This will be the first of many post about some of the popular myths about chiropractic. What is fact and what is fiction? I am not sure how many post this will involve because the understanding about chiropractic is very muddled from inside the profession as well as from outside. If you are reading this and you want a specific topic covered please feel free to recommend it in the comments below. Also, since I am still new to blogging and have not figured out how to place references at the bottom, all of the references I use are linked to the highlighted words in the articles. Just click on the word and a new window should open up with the citation.
Here we go…
Myth #1) Chiropractors align your spine
This myth is very popular and propagated mostly by chiropractors who had limited anatomy and physiological knowledge as they try to explain to the lay public what they were doing. While it is true that the vast majority of people who undergo chiropractic care do show significant improvement in “normal” alignment, chiropractors should not be taking credit for this. The alignment of our spine (posture) is a function of our brain, muscles, and connective tissue. Our brain’s job is to organize coordinated responses to adapt to the stress of gravity on our bodies during movement: our movements and/or the environment’s. A chiropractor can give the body a very specific force that helps the body remove mechanical causes of misinformation traveling along the nervous system. Only then can the brain utilize the correct information to improve alignment. The only way this is done is by the brain signaling for changes to take place in the cells that make up the tissues responsible for alignment in the first place. This means that the actual improvement is done in and by the person receiving the adjustment, not the chiropractor.
In fact the brain can utilize any outside force to improve alignment if that force is in the right place, at the right time, and in the right direction. However, it is MUCH more efficient to have an expert deliver the force rather than waiting and hoping that the right “accident” will come along. Many other professions such as massage and physical therapy can help the muscles and connective tissue change shape to support better alignment, but chiropractors are the only professionals trained to help the body remove the mechanical stress on the nervous system that causes maladapted tissue dysfunction in the first place. When your brain can freely communicate with your body YOU will correct improper alignment and posture. No one can move your body better than you, so don’t get duped into giving someone else this responsibility and power. Chiropractic can help you accomplish this but only you can actually do it!
Myth #2) Chiropractic is founded on pseudo-science
We can trace this myth back to the American Medical Association (AMA) directly. Before I get into that, though, I would like to give you a brief history of chiropractic and its founders. The use of spinal adjusting is more than four thousand years old with the first written records about it found in China around 2700 B.C. Many other civilizations have used spinal adjusting for thousands of years such as: Egypt, Greece and even some Native American tribes. This form of treatment has come in and out of favor with the different civilizations that had no interactions with each other, and so each can be said to have “discovered” it on their own. The same can be said for Daniel David Palmer (D.D. for short), although it has also been suggested that he did have contact with bone setters and the founder of osteopathy prior to the following date:
In 1895 D.D. found a backbone out of place on the janitor for his office building named Harvey Lillard who had been deaf for 17 years prior. After two tries to “rack” the bone back into place Harvey’s hearing was restored permanently. After this, D.D. dedicated his life to studying why this happened the way that it did and taught others how to do it again. Although what he discovered was not new he did finally discover why, after centuries of anecdotal evidence, adjusting the spine positively affects health. He was way ahead of his time and like most geniuses was harassed and even jailed because of it. At this time in history, the mainstream medical profession was still bleeding people to get rid of “bad blood” and injecting them with mercury to “balance out the humors.” Meanwhile D.D. Palmer was writing and teaching about the nervous system being the master control system of the body and that the Innate (meaning inborn or born with) Intelligence of the body used the brain as command central to organize all of the cells of the body to work together. He stressed the importance of proper “tone” of the nerves and position of the tissues that surround them in the body. Palmer proposed a unique theory about the nature of health/disease and gave credit to the role of the patient’s body and its innate healing ability, rather than doctors’ treatments, as the key to health and healing. This made him many enemies in the medical community.
As Chiropractic began to grow and become more scientifically validated, the medical community began to organize and attack anyone outside of their control claiming that they were the only ones with scientific validity behind their treatments and all others were “quacks.” Chiropractors by the hundreds where routinely jailed for practicing medicine without a license. The amazing thing is that most of these jailed chiropractors were released after their patients protested in front of jails and court houses across the country, only to be arrested again for the same false charges days or weeks later.
Eventually chiropractic was legally recognized as a separate and distinct profession from medicine, thus protecting chiropractors from these types of false charges. The medical community did not give up, however, and in the 1960’s the AMA created the Committee on Quackery to “contain and eliminate the Chiropractic profession.” Mountains of propaganda against chiropractic were distributed and medical doctors were discouraged from working with chiropractors upon threat of loosing their licenses.
It was not until the late 1970’s that a lawsuit was filed against the AMA and 11 other medical associations, which came to be known as “The Wilk Trials”. After almost 10 years of court battles the decision was handed down and a ruling was made. The court found that the AMA and its members were guilty of “participating in a conspiracy against chiropractors in violation of the nation’s antitrust laws.”
Even though the AMA was forced to stop sending out propaganda and refusing medical doctors the right to work with chiropractors, the damage had been done. Still today there are many people, including medical doctors, that continue buy into the myth that chiropractic is pseudo-science. The funny thing is that there are literally hundreds of studies proving the efficacy of chiropractic published in peer reviewed medical journals, but still, this myth remains.
While it can be argued that chiropractic was founded on incomplete science, due to lack of anatomical and physiological knowledge during the late 1800’s, to say that it is or was founded on pseudo-science is blatantly false. Even today we do not fully understand exactly how the nervous system works and interacts with the other systems of the body. So we can definitely argue that today’s entire health care system is based on incomplete science. And it is a safe bet that future generations will look back and laugh at the way we describe things just as we look back on previous generations’ language, wording, and understanding. This is where most people who propagate the myth of chiropractic pseudo-science make their points, reading the historical words but refusing to find out what the author was attempting to describe. Just because our understanding has increased does not mean that previous generations were wrong. We just have more information today, and all of that new knowledge has added to the scientific validity of chiropractic no matter what words the founders used to describe why people function better after a good adjustment.
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below – I’d love to hear from you.
– Dr. Tad