Medicine is the study of disease and what causes man to die. Chiropractic is the study of health and what causes man to live.” – B.J. Palmer

Get your party hats out because this month is chiropractic’s birthday! That’s right; chiropractic turned 126 on September 18! Not many medical fields are new enough to know their birthday, so this occasion is special. Let’s celebrate and look back on the history of chiropractic!

The pre-history of chiropractic

The roots of chiropractic go back thousands of years. Written records going as far back as 4000 B.C. contain evidence of spinal manipulations to alleviate back pain. Multiple ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks, and Mayans, developed these methods independently of each other. Even Hippocrates, the Greek physician known as the “father of medicine,” may have practiced what we now call chiropractic! He says, “get knowledge of the spine, for this, is the requisite for many diseases.”

The modern history of chiropractic

Chiropractic, as we know it today, began in 1895 in Davenport, Iowa. Seventeen years earlier, a janitor named Harvey Lillard was working and bent down into an awkward position. Suddenly, he felt and heard a popping noise in his neck, though some sources say it was the spine. Either way, he instantly lost most of his hearing. He desperately sought medical help, but no doctor could explain what had happened to him.

In 1895, Lillard was cleaning the Ryan Building in Davenport, where he met one of its tenants,  Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer. Palmer was a magnetic healer born in Canada in 1845. Lillard told Palmer his story, and Palmer noticed that one of Lillard’s vertebrae was out of place.

Like Hippocrates, Palmer knew the importance of the spine and believed that it was an important conduit for the nervous system to carry energy throughout the body. He theorized that many sicknesses could be explained by blockages of the nervous system and that spinal misalignments, or subluxations, could be the primary culprit of such blockages. In Lillard’s case, he believed that the misaligned vertebra was probably blocking or pinching a nerve that carried signals related to hearing.

On September 18, 1895, Palmer convinced Lillard to let him push the vertebra back into position. Within a few days, Lillard’s hearing was almost completely restored. Lillard affirmed the story in an interview eight months later and said he still heard well with continued adjustments. Hearing problems caused by spinal misalignments, like Lillard’s, are now called vertebrogenic hearing disorders.

Palmer realized that he had found a new kind of medical care, which he named chiropractic. The name is a combination of two Greek words – cheir, meaning “hand” – and praktos, meaning “done” – because it was entirely “done by hand” without the use of drugs or surgery.

Further development of chiropractic

In 1897, Palmer opened the Palmer School and Cure in Davenport, the first chiropractic school in the world. Lillard’s descendants were frequent visitors in the school’s early years. However, Palmer had to overcome skepticism from the wider medical community. Palmer also faced legal troubles – he was charged multiple times for practicing without a license. Palmer died in 1913. He is remembered as “the founder” of chiropractic.

His son, Bartlett Joshua (B.J.) Palmer took over the school in 1906. B.J. became known as “the developer” of chiropractic, working with his wife Mabel, the “first lady.” B.J. help guide chiropractic through continued struggles and fought for its recognition. At one point, the American Medical Association instituted a boycott of chiropractors, which a court later determined was an antitrust conspiracy. B.J. responded to these struggles by founding the Universal Chiropractor’s Association (UCA) to protect practitioners from prosecution. By the time he died in 1961, chiropractic had overcome early controversy and was widely accepted.

Chiropractic today

Palmer’s school, now called the Palmer College of Chiropractic, continues operating to this day. B.J. Palmer’s residence on the campus is open for public tours. The school has also opened additional campuses in Port Orange, Florida, and San Jose, California. The Palmer family continues to be involved in the school and in furthering chiropractic in general.

Chiropractic has overcome early skepticism to become an accepted method of treating musculoskeletal conditions. In turn, most chiropractors now have positive relations with other practitioners. Chiropractic has also become better at self-regulation and reducing the influence of those who falsely claim it as a cure-all, which it is not. Most states now require chiropractic services to be included in most health care plans.

Although chiropractic’s birthday has just passed, every day is a good day to celebrate spinal health and the Palmers’ legacy! If you’ve been having back problems, there’s no better time than now to seek help. Call Dr. Andrea and let us help you realign your back so that your body can begin repairing itself.