The History and Evolution of Chiropractic Medicine

Chiropractic emerged from an era when antiseptic procedures were still emerging and standard medical care included bloodletting and tobacco enemas. Chiropractors believed that the body possessed an innate wisdom capable of healing itself.

It would be a shame to bury this philosophy and its ilk, but a new path must be found for the profession. One option is to slay the “one-cause, one-cure” sacred cow.


Unlike most other forms of medicine, chiropractic is based on manual healing techniques and specifically spinal manipulation. While spinal adjustment is its most prominent practice, there are many other chiropractic therapies and methods that vie for recognition under its rubric. In addition, contradictions and tensions exist not only between mainstream medicine and chiropractic but within the profession itself.

During the early years of chiropractic, it struggled to survive, gain recognition and establish itself as an independent health system. It also experienced internal disputes and controversy, including a schism between “straights” and “mixers.”

In 1895, magnetic healer Daniel David Palmer performed the first chiropractic adjustment in Davenport, Iowa. He believed that misalignments of the spine, or subluxations, interrupted the flow of innate intelligence—a vitalistic life force responsible for health. He claimed that his first chiropractic patient, Harvey Lillard, who had been deaf for 17 years, regained his hearing as a result of the adjustment. Palmer named his discovery “chiropractic,” a word formed from the Greek words cheir (hand) and praktikos (done by hand).

Palmer’s concept hinged on the notion that the brain was a transmitter of innate intelligence throughout the entire body, and any disturbance to this flow would affect overall wellness. The premise was that by correcting the spinal alignment, one could treat all health issues.

The era of the nascent chiropractic profession was an iconoclastic one, and practitioners frequently ran into trouble with the law. Some were even prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license, such as DD Palmer, who was arrested after he performed an adjustment on a man with an ulcer.

The 19th century was a time of experimentation, and there were various factions of chiropractors who were either “straights” or “mixers.” Straights focused solely on correcting vertebral subluxations while mixers added other therapeutic methods to their practices. Today, the distinction between straights and mixers is largely semantic as most chiropractic professionals incorporate a variety of ancillary therapeutic procedures alongside spinal adjustments. Nevertheless, the schism that arose during this period still influences today’s chiropractic philosophy. The current debate is over whether chiropractic should accept a limited pharmaceutical role, as well as how to integrate with other healthcare systems.

Early Chiropractors

The early chiropractic practitioners were pioneers, often persecuted by medical doctors for attempting to practice without a license. They fought legal battles and grew their patient bases through word of mouth. They also pushed for state licensing laws to be established. Today, the chiropractic profession is recognized by most national healthcare organizations and collaborating with medical doctors is commonplace.

In 1895, magnetic healer Daniel David “DD” Palmer stumbled upon a spinal manipulation maneuver that became known as the chiropractic adjustment. He discovered that manipulating the spine helped patients heal themselves by restoring the body’s natural ability to cure itself. Two years later, he established the first school of chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa.

At that time, medical professionals were still struggling with poorly executed surgical procedures and high death rates. They resented chiropractors who openly challenged their authority and called themselves “doctors.” To further their cause, the medical profession ran anti-chiropractice advertisements in popular consumer magazines such as Reader’s Digest and the syndicated Ann Landers column.

This was an iconoclastic era of revolutionaries. The leaders of the new chiropractic movement, DD and BJ Palmer, were militant, skeptics, and controversial individuals. They advocated for a chiropractic philosophy that competed with standard medicine, which included bloodletting, tobacco enemas and leeches.

Despite the challenges, the chiropractic profession was growing rapidly and its popularity was increasing among the consuming public. Many medical professionals began to collaborate with chiropractors, as they realized that chiropractic was an effective treatment for certain patients.

Chiropractors continued to push for state licensure and to establish a separate licensing statute from the medical profession. However, the UCA led by BJ Palmer fought to retain exclusive chiropractic practice and opposed state licensure in the belief that it would lead to MD physician control over the profession.

In the 1930s, Clarence Gonstead developed his upper cervical specific technique, which helped transform chiropractic from back alley bone setting to a respectable bio-mechanical science. His development of a system for diagnosing subluxations and the use of x-rays to document spinal distortion lent credibility to chiropractic. He also argued that the body’s innate wisdom was capable of healing itself when given the right conditions.

