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History of Chiropractic

An American Original since 1895

A little over one hundred years ago there were fewer than a dozen Chiropractors. D.D. Palmer’s new system of healing, barely more than two years old, was not well known beyond the Illinois and Iowa border. The opposition that Dr. Palmer’s new methods would create among the allopathic physicians of Davenport, particularly Heinrich Matthey, MD was still a year in the future. Palmer had already suffered the slings and arrows of the local medical community but nothing like what was yet to come.

This is the story of chiropractic…

The first recorded manipulation of the spine was described in an ancient text dating back to 2650 B.C. by travelers to Asia.

In 1500 B.C., the Greeks were recording their successes in lower back treatments.

Most cultures practicing medicine have some ancient writings dealing with the spine and its effects on the body. Many cultures spoke of massaging the back or even back walking, a practice of laying a patient or family member on their belly and slowly walking bare foot up and down their back. American Indians used to have small children walk on the backs of the sick.

There are even records of the South American Incas using spinal manipulation as a form of healing. Hippocrates wrote many books, but two relate to the background of chiropractic, called Manipulation and Importance of Good Health and Setting Joints By Leverage. These works were written some time in the 500 B.C.’s. In them, he wrote: “Get knowledge of the spine, for this is the requisite for many diseases.”

Another famous Greek Physician, Claudius Galen, wrote early in the second century: “Look to the nervous system as the key to maximum health.” Galen was made famous for treating a scholar named Eudemus. Galen adjusted Eudemus’ neck, which apparently cured a paralysis of the scholar’s hand and arm.

Unfortunately, with the fall of the Roman Empire in A.D. 476, a lot of this knowledge was almost completely lost.

From the 11th through 15th centuries, “back walking” was practiced in Asia and Europe. It is also believed that European gypsies used back walking as a cure for the sick.

In the Europe of the 1800’s, medical doctors shunned the art of “Bone Setting.” But in 1867, a famous surgeon. Sir James Paget, recognized the evolving art in his article in the British Medical Journal entitled, Cases That Bone Setting Cures. He describes the types of spinal manipulation known at the time.

The modern history of chiropractic began, on September 18, 1895. It took place in the small office of Dr. Daniel David Palmer a teacher, magnetic healer, and the founder of modern chiropractic.

PalmerDr. Daniel David Palmer was born in Port Perry, Ontario Canada on March 7, 1845. When Palmer was 11 years old, his father’s grocery business failed leaving the family with few options, they moved to the United States and started over. Daniel and his younger brother stayed behind. They had completed the equivalent of 8th grade at age 11 and 9 respectively. But, with their parents gone, their education was put on hold.

In 1865, Palmer and his brother packed up their meager belongings and left for Iowa to rejoin their family. They took on odd jobs to pay their way.

In the years that followed, Palmer moved around the Midwest. He worked at a variety of professions such as teaching in a one-room classroom, bee keeping and running a grocery store.

He was a self-educated man (as many were around the turn of the century) with a passion for knowledge. This led him to the study of magnetic healing, a hands-on therapy practiced by many medical practitioners of the era, and specifically, the works of Paul Caster. The theory behind magnetic healing is that a magnetic field surrounds the body and that minor illnesses could be cured by influencing this force. Even at this early stage, D.D. Palmer had recognized the need for drug free-medicine.

At this time, the end of the 19th century, when D.D. Palmer came on the health care scene, medicine was leaving an era of proclaimed cure-alls to pursue more scientific investigation into the treatment of disease. D.D. reasoned that the body had an ample supply of natural healing power transmitted through the nervous system. If a single organ was sick, it must not be receiving its normal nerve supply. That led to the premise of spinal misalignment or subluxation and then on to adjusting the vertebrae.

One of Dr. Palmer’s patients is credited with creating the name “Chiropractic” for this new art and science of manipulation. He took the Greek words for “hand” (cheiros) and “done by” (praktos) and put them together to create Chiropractor, meaning “done by hand”.

Palmer opened his first practice in Burlington, Iowa in 1887. He later moved his office, which included a 14 room infirmary, to Davenport, Iowa. This is where he would make a discovery that would change the face of healthcare.

