History of Chiropractic Medicine

Chiropractic medicine has evolved significantly over the years, but its basic philosophy has been in existence since ancient Greece. According to SpineUniverse.com, the Greek physician Hippocrates (who is often called the “Father of Western Medicine”) made specific mention of knowledge of the spine in overall systemic healing.

  • The practice of modern chiropractic medicine, however, is thought to have originated in 1800’s, when a self-taught practitioner named Daniel David Palmer performed an early version of a spinal adjustment. According to accounts of this treatment, Palmer was able to bring back the hearing of a patient named Harvey Lillard by manipulating his spine. Palmer continued to practice these manual adjustments (the word “chiropractic” is derived from the Greek “chiro,” which means “hand”), and found that these techniques seemed to help with a variety of conditions. Palmer began manipulating the spine to treat conditions such as gastrointestinal pain, stomach issues, and heart conditions. He opened the first chiropractic school in 1898 in Iowa.
  • Palmer’s methods met with skepticism and overt criticism from the established medical community, and in 1905, he was charged with practicing medicine without a license. He was indicted and spent time in jail for the offense. The lack of acceptance of chiropractic medicine during this period led to the jailing of several chiropractors.
  • Palmer went on to write two books about chiropractic medicine, titled The Chiropractic Adjuster and The Science of Chiropractic. Following Palmer’s death in 1913, his son, Bartlett, took over the chiropractic school and continued to make advancements in the profession.
  • The earlier forms of chiropractic medicine had a more mystical component; both Daniel David Palmer and Bartlett Palmer believed that subluxations, or spinal misalignments, have a significant impact on the flow of the body’s overall vitality and energy. This school of thought held that vertebral subluxations are the primary cause of all health problems. This concept of chiropractic healing as all-encompassing has been widely scorned by conventional medicine, and is much less common in modern chiropractic medicine. Many of today’s chiropractors incorporate aspects of traditional medicine, and primarily treat patients for lower back pain.
  • According to the American Chiropractic Association, the first state law granting licensure to chiropractors was passed in 1913. The states continued to individually legalize chiropractic medicine over the ensuing decades, and by 1931, it had become a legal profession in 39 states.
  • Once the law recognized chiropractic medicine as a profession, the next step was to establish standardized practices, guidelines and training for chiropractors. In 1933, the U.S. Council of State Chiropractic Examiners was formed. Now known as the Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Boards, this entity was created to develop consistent licensing standards for chiropractors.
  • This was followed in 1944 by the formation of the Foundation for Chiropractic Education and Research, an agency devoted to scientific research and post-graduate study. The profession’s national testing and certification unit, the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners, came into being in 1963. The NBCE was created in order to provide connection, communication and uniform testing standards between the state chiropractic testing boards.
  • Chiropractic medicine achieved a significant victory in 1987, when the U.S. Supreme Court sustained a verdict rendered in a lower court, in which the American Medical Association was found guilty of antitrust violations. These violations were related to the AMA’s attempts to eradicate the chiropractic profession.

Today, chiropractic medicine is recognized as a profession in all 50 states of the U.S., as well as in other countries such as Great Britain, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Switzerland, and Australia. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 49,100 chiropractors in the United States in 2008, with a projected 58,700 expected to occupy this increasingly popular profession by 2018.