Chiropractic History

Chiropractic is the scientific art of removing subluxations in the spine and other joints.  Subluxations are restrictions in the normal movement of the spine(or other areas) that put pressure on nerves and cause the affected nerve function to be diminished.

Daniel David Palmer
Daniel David Palmer

On September 18, 1895, an anatomist by the name of Daniel David Palmer was working in his school classroom in Davenport Iowa when he came upon his friend and school janitor, Harvey Lillard.  Harvey had been deaf in one ear from an accident roughly 17 years earlier.  Upon seeing Harvey that day, DD Palmer gave him an inadvertently hard “pat” on his back.  In the process Mr. Willard reported feeling something shift in his back and within a day, his previously lost hearing was returning in that ear!  Palmer repeated a similar maneuver the next day, but with a more specific purpose.  As stated that day, he “used the spinous and transverse processes as levers wherewith to rack the subluxated vertebrae into normal position, and from this basic fact, to create a science which is destined to revolutionize the theory and practice of the healing art…”

Harvey Lillard
Harvey Lillard

This sparked tremendous curiosity as to what occurred.  It shortly became termed a possible cure for deafness, but the same results could not be consistently repeated.  Some got better but not much.  Concurrently however, people who had other ailments were reporting improvement.  Logically, the same claims he attributed to restoring deafness were then shifted to the other ailments, but not consistently.  However, something was certainly worth the pursuit of study to finding out what actually made these “irreversible” conditions better.

Mr. Palmer continued his studies and became the father of chiropractic.  His teachings were well-regarded and people suffering from different afflictions improved.  And so, at the request of DD Palmer in 1895, Reverend Samuel H. Weed selected the Greek words, ‘cheir’ for ‘hand, and ‘praxis’ (from ‘practical’) meaning “to be efficient.”  So by definition, a CHIROPRACTOR is “one who is efficient with their hands.”

B.J. Palmer
B.J. Palmer

DD Palmer’s son, BJ Palmer also became a chiropractor, and only 9 years after that first adjustment, chiropractic care was challenged very early in its life.  In 1906 the osteopaths claimed that the chiropractors were doing the same thing that they were doing, and subsequently took the chiropractors to court.  In detailing the “spinal adjustment” and how it’s delivered as well as how it differs from osteopathic “manipulations” and what body systems the two disciplines affected, the case came down to two principal topics:

1) Chiropractors ADJUST SPECIFIC VERTEBRA, where the osteopaths MANIPULATED regions of the spine, and

2) Chiropractic care was directed at the Nervous System where as osteopaths were looking to affect change through the Circulatory System.  The case was subsequently dismissed and thrown out of court, noting that the 2 professions are not in competition with each other.

Years later, chiropractors were again under attack. At times they were sent to jail and told that they were practicing “medicine” without a license.  But they persisted in treating the population and also survived this attempt at abolishing the profession. If you need to see just exactly what kind of dedication these early chiropractors had for understanding how chiropractic affects the body as well as the benefits the profession offers, look no further than our chiropractic predecessors.  They fought EXTREMELY hard then for what we take for granted now, and it is to THEM that chiropractors owe thanks. (I remember hearing a story about a chiropractor who was ‘jailed’ a few times for treating patients without a “medical license” but kept getting released…only to find out that the judge was a patient of his!)

In 1964, the AMA -realizing that they were losing money on treatments that were not involving drugs or surgery – formed a “Committee on Quackery.”  This was designed to abolish ALL non-allopathic forms of health care, including Chiropractic, Acupuncture and Massage Therapy.  The AMA was taken to court for this behavior by Dr. Chester A. Wilk and – after 24 years of research and data against them – concluding in 1987, the chiropractic profession, represented by legal wizard George McAndrews from Chicago, handed the AMA the most significant courtroom defeats in American medical history for trying to create a giant medical monopoly as well as violating the Sherman Antitrust Act — which deals with the professional relationship between professions and treatment of patients between different disciplines.  Prior to this, medical students and doctors alike were told – and being taught – not to refer to these disciplines, especially chiropractors. To read more about it, CLICK HERE!

On April 10, 2010, I spent the day with Dr. Wilk and got to hear some of the inside stories not otherwise publicized by this case.  He is a man of tremendous passion for the profession and he has defended chiropractic from all sorts of attacks, but most notably  the Wilk vs. AMA case – as it’s come to be known.

Dr. Chester A. Wilk and myself, April 10, 2010


The chiropractic profession continues to flourish to this day.  It is currently the leading non-allopathic form of health care in the world.  It’s approaches to treat the spine and the cause and source of problems, considering that ALL nerve function traveling from the brain to the rest of the body HAS TO travel through the spinal column.  If the spinal column has an aberrant curve, misalignment, or other structural anomaly, the nervous system becomes compromised and therefore all its messages will not be received properly.  An example of this would be to interfere with a phone line — if they’re static in the line, the other person will not hear all your messages.

The art of delivering an adjustment has come a long way since 1895.  The adjustment techniques have been so refined that comfort is often experienced immediately afterward.  Research studies continue to show its effectiveness, as well as different clinical applications that are all designed to improve function and remove subluxations that occur to the human spine. Studies long ago showed it’s effectiveness, and in 1990 the Harvard Medical Journal credited chiropractic care with it’s ability to heal injuries more efficiently, keep the patients well for longer periods of time, and to cost less when compared alongside to typical medical approaches for the same injuries.  Since then, numerous research studies have concluded that chiropractic care is superior when compared to medical treatment.  In addition, patients receiving chiropractic care were more compliant, and also regarded their chiropractors’ advice as being more specific and useful than advice given to them by medical doctors.

See for yourself…

Chiropractic care addresses the cause of structural problems. No pill can make this claim, and chiropractic certainly has a niche to fill with regard to conservative treatment of most structural injuries. For example – the wait-and-see philosophy I’ve seen used by the medical profession is often the wrong approach when applied to scoliosis in children. Typically they’ll wait for a scoliosis to get over 20 degrees before intervening. But what do you do for those that are just under 20 degrees?…or are rapidly developing?  This is where chiropractic care can really benefit a patient, and I’ve seen the effects of a neglected scoliosis in patients that, if treated early with chiropractic, may not have ever occurred. For those who have never been treated, there is often apprehension and skepticism. I’m used to seeing this in the office, but I’m also used to seeing and being part of a defining moment in patients’ lives who get adjusted, and then wonder why they’d never done it before! Curiously, most of the skeptics had never been treated before, so even I question how their opinions were formed…afterall, how could someone hold such a strong opinion about something they have personally never tried?

Those who have had chiropractic care have learned to trust it and also enjoy the way they feel afterward.  Most first time patients believe they feel their best when coming in to the office, but realize shortly afterward that they become comfortable in their limited ranges of motion.  After being adjusted and having their previously limited ranges of motion restored, they realize that they had adapted to a shortened range-of-motion and never knew it!

So, if you’ve never been treated, give it a try…you have nothing to lose except subluxations and everything to gain, like nerve function and improved function as well as ranges of motion!