” I have never considered it beneath my dignity to do anything to relieve human suffering. ”

– DD Palmer

It was September 18, 1895 and at the time Dr. Palmer was trying to understand the cause and effect of disease. His patient, Harvey Lillard, was a black janitor working in the same building as Dr. Palmer in Davenport, Iowa. 17 years before, while working in a cramped, stooped position, Mr. Lillard felt something give way in his spine. The immediate result was not only pain…but he also found he had lost his hearing. He allowed Dr. Palmer to examine his spine to see if anything could be done. Dr. Palmer discovered a “lump” on Mr. Lillard’s back and suspected that a vertebra might be out of “alignment” and “pinching” a nerve affecting Mr. Lillard’s ears.

With an admittedly unrefined chiropractic technique, Dr. Palmer adjusted the vertebra with a gentle thrust. Lillard was excited to hear noises from the street below. After a couple treatments, much of Mr. Lillard’s hearing was completely restored. Chiropractic was born.

Harvey Lillard

African-American and

First Chiropractic Patient

September 1895

To quote Mr. Lillard:

“I was deaf 17 years and I expected to always remain so, for I had doctored a great deal without any benefit. I had long ago made up my mind to not take any more ear treatments, for it did me no good. Last January, Dr. Palmer told me that my deafness came from an injury in my spine. This was new to me; but it is a fact that my back was injured at the time I went deaf. Dr. Palmer treated me on the spine; in two treatments I could hear quite well. That was eight months ago. My hearing remains good.”

This dramatic beginning caused much excitement. Soon exaggerated claims surfaced from activists and chiropractic zealots. Even Dr. Palmer himself thought at first that he had discovered a cure for deafness. As these “miracle” stories became commonplace, the controversy surrounding chiropractic began.

The struggle went on. In the early days of chiropractic, the graduating students simply left Palmer College and opened practice without the need for license. As a result, Dr. Daniel Palmer and many other chiropractors were convicted of practicing medicine without a license.

Dr. Palmer spent 23 days in jail and had to pay $350 in fines. A landmark case was when Shegato Morikubo DC, a graduate of Palmer’s school, was found innocent of practicing medicine without a license. The judge decided that he was not practicing medicine…he was practicing Chiropractic. This was the first recognition of Chiropractic as a science in its own right.

The events surrounding D.D. Palmer’s death in 1913 were controversial. Invited to take part in a parade at the Universal Chiropractic College in Davenport Iowa, Palmer stepped out in front of a car while attempting to lead it. B.J. Palmer, his son, was driving the car and didn’t see his father until it was too late. Dr. Daniel David Palmer died several months after the accident in Los Angeles. Dr. Palmer had lived to see dozens of chiropractic schools open up across America.

D.D. Palmer was not the first person to find the established medical world against him. In 1845, the American dentist, Wells first used nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to quell the pain of dentistry. He, and the later exponents of anaesthetics such as chloroform and ether, met sometimes violent opposition. In Vienna Semmelweis’s insistence on hygiene at childbirth was ridiculed in 1847, in spite of the fact that it reduced maternal mortality from 9.9% to 1.5%.

Twenty years later, Lister used carbolic acid and phenol sprays to reduce the risk of infection during surgery. Surgeons who operated in swallow tail suits and prided themselves on the bloodiness of their aprons, derided Lister, too. So Daniel Palmer was in very good company, but he still opened the first school of chiropractic in 1898. In spite of opposition from medical profession, five of the first 15 graduates were medical doctors. It’s also worth noting that half the pupils were women, a tradition that is still maintained today in most chiropractic schools.

Dr. Minora Paxson was the first chiropractor to be licensed in 1905 under the Illinois Medical Practice Act in accordance with the principles of chiropractic and granted the “first certificate licensing the treatment of disease by chiropractic.” – Circa 1920

Dr. Bartlett Joshua (B.J.) Palmer assumed the responsibility of the Palmer School of Chiropractic in 1904. His contributions included extensive research, improved methods of spinal adjusting and analysis, higher standards for chiropractic education and increased appreciation for chiropractic worldwide. A guiding influence in B.J. Palmer’s life was his wife, Mabel Heath Palmer, who became a Doctor of Chiropractic in 1905.

