895 when he was investigating the medical history of a partially deaf man, Harvey Lillard. Lillard informed Palmer that while working in a cramped area seventeen years earlier, he felt a 'pop' in his back, and had been nearly deaf ever since. Palmer’s examination found a sore lump which indicated spinal misalignment and a possible cause of Lillard's deafness. Palmer corrected the misalignment, and Lillard could then hear the wheels of the horse-drawn carts in the street below. [5]

Palmer said "there was nothing accidental about this, as it was accomplished with an object in view, and the expected result was obtained. There was nothing 'crude" about this adjustment; it was specific so much so that no chiropractor has equaled it." [6]

However, this version was disputed by Lillard's daughter, Valdeenia Lillard Simons. She said that her father told her that he was telling jokes to a friend in the hall outside Palmer's office and, Palmer, who had been reading, joined them. When Lillard reached the punch line, Palmer, laughing heartily, slapped Lillard on the back with the hand holding the heavy book he had been reading. A few days later, Lillard told Palmer that his hearing seemed better. Palmer then decided to explore manipulation as an expansion of his magnetic healing practice. Simons said "the compact was that if they can make [something of] it, then they both would share. But, it didn't happen." [7]

Since D.D. Palmer's first claim of restoring hearing to Harvey Lillard, there has been controversy about whether a link actually could exist between the spinal adjustment and return of hearing. Critics asserted that a spinal adjustment cannot affect certain areas - like the brain - because the spinal nerves do not extend into the encephalon. Years later, V. Strang, D.C. illustrated several neurological explanations including the recognition that sympathetic nerves arising in the lateral horns of the upper thoracic levels of the spine form the upper cervical ganglion with postganglionic fibers ascending to supply, among other things, blood vessels of the brain. [8]

Early growth

Rev. Samuel Weed

After the case of Harvey Lillard, Palmer stated: "I had a case of heart trouble which was not improving. I examined the spine and found a displaced vertebra pressing against the nerves which innervate the heart. I adjusted the vertebra and gave immediate relief — nothing "accidental" or "crude" about this. Then I began to reason if two diseases, so dissimilar as deafness and heart trouble, came from impingement, a pressure on nerves, were not other disease due to a similar cause? Thus the science (knowledge) and art (adjusting) of Chiropractic were formed at that time."[5]

D.D. Palmer asked a patient and friend, Rev. Samuel Weed, to help
him name his discovery. He suggested combining the words cheiros and praktikos (meaning "done by hand") to describe Palmer's treatment method, creating the term "chiropractic." D.D. initially hoped to keep his discovery a family secret,[9] but in 1896 he added a school to his magnetic healing infirmary, and began to teach others his method. It would become known as Palmer School of Chiropractic (PSC, now Palmer College of Chiropractic). Among the first graduates were Andrew P. Davis MD, DO, William A. Seally, MD, B.J. Palmer (D.D.'s son), Solon M. Langworthy, John Howard, and Shegataro Morikubo. Langworthy moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa and opened the second chiropractic school in 1903, the American School of Chiropractic & Nature Cure (ASC & NC), combining it with what would become naturopathic cures and osteopathy.[10] D.D. Palmer, who was not interested in mixing chiropractic with other cures, turned down an offer to be a partner.

Changing political and healthcare environment

The early 19th century had seen the rise of patent medicine and the nostrum trade. Although some remedies were sold through doctors of medicine, most were sold directly to consumers by lay people, some of whom used questionable advertising claims. The addictive, and sometimes toxic, effects of some remedies, especially morphine and mercury-based cures (known as quicksilver or quacksilber in German), prompted the popular rise of less dangerous alternatives, such as homeopathy and eclectic medicine. In the mid 1800s, as the germ theory began to replace the metaphysical causes of disease, the search for invisible microbes required the world to embrace the scientific method as a way to discover the cause of disease.

In the U.S., licensing for healthcare professionals had all but vanished around the time of the Civil War, leaving the profession open to anyone who felt inclined to become a physician; the market alone determined who would prove successful and who would not. Medical schools were plentiful, inexpensive and mostly privately owned. With free entry into the profession, and education in medicine cheap and available, many men entered practice, leading to an overabundance of practitioners which drove down the individual physician's income.[11] In 1847, the American Medical Association (AMA) was formed and established higher standards for preliminary medical education and for the MD. At the time, most medical practitioners were unable to meet the stringent standards, so a "grandfather clause" was included. The effect was to limit the number of new practitioners.

