The understanding that the spine is somehow involved in health and wellness, as well as the practice of using manual manipulation as a source of healing, dates back to the time of the ancient Greek philosophers. In fact, Hippocrates once said, “Get knowledge of the spine, for this is the requisite for many diseases.”
Modern chiropractic, however, marks its beginnings in the late 1800s, when a Canadian living in the US, Daniel David Palmer, a self-educated teacher and healer, performed the first spinal manipulation on a patient.
That patient was Harvey Lillard, a janitor who worked in Palmer’s building. Lillard was nearly totally deaf and mentioned to Palmer that he lost his hearing many years before when he was bending over and felt a “pop” in his upper back.
Palmer, who was a practitioner of magnet therapy (a common therapy of the time), was quite knowledgeable in anatomy and very interested in how the spine interacts with the rest of the body’s systems. He felt strongly that the two events—the “popping” in Lillard’s back and his deafness—must somehow be related.
He examined Lillard’s spine and found a problem with one of his vertebra. Palmer manipulated Lillard’s vertebra and an amazing event occurred—Lillard’s hearing was restored. Today, this procedure is known as a chiropractic adjustment.
Palmer soon discovered that adjustments could relieve patients’ pain and other symptoms. These problems with vertebrae have been called chiropractic subluxations.
He began to use these “hand treatments” to treat a variety of ailments, including sciatica, migraine headaches, stomach complaints, epilepsy, and heart trouble. In 1898, he opened the Palmer School & Infirmary of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, and began teaching his chiropractic techniques to others.
The medical community did not immediately embrace Palmer’s chiropractic theories and techniques. The called him a “quack” and refused to acknowledge his accomplishments. At one point, Palmer was even indicted for practicing medicine without a license and spent time in jail for his offense.
Research has shown that Palmer was not the ignorant fish monger that some in the medical profession claim. An investigation of this library, which he quoted liberally in his letters, showed that he was up to date in his knowledge at the turn of the 20th century. Of course, his theories, in the light of 21st century knowledge, look uneducated.
Today, chiropractors are licensed in all the US states, Canadian provinces, most European countries, Australia and New Zealand. There are more than 50,000 practicing chiropractors in the US alone. Despite its North American roots, there are now more chiropractic educational programs outside of North America. Chiropractic continues to gain wide acceptance by the medical, legal, and patient communities through its record of beneficial results and ongoing research.