Chiropractic Crackpottery

A very popular branch of alternative medicine, one that has exhibitions in the malls, advertises in rented booths in county fairs, and has multiplied like mushrooms in the yellow pages of all urban communities in the US is chiropractic. The entire profession of chiropractic is based on the assumption that every pain and disease (or “dis-ease”) is caused by the nerves pinched between the bones of the spinal column.

The founder of chiropractic is Daniel David (“D.D.”) Palmer (1845-1913).1 Palmer started as a grocer in Davenport, Iowa, but soon was attracted to phrenology,2 and eventually practiced as a full-time “magnetic healer.” To attract patients, D.D.’s brother ran articles in newspapers claiming that D.D. cured patients simply by the motion of his hands, and that he could cure tumors and cancers without medicine. His technique was to locate the dysfunctional organs and to impart a “life force from his hands into that dormant organ, thereby assisting it to throw off the unnatural condition.”

Chiropractic dates its origin to September 18, 1895, when Palmer claims to have manipulated a spinal bone of Harvey Lillard, a janitor where he had his office, and curing him of a 17-year-old deafness instantly. “Shortly after this relief from deafness, I had a case of heart trouble which was not improving. I examined the spineĀ  and found a displaced vertebra pressing against the nerves which innervate the heart. I adjusted the vertebra and gave immediate relief.” From these two instances of “cure,”Palmer concluded that other diseases were caused by the same “pressure on nerves.” In Palmer’s own words, “the science (knowledge) and art (adjusting) of Chiropractic were formed at that time.”

  1. For a detailed and fascinating account of the controversial discipline of chiropractic, see Magner, G. Chiropractic: The Victim’s Perspective, Prometheus, 1995. What follows in this article is taken from this book.
  2. Phrenology was a pseudoscience, very popular in the nineteenth century, based on the assumption that one can diagnose diseases by analyzing the bumps on the head.

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