(Investigator 132, 2010 May)
The word chiropractic comes from the Greek, cheir,
prakticos, (done by).
Although manipulative techniques to treat pain and disease similar to
those practiced in contemporary times have long been in use, it was not
until 1895, that it was re-introduced as a formal method of therapy by
a Canadian named Daniel David Palmer. Palmer performed a manipulation
on the neck of his janitor who had been deaf for seventeen years, and
as a result his hearing was restored. Palmer postulated that human
health was dependent on the unimpeded function of the nervous system,
that is, if the transmission of nervous impulses were blocked by what
he called 'subluxation' or an incomplete or partial dislocation of the
vertebrae, then this impingement on the nerves would interfere with
normal neurological functioning.
In practice then, chiropractic is the manual adjustment of the spine to
correct nerve interference and to restore health. While spinal
manipulation is perhaps beneficial for certain sport related illnesses
it is doubtful that as some claim, all illnesses are treatable this
Chiropractic is claimed to be a primary health care system and many
chiropractors embrace the holistic medicine philosophy, often including
dietary, exercise and nutritional advice as well as counseling on
healthy life-style habits. It is promoted as a means of overcoming low
back pain, disc disorders, chest, legs, arms, knees and shoulder pains,
digestive disorders, menstrual problems, emotional disorders, diabetes,
hay fever, asthma, heart problems, acne, ulcers and shingles.
Historically, conventional medical practitioners have displayed a
certain antipathy towards chiropractic, and have lobbied to keep it
outside the consensual health care system.
The anecdotal reports of patients who have continued to use
chiropractors have kept the field alive however, despite scientific and
medical studies which dispute both the theory and efficacy of
While most orthodox medical practitioners see chiropractic as a
competitive alternative approach to health care, given the expanding
curriculum in chiropractic training, the more sympathetic see the issue
to be where chiropractic fits into the overall picture of health care.
Of particular relevance, as in most cases where 'hands-on' contact
characterizes treatment, the patient's perception of the chiropractor
as a caring and humanistic healer is paramount in seeking their medical
Palmer's concern was primarily the spine and he confined his use of the
term "subluxation" to the thirty-one pairs of spinal nerves that travel
down the spine from the brain to a series of openings in the vertebrae.
A "luxation", in conventional medical terminology, is simply a
dislocation, usually of a joint. By extension, a "subluxation" is a
partial dislocation. The problem with the theory is that neither
chiropractors nor scientists have been able to confirm the existence of
a "subluxation", much less show that it leads to illness.
Studies carried out by Crelin (1973), and Stalker and Glymour (1985),
showed that subluxation does not exist. Dissected human spinal columns
were subjected by Crelin to various amounts of measured force, and he
was unable to demonstrate any pinching of the spinal nerves without
actually breaking the spine.
A 1986 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Office of the Inspector General, reported that 84% of 145 chiropractors
surveyed by telephone said that "subluxations" are not visible on
X-ray, but nearly half said that they "could always find something"
when billing Medicare. In 1990 Medicare paid $US181 million for the
chiropractic adjustment of these bony displacements of the spine called
"subluxations" that are not demonstrable on X-rays.
If, as chiropractors claim, a subluxation causes a particular illness
or disability, then once the adjustment has been made the problem
should disappear; there should be no need to continually attend a
chiropractor for further treatment. While some conditions are amenable
to manipulation, most are not and the reputation of alternati ve
treatments such as chiropractic rests on the odd dramatic cure, the
failures being ignored. Two other dangers associated with alternative
therapies are the possibility of delaying diagnosis of a serious
disease and of interfering with effective therapy (Crelin 1985).
The Sydney Morning Herald reported on May 4, 1995, that an
actor, Ms Vicki Luke, was awarded a total of $109,000. damages for
suffering a spinal injury caused by the manipulation of her spine
during treatment by a chiropractor.
The standard medical opinion of chiropractic is, that by ignoring the
processes by which organs and tissues relax and contract without direct
nervous stimulation – and still become diseased and damaged – the
chiropractic manipulation of the spine to treat patients is at best
simplistic and at worst, dangerous.
Ballentine, H.T. 1967. "Medicine and Chiropractic." Journal of the
American Medical Association. 200: 131-35.
Crelin, E.S. 1973. "A Scientific Test of Chiropractic Theory." American
Skrabanek, P. 1984. "Acupuncture and the Age of Unreason." The
Lancet, 11, 169-71.
Smith, R.L. 1969. At Your Own Risk: The Case Against Chiropractic.
Pocket Books. New York.
Stalker, D. and Glymour, C. (Eds). (1985). Examining Holistic
Medicine. Prometheus Books. Buffalo. NY.
Sydney Morning Herald, May 4, 1995. Actor entitled to at least
US Department of D.H.E.W. 1975. Acupuncture
Anesthesia. Washington DC. DHEW pub. No. (NlH) 75-784.
From: Edwards, H. A Skeptic's Guide to the New Age