Although some styles of chiropractic are not supernaturalistic, chiropractors have been among the chief innovators and supporters of mystical healing since the inception of their trade. Three members of my immediate family patronized chiropractors — one of whom utilized cupping — and for many years I vaguely mistook chiropractic for a branch of medicine. My preparation for writing this included visiting a self-styled “straight mixer” and wading through some 7 pounds of informational materials.
Palmer’s Disjointed Legacy
Daniel David Palmer — an Iowa grocer, fish seller, spiritualist and neo-mesmerist — devised chiropractic in 1895. Palmer postulated that the “vital force” — which he termed “Innate” — expressed itself through the nervous system. Today, some chiropractors adhere to this belief, some reject it entirely, and others occupy a nebulous middle ground in which they consider disturbances in the flow of “nerve energy” as a major cause rather than the sole cause of health problems.
Chiropractors number more than 45,000, most of whom can be characterized as “straights” or “mixers.” Straights subscribe more or less to Palmer’s basic doctrines that misalignments of the vertebrae — “subluxations” — cause most illnesses and that spinal “adjustments” can cure such conditions. The World Chiropractic Alliance, for example, defines straight chiropractic as “a limited, primary healthcare profession in which professional responsibility and authority are limited to the anatomy of the spine and immediate articulations [joints], the condition of vertebral subluxation, and a scope of practice which encompasses educating, advising about and addressing vertebral subluxations.” Many straights call subluxations the “silent killer.”
Mixers, who outnumber straights, acknowledge the importance of germs, hormones and other factors in disease, but tend to regard mechanical disturbances of the nervous system as a fundamental cause. Besides spinal manipulation, mixers may employ nutritional supplementation, homeopathic “remedies,” acupressure, enemas and various forms of physiotherapy (heat, cold, traction, exercise, massage and ultrasound).
A third category of chiropractors comprises only a few hundred who reject Palmer’s philosophy and have pledged to restrict treatment to “neuromusculoskeletal conditions of a nonsurgical nature.” Their apparent aim is to convert chiropractors into scientific physical therapists without loss of the title “doctor.” In the May 1992 issue of Chiropractic Technique, reformer Samuel Homola, D.C., states:
I am distressed by the propaganda of chiropractic organizations that use back pain studies to promote the chiropractor as a “family physician.”
While it appears that chiropractors might have the best treatment for mechanical-type back trouble, few chiropractors claim to be back specialists. Most chiropractors present themselves as “general practitioners” who offer treatment for a variety of health problems. …
After 35 years of practice as a chiropractor, I have not been convinced that slightly misaligned vertebrae can be harmful to health.
A recent flyer from the International Chiropractors Association titled “11 Common Questions about Chiropractic” states that, even if one feels fine, chiropractic “care” is advisable for maintenance of a required level of health and fitness, that periodic “adjustments” can increase resistance to disease and may be necessary for health maintenance, and that chiropractic treatment is appropriate for people of all ages. Further, it suggests that chiropractic is the best “first response” to most illnesses and injuries. Such claims are the stock-in-trade of chiropractors, many of whom routinely recommend weekly or monthly “adjustments” throughout life.
In 1991, Ted Koren, D.C., published the flyer “Why Should I Go to a Chiropractor?,” which states:
Feeling “good” is not the same as being healthy. Too many people who felt “good” have been told they had silent cancers growing within them, or were close to a heart attack, or suddenly fell victim to a stroke! To ensure health you should make sure your spinal column and structural system are healthy — and bring in the family! … If you’re feeling fine you should remember that spinal nerve stress (vertebral subluxations) are painless “silent killers.” You and your family should get your spines checked periodically to make sure you’re living free from hidden spinal nerve stress. … Why wait for disease to happen before you begin to improve your health?
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