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History   |    Techniques    |    Glossary

Spinal Manipulation

Although chiropractic is a relatively new practice, the history of its ancestor, spinal manipulation, begins in ancient times.

The first pictures of spinal manipulation were discovered in prehistoric cave paintings in Southwestern France that date back to 17,500 BC. Many ancient cultures, including Chinese, Japanese, Egyptian, Babylonian, Hindu, Tibetan, Syrian, and Native American, left records of spinal manipulation.

Hippocrates, a Greek physician who died in 377 BC, wrote over seventy books on healing and was a proponent of spinal manipulation. He believed that only nature could heal and it is the physician's duty to remove obstruction to the body's ability to heal. He also noted the spine's relation to many diseases. In Greece mechanical devices were invented to stretch the spine and correct dislocations.

In Rome during the second century AD Claudius Galen taught proper positions and relations of vertebrae and spinal column. He was named "Prince of Physicians" when he aligned a well-known scholar's neck vertebrae, restoring nerve transmission and giving use back to his paralyzed hand.

During these times knowledge of spinal manipulation was handed down in families. Most villages had a "bonesetter" that cured the ailing by straightening their spines. This crude manipulation continued until Daniel David Palmer discovered the correct specific spinal adjustment. His son, B.J. Palmer, later developed his discovery into modern chiropractic.

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Discovery of Chiropractic

Born in Canada in 1845, D.D. Palmer moved to the US at age 20. He thought that common drugs and potions were toxic and caused stress for the ill. He wanted to find the cause of disease and eliminate it naturally. After developing his theory while learning magnetic healing, he performed his first adjustment on a janitor who had become deaf seventeen years earlier when a vertebrae was displaced in an accident. Palmer logically reasoned that replacing this vertebrae would restore the man's hearing. He was right.

At first Palmer called these adjustments "hand treatments." Later he named them chiropractic, combining the Greek words "chiro," meaning hand, and "practic," meaning practice or operation. In addition to restoring hearing, he broke fevers, ended pain, healed infections, improved vision, and aided stomach disorders
-- all with chiropractic. He knew how to help people but he did not know why it worked. With more study of anatomy and physiology he learned that adjustments corrected vertebral subluxations (nerve interference) that caused the problems. Chiropractic combines the practitioner's ability to correct nerve interference and the body's ability to heal itself.

Palmer published two books before his death in 1913, The Science of Chiropractic and The Chiropractor's Adjuster.

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Development of Chiropractic

D.D. Palmer's son, Bartlett Joshua Palmer, was born in 1881. B.J. was a prolific author and speaker as he developed the chiropractic his father discovered. He graduated from his father's Palmer School of Chiropractic, then taught there while he also operated his private practice. He served as president of the school from 1905 until his death in 1961. B.J. developed the chiropractic philosophy, art, and science into a profession and enabled Palmer college graduates to be licensed and qualified to practice this profession.

Other schools of chiropractic opened throughout the world but in the 1920s the Palmer school remained the largest with over two thousand students enrolled.

In 1926 Palmer become president of the International Chiropractic Association and fought for separate licensing boards, continuing to argue the legitimacy of chiropractic.

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