Chiropractic is from Greek words meaning done by hand. It is grounded in the principle that the body can heal itself when the skeletal system is correctly aligned and the nervous system is functioning properly. To achieve this, the practitioner uses his or her hands or an adjusting tool to perform specific manipulations of the vertebrae. When these bones of the spine are not correctly articulated, resulting in a condition known as subluxation, the theory is that nerve transmission is disrupted and causes pain in the back, as well as other areas of the body.
Chiropractic is one of the most popular alternative therapies currently available. Some would say it now qualifies as mainstream treatment as opposed to complementary medicine. Chiropractic treatment is covered by many insurance plans and in 2004, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced full inclusion of chiropractic care for veterans. It has become well-accepted treatment for acute pain and problems of the spine, including lower back pain and whiplash. Applications beyond that scope are not supported by current evidence, although there are ongoing studies into the usefulness of chiropractic for such problems as ear infections, dysmenorrhea, infant colic, migraine headaches, and other conditions.
Most people will experience back pain at some time in their lives. Injuries due to overexertion and poor posture are among the most common. Depending on the cause and severity of the condition, options for treatment may include physical therapy, rest, medications, surgery, or chiropractic care. Chiropractic treatment carries none of the risks of surgical or pharmacologic treatment. Practitioners use a holistic approach to health. The goal is not merely to relieve the present ailment, but to analyze the cause and recommend appropriate changes of lifestyle to prevent the problem from occurring again. They believe in a risk/benefit analysis before use of any intervention. The odds of an adverse outcome are extremely low. Chiropractic has proven in several studies to be less expensive than many more traditional routes such as outpatient physical therapy. Relief from some neuromuscular problems is immediate, although a series of treatments is likely to be required to maintain the improvement. Spinal manipulation is an excellent option for acute lower back pain, and may also relieve neck pain as well as other musculoskeletal pain. Although most back pain will subside eventually with no treatment at all, chiropractic treatment can significantly shorten the time it takes to get relief. Some types of headache can also be successfully treated by chiropractic.
Spinal manipulation has a long history in many cultures but Daniel D. Palmer is the founder of modern chiropractic theory, dating back to the 1890s. A grocer and magnetic healer, he applied his knowledge of the nervous system and manual therapies in an unusual situation. One renowned story concerns Harvey Lillard, a janitor in the office where Palmer worked. The man had been deaf for 17 years, ever since he had sustained an injury to his upper spine. Palmer performed an adjustment on a painful vertebra in the region of the injury and Lillard’s hearing was reputedly restored. Palmer theorized that all communication from the brain to the rest of the body passes through the spinal canal, and areas that are poorly aligned or under stress can cause physical symptoms both in the spine and in other areas of the body. Thus the body has the innate intelligence to heal itself when unencumbered by spinal irregularities causing nerve interference. After his success with Lillard, other patients began coming to him for care, and responded well to adjustments. This resulted in Palmer’s further study of the relationship between an optimally functional spine and normal health.
Palmer founded the first chiropractic college in 1897. His son, B. J. Palmer, continued to develop chiropractic philosophy and practice after his father’s death. B. J. and other faculty members were divided over the role of subluxation in disease. B. J. saw it as the cause of all disease. The others disagreed and sought a more rational way of thinking, thus broadening the base of chiropractic education. From 1910 to 1920, many other chiropractic colleges were established. Other innovators, including John Howard, Carl Cleveland, Earl Homewood, Joseph Janse, Herbert Lee, and Claude Watkins, also helped to advance the profession.
The theories of the Palmers receive somewhat broader interpretation today. Many chiropractors believe that back pain can be relieved and health restored through chiropractic treatment even in patients who do not have demonstrable subluxations. Scientific development and research of chiropractic is gaining momentum. The twenty-first century will likely see the metaphysical concepts such as innate intelligence give way to more scientific proofs and reform.
Many people besides the Palmers have contributed to the development of chiropractic theory and technique. Some have gone on to create a variety of procedures and related types of therapy that have their roots in chiropractic, including McTimoney-Corley chiropractic, craniosacral manipulation, naprapathy, and applied kinesiology. Osteopathy is another related holistic discipline that utilizes spinal and musculoskeletal manipulation as a part of treatment, but osteopathic training is more similar in scope to that of an M.D.