Alternative Medicine - Chiropractic

Chiropractors, practitioners of chiropractic medicine, are commonly known to help patients with back problems. While many clients of chiropractors are people with back problems, chiropractors claim to be able to ease all kinds of health conditions. They do this by manipulating and adjusting the spine. Chiropractors believe that if the spinal column is in the correct position then the nerves in the spine may function at their best, which in turn allows other bodily systems to function at their best. Therefore, chiropractors may treat a variety of conditions, including back, shoulder, and neck pain, as well as headaches, sports injuries, heart disease, allergies, and epilepsy.

What Is Chiropractic?

Chiropractic is a way of treating certain health conditions. The word chiropractic comes from Greek origins and means "done by hand." This is a good description of how chiropractors treat their patients. They use their hands to manipulate and adjust the spinal columns of their patients. According to chiropractors, vertebrae (the bones forming the spinal column) can become slightly misaligned and cause problems with nerve function since the spinal cord (which carries nerve impulses to and from the brain) runs through the vertebrae of the spinal column. Chiropractors call these misaligned vertebrae that affect the flow of nerves subluxations. It is believed that subluxations block some messages from the brain as they are routed through the nerves in the spine. This means that, depending on where the subluxation is located, certain organs are not receiving all of their vital messages from the brain. When this happens, the organs are not functioning at their best and may start to have problems. These problems can, in turn, result in illness or disease.

Chiropractors try to fix subluxations by using quick thrusts with their hands or applying pressure to the problem area on the spine. Once the spine is in the correct position, chiropractors believe nerve function will improve and the body will be able to fight illness and disease better. Thus, chiropractors do not heal the illness or disease; they work to have a person's body functioning at its best so it can naturally heal itself.


One form of acupuncture, called auricular acupuncture, focuses on stimulating the ear instead of the whole body. French neurophysiologist Paul Nogier, M.D., mapped out certain points on the ear. He founded auricular acupuncture after he noticed that by stimulating certain points on the ear different parts of the body received a benefit of increased energy flow. This increase in energy flow is thought to improve health. A similar type of therapy to auricular acupuncture is reflexology. In this practice, reflexologists stimulate certain areas on the feet in order to provide benefits to the whole body. (See the Reflexology section in this chapter.)

The History of Chiropractic

Chiropractic got its start in 1895 by Daniel David Palmer (1845–1913). A faith healer (a person who treats patients using prayer and faith in God) from Davenport, Iowa, Palmer founded chiropractic after he restored hearing in a man, Harvey Lillard, by realigning part of his spinal column. Lillard had suffered a work injury many years before that resulted in his hearing loss. When Palmer examined him, he found a painful area on Lillard's spine. By thrusting on the area with his hands, Palmer was able to adjust the spine and Lillard's hearing returned. From this experience Palmer formed his beliefs that would become the foundation for the practice of chiropractic. He even started the first chiropractic school in the United States in 1897.

Part of Palmer's chiropractic beliefs were spiritual. He believed that every human has a life force that flows through the nervous system. He called it "innate intelligence." According to Palmer, a balanced flow of this life force is important for good health. Since innate intelligence flows through the nervous system, it can be affected if the spinal column is not aligned properly. Thus Palmer believed that by realigning the spine, chiropractors would be improving nerve function as well as rebalancing the innate intelligence.

After Palmer founded chiropractic, his son, B. J. Palmer, carried on his father's beliefs and heavily promoted the practice. However, he did not work to create a relationship with practitioners of conventional medicine. Instead, he spoke out against medical doctors and their use of drugs to heal illnesses and disease. Chiropractors' rocky relationship with medical professionals was further shaken when, in the 1960s, the AMA deemed it unethical for their members to work with any chiropractors and sought to expose problems in chiropractic beliefs. A lawsuit was eventually filed by five chiropractors against the AMA and other similar associations for violating their rights. The chiropractors won the lawsuit and chiropractic has since established itself as the most popular form of alternative medicine in the United States. There are now more than 50,000 chiropractors in the United States, the third largest group of health care practitioners in the nation.

What Happens During Treatment?

Treatment by a chiropractor includes manipulation and adjustment of the spinal column and other joints and muscles as well as counseling in nutrition and other areas to promote healthy living. Chiropractors are trained to provide painless treatments. Before working on the patient's spine, a chiropractor will ask the patient about his or her medical history and perform a physical examination. A chiropractor will also create a treatment plan for each patient.


Treating health conditions by working with the spine occurred before the founding of chiropractic. It has been documented that people of ancient Egypt and ancient Greece manipulated the spine to promote healing, as did Europeans during the Middle Ages (c. 500–1450). Native Americans were also known to manipulate the spine before chiropractic practices were formalized in 1895 by Daniel David Palmer.

As well as feeling for displaced vertebrae with their hands, chiropractors often rely on X rays to locate misalignments in the spine. After locating problem areas, a chiropractor will have a patient lie on his or her stomach; the practitioner will then try to reposition the spine. Chiropractors may also use other forms of treatment in addition to manipulation with their hands. These may include massage, electrical stimulation, traction (a pulling force applied to a part of the body), ice, heat, or ultrasound.

[ See also Chiropractor section in Chapter 7: Health Care Careers.]

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