(Investigator 162, 2015 May)


While the ongms of spinal manipulation date back to ancient times, it was curtailed during the Dark Ages in Europe due to superstition. During the Middle Ages, spinal manipulation resurfaced and enjoyed popularity under the name bone-setting.

Modern chiropractic owes its establishment as an alternative healing practice to Daniel David Palmer (1845-1913), a former magnetic healer who concluded that misaligned vertebrae were the principal cause of disease.

According to most recountings, Palmer thought he cured a janitor of deafness by putting a misaligned vertebrae back into position. He opened the first school of chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, in 1897.


Chiropractic's underlying premise is that the vertebrae frequently become misaligned due to injury, stress, and poor posture. These are called "subluxations." According to chiropractic, when nerve transmission to a particular organ or part of the body is impaired, it causes dysfunction, pain and illness.


In practice, there are two main philosophies "straight" and "mixers." The former is narrow in scope, dealing only with spinal adjustments. The latter utilises a variety of adjunctive therapies, vitamin therapy and nutritional counselling. Physical manipulation is employed to correct misalignments.


Few if any "alternative" practices have provoked as much criticism from medical practitioners as chiropractic — and not without good reason.

The basic tenet of chiropractic is the vertebral subluxation defined as:

"...misalignments creating pressure on nerve tissue, and thus interfering with the conduction of nerve impulses to other parts of the body".

In vitalistic theory it is claimed that spinal "subluxations" mechanically interfere with nerve flow, weakening organs served by the nerves and making them more susceptible to disease ... thus, "subluxations" are the primary "cause" of the disease and restoration of nerve flow is essential to healing.

The physiological fact is however, that if there is a partial blockage of impulses in a nerve fibre ... although the impulse is transmitted more slowly, it resumes all its characteristics as soon as it reaches normal tissue. Thus it is impossible for a partial blockage of nerve impulses in a particular zone to affect the flow. Furthermore, experiments by anatomists on the spinal column have shown that any suggestion of a connection between spinal nerves, specific body regions and organs is erroneous. (Cretin 1973).

Edmund S. Crelin, Ph.D., a prominent anatomist from Yale University, tested the "subluxation" theory by studying the spines of three adults and three children within a few hours of their deaths. While twisting each spine with a drill press, he observed the spinal nerves and the openings through which they passed. Even with a greater force than could occur in a living person, no nerve compression took place.

Chiropractic theory has failed tests of both validity and reliability. The "subluxation" foundation on which its tenets rest has never been demonstrated to exist. Even Palmer's original claim to have cured deafness by manipulation suggests that he was not aware that the nerve which conveys sound information from the ears to the brain does not pass through the neck.

"Modern" chiropractors define "subluxations" in other ways, many of which involve "fixation" or restriction of spinal joint motion. However, the vast majority of chiropractors still exaggerate the significance of the spine and its relationship to health.

The risks associated with forceful neck manipulations include the possibility of stroke and paralysis. A survey by the Stanford (University) Stroke Center (Lee c 1995), found that within a two year period, fifty-six strokes had occurred among patients within twenty-four hours after receiving neck manipulation by a chiropractor.

In 1963, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Province of Quebec submitted a brief to the Royal Commission on Chiropractic, which was appointed by the Quebec legislature to study the chiropractic question. The brief was prepared by the college in an effort to persuade the Royal Commission that the licencing of chiropractors in Quebec was not in the best interests of the public health.’’

In part, the brief examined the existence or absence of scientific data in support of basic chiropractic theories and the findings were presented in an objective and scientific manner. In its summary, the brief concluded that chiropractic is a false theory and that it is potentially dangerous. Since 1973, when the American Congress included chiropractic under Medicare, hundreds of millions of dollars have been paid out for treatment by something that doesn’t exist. 


Ballantine, H.T. 1967. "Medicine and Chiropractic." Journal of the American Medical Association. 200:131-35.

Barrett, Stephen. & Jarvis William T. (Eds.) 1993. The Health Robbers, in The Spine Salesmen p.161-190. Prometheus Books.

Beck, Brian L. 1991. Magnetic Healing, Spiritualism and Chiropractic: Palmer's Union of Methodologies, 1886-1895. Chiropractic History, Vol. 11, No.2.

Crelin, E.S. 1973. "A Scientific Test of Chiropractic Theory." American Scientist 61:574-580.

Jarvis, William. 1991. In  The Hundredth Monkey and Other Paradigms of the Paranormal. Prometheus Books, Buffalo NY.

Lee, et al. 1995. 'Neurological complications following chiropractic manipulation', Neurology. 45:1213-15.

Magner, George. 1995, Chiropractic: The Victim's Perspective, Prometheus Books.

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
, 1995. Actor entitled to at least $100,000. May 4.

The New Physician
. 1966. The Scientific Brief Against Chiropractic. September, 1966.

From: Edwards, H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic & Spiritual Healing, Australian Skeptics Inc.