Chiropractic grew in popularity over the next fifty years, some say due to the relentlessness of B.J. Palmer. He owned several radio stations and is credited with the term “broadcasting.” His first station was WOC (Wonders of chiropractic), which was the first radio broadcasting station west of the Mississippi River. Some years later, President Ronald Reagan began his career at WOC. In 1928 he purchased WHO (With Hands Only) in Des Moines.

His college grew from 24 students in 1906 to 3,100 in 1923. Today, there are over 14,000 students, at any given time, in chiropractic schools throughout the country. Currently, chiropractic is the 3rd largest healthcare profession after medicine and dentistry.

BJ was often the center of controversy, but well before his death in 1961, chiropractic had secured a place among the health sciences.

Dr. David Palmer was the son of B.J. Palmer and grandson to the founder of chiropractor D.D. Palmer. He assumed the presidency of Palmer in 1961 after his father’s death. An initial step was to change the corporate name of the Palmer School of Chiropractic to Palmer College of Chiropractic. After Dr. Dave’s death in 1978, the College received accreditation from the Council on Chiropractic Education and the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

The Palmers had (and still have) the largest osteology collection in the world. This collection contains more than 2,200 human skeletal specimens, including 14 complete articulated skeletons and more than 125 vertebral columns. A special fetal section boasts 33 skulls and seven articulated skeletons, including three spina-bifida specimens. The majority of the collection is comprised of single elements representing every bone in the skeleton. Its strength resides in the number of specimens that show unique variation or pathological conditions. Many of the specimens are on display in Lyceum Hall and in the Palmer Main Clinic located in Davenport, Iowa.

The Statue of Liberty flees her pedestal in this 1904 sketch depicting a medical practitioner injecting a vaccine into an unwilling citizen, who is restrained by a legislator.

Around 1960, the contetants of the Posture Queen Contest were eliminated if the x-rays showed a problem with their spines.

Oklahaven began in response to the needs of chronically ill children in 1962, many of whom in the early 1960’s were paralyzed, in braces and wheelchair bound. They chose to provide chiropractic care through a nonprofit organization. The majority of children who come to the Children’s Center have run the gamut of traditional medicine. Their families are burdened with debts totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. Parents have lost their jobs, and most have lost hope. After chiropractic care and lifestyle changes, babies hold their heads up for the first time, sleep through the night, stop seizuring, eat without pain, a child feeds himself, learns to move independently, speaks clearly without a stutter, runs and plays like a normal child without asthma or chronic ear infections.

Chiropractic Research

Due to the lack of funding by government agencies, legitimate, sustained scientific research in chiropractic has only recently become fully established. In 1944, the National Chiropractic Association (NCA) created the Chiropractic Research Foundation (CRF) with the objective of promoting and acquiring funding for the development of research for the chiropractic profession.

Two important developments in the 1970s expanded the scope of chiropractic research. First, the U.S. Department of Health Education and Welfare sponsored a research conference on spinal manipulation in 1975, which heightened awareness of the need for research on spinal manipulation and other chiropractic-related subject matter. The second important development came in 1979, when the Foundation of Chiropractic Education and Research hired a director of research who expanded the research program and established a competitive scientific review process for submitted proposals. The Foundation also implemented an annual research conference for paper presentations, research training, and interprofessional communication. This meeting thrives to this day as the International Conference on Spinal Manipulation, which attracts researchers from different fields worldwide.

Today, research in chiropractic has grown by leaps and bounds thanks to the assistance of a number of other organizations, mostly within the chiropractic profession. The scope of chiropractic research parallels that of medical research, with active research involvement in such areas as basic science, health services, education, and clinical research.

However, until very recently, Federal funding has been virtually nonexistent. Even with millions of research dollars being given to medical research each year, only a small number of Federal grants have been awarded to projects involving chiropractic, and in amounts that pale in comparison to medical grants.

Currently there are 14 peer-reviewed chiropractic journals in English, which publish the results of chiropractic research, including The Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, Topics in Clinical Chiropractic, and the Journal of Chiropractic Humanities. Chiropractic research has also been published in scientific journals, although chiropractic researchers recognize that most of their work is read by the chiropractic profession alone. With each passing day more is done to reduce this scientific isolation and expand the scope and appreciation of chiropractic and chiropractic research to the scientific community and the general public.