In 1849, the AMA established a board to analyze quack remedies and nostrums and to enlighten the public about their nature and their dangers.[12] Relationships were developed with pharmaceutical companies in an effort to curb the patent medicine crisis and consolidate the patient base around the medical doctor. By the turn of the century, the AMA had created a Committee on National Legislation to represent the AMA in Washington and re-organized as the national organization of state and local associations.[12] Intense political pressure by the AMA resulted in unlimited and unrestricted licensing only for medical physicians that were trained in AMA-endorsed colleges. By 1901, state medical boards were created in almost every state, requiring licentiates to provide a diploma from an AMA-approved medical college.[11] By 1910, the AMA was a powerful force; this was the beginning of organized medicine.[13]

In 1880, the teaching profession had begun significant changes as well. Advances in chemistry and science in Germany created strong incentives to create markets for their new products. By 1895, the new "Kulturopolitik" ideology of "First teach them; then sell them" had begun creating the political pressure necessary to improve teaching in science and math in schools and colleges in the US. The medical schools were the first to suffer the attack; they were ridiculed as obsolete — inadequate — and inefficient. The crisis attracted the attention of some of the world's richest men. In 1901, John D. Rockefeller created the "Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research".[14] By 1906, the AMA’s Council on Medical Education had created a list of unacceptable schools. In 1910, the Flexner Report, financed by the Carnegie Foundation, closed hundreds of private medical and homeopathic schools and named Johns Hopkins as the model school. The AMA had created the nonprofit, federally subsidized university hospital setting as the new teaching facility of the medical profession, effectively gaining control of all federal healthcare research and student aid.[11]

Osteopathy vs chiropractic

As there was no constitutional or patent protection for new discoveries, the claims for the drugless healing professions took on a life of their own. In 1896, D.D. Palmer's first descriptions for chiropractic were strikingly similar to Andrew Still's principles of osteopathy established a decade earlier. Both described the body as a "machine" whose parts could be manipulated to produce a drugless cure. Both professed to affect the blood and nerves and promote health, though Palmer stated he concentrated on reducing "heat" from friction of the misaligned parts and Still claimed to enhance the flow of blood. Though Palmer publicly denied it, osteopaths claimed that he had even studied at Dr. Still's American School of Osteopathy. Palmer drew further distinctions by noting that he was the first to use the vertebral processes as levers.[4] Osteopaths began a nationwide campaign that resulted in the passing of legislation to protect their profession.

    Further information: History of osteopathic medicine in the United States

Medicine vs chiropractic

In September 1899, a medical doctor in Davenport named Heinrich Matthey started a campaign against drugless healers in Iowa, demanding a change in the statute to prevent drugless healers from practicing in the state and claiming that health education could no longer be entrusted to anyone but doctors of medicine.[14] Osteopathic schools across the country responded by developing a program of college inspection and accreditation.[4] D.D. Palmer, whose school had just graduated its 7th student, insisted that his techniques did not need the same courses or license as medicine, as his graduates did not prescribe drugs or evaluate blood or urine. In 1901, D.D. was charged with misrepresenting a course in chiropractic which was not a real science.[14] He persisted in his strong stance against licensure, citing freedom of choice as his cause. He was arrested twice more by 1906, and although he contended that he was not practicing medicine, he was convicted for professing he could cure disease without a license in medicine or osteopathy.

Dr Solon Langworthy, who continued to mix chiropractic at the ASC&NC, took a different route for chiropractic. He improved classrooms and provided a curriculum of study instead of the single course. He narrowed the scope of chiropractic to the treatment of the spine and nervous system, leaving blood work to the osteopath, and began to refer to the brain as the "life force". He was the first to use the word subluxation to describe the misalignment that narrowed the "spinal windows" (or intervertebral foramina) and interrupted the nerve energy. In 1906, Langworthy published the first book on chiropractic, Modernized Chiropractic" — "Special Philosophy — A Distinct System. He brought chiropractic into the scientific arena.

D.D. persuaded the Governor of Minnesota to veto legislation that would have allowed ASC&NC students to practice in his state. He did accept some of the concepts laid out by Langworthy. He introduced the concept of Innate Intelligence in 1904. Innate intelligence, he believed, was an entity which directed all the functions of the body, and used the nervous system to exert its influence.

After D.D.'s conviction in 1906, he was forced to turn over his interests in the PSC to his son, B.J., and wife, Mabel. D.D. relocated first to Oklahoma and then to California, leaving B.J. Palmer in charge of the PSC, the "Fountainhead of Chiropractic".