Chiropractic Techniques

Chiropractic is based on the idea that your body can heal itself by adjusting vertebrae in your spine to their correct positions. This is accomplished through spinal manipulation and the release of certain hormones that help to re-balance your spine and nervous system.

The origins of chiropractic go back as far as ancient civilizations, who used manual therapy including spinal manipulation to promote health and well-being. Hippocrates, often referred to as the father of modern medicine, emphasized spinal alignment and manipulation as part of an overall healthy lifestyle. This helped to lay the foundation for modern chiropractic principles.

In the 19th century, a revival of interest in alternative healing methods and spinal manipulation occurred. This was due in part to the works of figures like Daniel David Palmer, who believed that misalignments of the upper cervical spine (the first vertebrae at the base of the skull) can disrupt nerve communication and lead to various health problems.

Palmer incorporated magnetic healing techniques with physical manipulation and created his own chiropractic method. He asked his friend Samuel Weed to suggest a name for the discovery, and the word “chiropractic” was born (meaning “done by hand”).

Early chiropractors faced many challenges, including arrest for practicing medicine without a license. They fought to gain recognition for their profession, eventually being accepted into workers’ compensation and major medical insurance programs. Today, chiropractic has grown and thrived despite skepticism from the medical community.

One of the most popular techniques for performing spinal adjustments is called Diversified Technique. This is the most common method of chiropractic care in practice today. The technique involves a series of quick, controlled thrusts to joints with restricted mobility. The goal is to restore movement and relieve pain.

Another commonly used technique is the Palmer Method, named after DD Palmer. It focuses on misalignments in the upper cervical spine, particularly in the atlas vertebra, which is located at the base of the skull. Using X-rays to pinpoint the misalignment, a chiropractor then manipulates the head and neck to realign the atlas vertebra.

Many other chiropractic techniques exist, each with its own specific philosophy and approach to healing. However, all of these chiropractic methods have the same goal: to improve a patient’s quality of life by addressing the root cause of their pain and restoring balance to the body, something the Yonkers chiropractors have gotten very good at.

Modern Chiropractors

In the 1890s, a self-taught magnetic healer named D.D. Palmer founded the chiropractic profession in Davenport, Iowa. He was well-read in anatomy and medical journals and believed that the spine could improve health by allowing spinal nerves to function as they were designed. He first cured a deaf man, Harvey Lillard, by adjusting his spine. Palmer credited the miracle to a displaced vertebra that impinged on spinal nerves. He named his discovery chiropractic after the Greek words cheiros and praktikos meaning “done by hand.”

As chiropractors became increasingly confident in their treatment method, they sought to separate themselves from other practitioners and to gain recognition as a distinct health care profession. The early formative years of the chiropractic profession were fraught with controversy over the innate and subluxation theories. The schism was not resolved until the late 1920s, with D.D.’s son B. J. Palmer staking out his claim as the leader of the “straight” chiropractic school, while those who practiced various modalities were known as “mixers.”

Throughout the decades following, chiropractic has endured and thrived, even in the face of external opposition and internal contentiousness. Spinal manipulation continues to be widely accepted for a variety of musculoskeletal conditions including back pain, neck pain, sciatica, headaches, joint problems and sprains and strains. The science supporting these treatments has increased steadily over the past several decades.

Today, a wide range of diagnostics tools helps chiropractors deliver safer and more effective treatments. For example, the use of a tool called dynamometry provides accurate measurements of muscle strength and movement, which is used to help calculate a patient’s risk for injury. J-Tech medical equipment also plays an important role in assisting chiropractors to diagnose and monitor a patient’s progress.

While few modern chiropractors believe that their practice can replace traditional medicine, they do view themselves as a valuable component of healthcare. Many also advocate the inclusion of chiropractic services in workers’ compensation, personal injury and major medical insurance programs. Today, most chiropractors focus their attention on musculoskeletal issues such as spinal misalignments (subluxations), injuries to joints and muscles, sprains and strains and other neuromusculoskeletal conditions.