The History of Chiropractic: Part One

Get knowledge of the spine, for this is the requisite for many diseases. -Hippocrates

As a Doctor of Chiropractic and perpetual student of the human body, I am fascinated with the history of medicine—how people in the past explained birth, death, and the various illnesses and disorders that can affect the body.

Throughout time, illness of any kind has been attributed to many sources, including the will of the gods, witchcraft, or demons. Starting in the Middle Ages and ending in the late 19th century, medical practitioners stubbornly clung to the belief that health conditions were caused by ‘miasma’, a concept that roughly translates as ‘bad smelling air.’

Naturally, the majority of theories have fallen to the wayside as medical knowledge has advanced. Some concepts, however, have stood the test of time and continue to not only flourish but are rapidly expanding in modern times—chiropractic is one of these.

The History of Chiropractic

The history of chiropractic is so far reaching that it’s hard to know where to start. Many people don’t realize that chiropractic is not a new form of healing (although there have been many improvements to the practice and a better understanding of how and why chiropractic works).

Medical practitioners have been using spinal adjustment as a means of relieving pain for thousands of years. One ancient Chinese text shows that early chiropractic techniques were being used as far back as 2700 BC. Evidence exists to show that a number of ancient societies—Babylon, Syria, Tibet, and Japan—understood to some degree the correlation between spinal alignment and good health. Many native South Americans, including the Aztecs and Mayans, also sought relief from pain through spinal adjustment.

Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician (and widely regarded as the father of Western medicine), believed that proper diet, spinal health, and sufficient rest were imperative in treating disease. His work greatly influenced the Roman school of medical thought, and in many ways reflects the drug-free, conservative, and holistic approach of chiropractic today. Unfortunately, with the fall of the Roman Empire and the resulting loss of much of the knowledge of ancient times, medicine retreated to into a dark morass of ignorance and superstition until roughly the 19th century.

Modern Chiropractic Begins

Ancient spinal treatments were crude; the true nature of the spine was largely misunderstood by early practitioners. A man named Daniel David Palmer brought chiropractic to the forefront in 1895 by discovering the specific spinal adjustment. His work has served to form the foundation of chiropractic as we know it today.

In 1895, Palmer was practicing a then-popular form of treatment known as magnetic healing. He was working late at his office one night when he learned that the janitor at his facility was deaf, and had been deaf since experiencing a back injury. Palmer was able to deduce that the back injury and deafness were somehow related, and used his hands to ascertain that one of the janitor’s vertebrae was not in a normal position.

Palmer convinced the man to allow him to adjust the abnormal vertebra manually. Following this first adjustment, the janitor’s hearing was restored. Soon after, Palmer experienced an influx of patients with a host of problems (many of which we still treat today, such as migraine and sciatica), and he coined the term ‘chiropractic’ after the Greek for ‘hand’ and ‘practice.’

Palmer was not simply taking a shot in the dark: his studies in anatomy and physiology led him to an understanding of the correlation between the spine and health. He theorized (correctly) that by treating misalignments, he could eliminate the nerve interference that was at the root of many of his patient’s complaints.

Following Palmer’s death, his son, Bartlett Joshua Palmer, continued his father’s work by developing chiropractic further with the use of x-ray technology. His work was crucial in making chiropractic a licensed profession.

Monmouth Spine and Rehabilitation Center: The Future of Chiropractic

The basic concepts behind Palmer’s work still stand, although the profession has advanced immensely in the past century. Part two of this blog will discuss the continued legacy of Dr. Palmer’s work, and how Monmouth Spine and Rehabilitation Center is constantly working to remain at the forefront of chiropractic.

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