B.J. Palmer re-develops chiropractic

D.D. Palmer's student and son, B.J. Palmer, assumed control of the
Palmer School in 1906, and promoted professionalism and formal training in chiropractic, expanding enrollment to a peak of above 1,000 students in the early 1920s. Chiropractic leaders of the time often invoked religious imagery, and B.J. seriously considered declaring chiropractic a religion, deciding against this partly to avoid confusion with Christian Science. B.J. also worked to overcome chiropractic's initial resistance to the use of medical technology, by accepting diagnostic technology such as spinal X-rays (which he called spinography) in 1910.[9]

Prosecution of DCs for unlicensed practice after the conviction of D.D. Palmer and a previous charge against B.J. Palmer resulted in B.J. and several Palmer graduates creating the Universal Chiropractic Association (UCA). Its initial purpose was to protect its members by covering their legal expenses should they get arrested.[15] Its first case came in 1907, when Shegataro Morikubo DC of Wisconsin was charged with unlicensed practice of osteopathy. It was a test of the new osteopathic law. In an ironic twist, using mixer Langworthy's book Modernized Chiropractic, attorney Tom Moore legally differentiated chiropractic from osteopathy by the differences in the philosophy of chiropractic's "supremacy of the nerve" and osteopathy's "supremacy of the artery". Morikubo was freed, and the victory reshaped the development of the chiropractic profession, which then marketed itself as a science, an art and a philosophy, and B.J. Palmer became the "Philosopher of Chiropractic".

John F.A. Howard DC, Founder National College of Chiropractic 1906

The next 15 years saw the opening of 30 more chiropractic schools,
including John Howard's National School of Chiropractic (now the National University of Health Sciences) that moved to Chicago, Illinois. Each school attempted to develop its own identity, while B.J. Palmer continued to develop the philosophy behind his father's discovery. Fueled by the persistent and provocative advertising of recent chiropractic graduates, local medical communities, who had the power of the state at their disposal, immediately had them arrested. There were only 12,000 practicing chiropractors with more than 15,000 prosecutions for practicing medicine without a license in the first 30 years.[16] Tom Moore and his partner, Fred Hartwell, were able to successfully defend 80% through the UCA. B.J. would later note about those battles:

    "We are always mindful of those early days when UCA...used various expedients to defeat medical court prosecutions. We legally squirmed this way and that, here and there. We did not diagnose, treat, or cure disease. We analyzed, adjusted cause, and Innate in patient cured. All were professional matters of fact in science, therefore justifiable in legal use to defeat medical trials and convictions."[17]

His influence over the next several years further divided the mixers, or those who mixed chiropractic with other cures, from the straights who practiced chiropractic by itself.[10]

D.D. Palmer's last years

While B.J. worked to protect and develop chiropractic around the Palmer school, D.D. Palmer continued to develop his techniques from Oregon. In 1910, he theorized that nerves control health:

    "Physiologists divide nerve-fibers, which form the nerves, into two classes, afferent and efferent. Impressions are made on the peripheral afferent fiber-endings; these create sensations which are transmitted to the center of the nervous system. Efferent nerve-fibers carry impulses out from the center to their endings. Most of these go to muscles and are therefore called motor impulses; some are secretory and enter glands; a portion are inhibitory their function being to restrain secretion. Thus, nerves carry impulses outward and sensations inward. The activity of these nerves, or rather their fibers, may become excited or allayed by impingement, the result being a modification of functionating—too much or not enough action—which is disease."[5]

Before his sudden and controversial death in 1913, D.D. Palmer often voiced concern for B.J. Palmer's management of chiropractic. He challenged B.J.'s methods and philosophy and made every effort to regain control of chiropractic. He repudiated his earlier theory that vertebral subluxations caused pinched nerves in the intervertebral spaces in favor of subluxations causing altered nerve vibration, either too tense or too slack, affecting the tone(health) of the end organ and noted,

    "A subluxated vertebra . . . is the cause of 95 percent of all diseases. . . . The other five percent is caused by displaced joints other than those of the vertebral column."[5][18]

During the long-fought battle for licensure in California, in 1911 he wrote of his philosophy for chiropractic, and hinted at his plan for the legal defense of chiropractic:

    "You ask, what I think will be the final outcome of our law getting. It will be that we will have to build a boat similar to Christian Science and hoist a religious flag. I have received chiropractic from the other world, similar as did Mrs. Eddy. No other one has laid claim to that, NOT EVEN B.J. Exemption clauses instead of chiro laws by all means, and LET THAT EXEMPTION BE THE RIGHT TO PRACTICE OUR RELIGION. But we must have a religious head, one who is the founder, as did Christ, Mohamed, Jo. Smith, Mrs. Eddy, Martin Luther and other who have founded religions. I am the fountain head. I am the founder of chiropractic in its science, in its art, in its philosophy and in its religious phase. Now, if chiropractors desire to claim me as their head, their leader, the way is clear. My writings have been gradually steering in that direction until now it is time to assume that we have the same right to as has Christian scientists."[19]


