Chiropractic Turns 117! What IS it?

September 18, 2012 by Thorin Gault D.C.

September 18th is Founder’s day, which commemorates the discovery of chiropractic by D.D. Palmer in 1895 in Davenport, Iowa (where I attended chiropractic school). The fact that my profession has lasted 117 years in spite of all of the legal turmoil, attacks by the medical profession and in-fighting amongst chiropractors themselves is a true testament to the results and benefits people receive from its application.

But What IS It?

You would think that after 117 years, chiropractic would hold a solid identity that the population is well aware of. Nothing could be further from the truth! Currently, several jurisdictions have attempted to add drug prescription rights to chiropractic (all have thankfully been defeated thus far) and many schools actually discourage the students from delivering actual chiropractic care and encourage them to act more like massage therapists and physical therapists. The result of this is that if you ask the typical person on the street what chiropractic is, they will likely be confused and say something about back pain.

The funny thing is that chiropractic’s creation had absolutely nothing to do with back pain, neck pain, or headaches! Chiropractic was found on the tone of the nervous system. The idea was that distortion of the spine could change the tone or excitability of the nervous system which would lead to dysfunction in the person’s life. Pretty simple and logical. The first chiropractic patient was actually a deaf janitor whose hearing was restored!

This idea of working with the whole body and maximizing its’ function was obviously in contrast to the medical paradigm of diagnosing a problem and then applying a treatment to that specific issue. This confusion led to many chiropractors being jailed for practicing medicine without a licence. The most famous of these was Dr. Herbert Ross Reaver who spent years in prison. He was offered a plea to admit to the charges, yet refused because his contention was that what he was doing was separate and distinct from medical practice. Not better, not worse, just different.

The practice of chiropractic today is much different from the actual definition of chiropractic. Most chiropractors today are essentially ‘treaters’ of musculoskeletal pain and symptoms. Very few assess and monitor the tone of the nervous system, specific structure of the spine and relate them the myriad of secondary conditions they may be creating in your body, such as pain, lack of energy, or organic disturbances.

Many chiropractors today are almost indistinguishable from physiotherapists. There is nothing wrong with this and these doctors provide an excellent service. In fact, I frequently refer patients to them if they are more interested in addressing only symptoms and not the tone and structure often underlying those symptoms.

While it can be confusing, I believe the diversity of the chiropractic profession can be its’ greatest strength. As a patient, or potential patient, it is up to you to ask questions before deciding who to work with. Choose a doctor who is an expert at getting what you want and measures THAT outcome. Choose a doctor who shares your values and can help you create the greatest vision for your life.

Happy 117th Birthday Chiropractic! I am proud to call myself a chiropractor and look forward to doing so for many years to come.




“There is a vast difference between treating effects and adjusting the causes.”    D.D. Palmer


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