   1. ^ "The Chiropractic Profession and Its Research and Education Programs", Final Report, pg 41, Florida State University, MGT of America, December 2000 [1]

   2. ^ Autobiography of Andrew Still

   3. ^ Still National Osteopathic Museum

   4. ^ a b c Keating J. D.D. Palmer's Lifeline [2]

   5. ^ a b c d Palmer, D.D. (1910) The Science, Art and Philosophy of Chiropractic Portland, Oregon: Portland Printing House Company

   6. ^ Daniel David Palmer short history

   7. ^ Westbrooks B (1982). "The troubled legacy of Harvey Lillard: the black experience in chiropractic". Chiropr Hist 2 (1): 47–53. PMID 11611211.

   8. ^ Strang, V (1984) Essential Principles of Chiropractic Davenport : Palmer College of Chiropractic, OCLC: 12102972

   9. ^ a b Martin SC (1993). "Chiropractic and the social context of medical technology". Technol Cult 34 (4): 808–34. doi:10.2307/3106416. PMID 11623404.

  10. ^ a b Keating J. Chiropractic History: A Primer,Sutherland Companies [3]

  11. ^ a b c Goodman J, Musgrave G (1992)How The Cost-Plus System Evolved , excerpted from: John C. Goodman and Gerald L. Musgrave Patient Power Washington, DC: Cato Institute W67 [4]

  12. ^ a b AMA Web site, AMA History 1847 - 1899,Retrieved May 27,2006[5]

  13. ^ Healthcare history timeline

  14. ^ a b c Lerner, Cyrus. Report on the history of chiropractic (unpublished manuscript, L.E. Lee papers, Palmer College Library Archives) [6]

  15. ^ Keating J. (1999), Tom Moore Defender of Chiropractic Part 1, Dynamic Chiropractic

  16. ^ Hug PR , A Century of Organized Chiropractic, ACA website

  17. ^ Keating J. BJ Palmer Chonology

  18. ^ Keating J.(1996).Early Palmer Theories of Dis-ease

  19. ^ Palmer D.D. (1911). D.D. Palmer's Religion of Chiropractic

  20. ^ a b c Phillips R (1998), Education and the Chiropractic Profession, Dynamic Chiropractic

  21. ^ Moore J (1995). "The neurocalometer: watershed in the evolution of a new profession.". Chiropr Hist 15 (2): 51–4. PMID 11613400.

  22. ^ Chiropractic History Archives Neurocalometer

  23. ^ Ernst E (2008). "Chiropractic: a critical evaluation". J Pain Symptom Manage 35 (5): 544–62. doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2007.07.004. PMID 18280103.

  24. ^ "Position Paper One — What is Objective Straight Chiropractic?". Foundation for the Advancement of Chiropractic Education (F.A.C.E.). Retrieved on 2008-03-24.

  25. ^ Mirtz TA, Long P, Dinehart A et al. (2002). "NACM and its argument with mainstream chiropractic health care". J Controv Med Claims 9 (1): 11–8.

  26. ^ Kaptchuk TJ, Eisenberg DM (1998). "Chiropractic: origins, controversies, and contributions". Arch Intern Med 158 (20): 2215–24. doi:10.1001/archinte.158.20.2215. PMID 9818801.

  27. ^ Joseph C. Keating, Jr (2002). "The Meanings of Innate" (PDF). J Can Chiropr Assoc 46 (1): 10.

  28. ^ Jones RB, Mormann DN, Durtsche TB (1989). "Fluoridation referendum in La Crosse, Wisconsin: contributing factors to success" (PDF). Am J Public Health 79 (10): 1405–8. PMID 2782512.

  29. ^ Homola S (2006), Can Chiropractors and Evidence-Based Manual Therapists Work Together? An Opinion From a Veteran Chiropractor

  30. ^ Keating J (1990), A Guest Review by Joseph C. Keating, Jr., PhD. Associate Professor, Palmer College of Chiropractic-West Dynamic Chiropractic

  31. ^ a b Keating J Faulty Logic & Non-skeptical Arguments in Chiropractic

  32. ^ a b Phillips R (2003), Dynamic Chiropractic Truth and the Politics of knowledge

  33. ^ Robbins J (1996),Medical monopoly: the game nobody wins - excerpt from 'Reclaiming Our Health: Exploding the Medical Myth and Embracing the Source of True Healing', Vegetarian Times available online

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