Lyn W. Freeman
After physicians, chiropractors are the second largest group of primary care providers in the United States. Chiropractic is the most widely disseminated indigenous American system of healing and, today, is the most frequently used alternative health care profession in the United States. Yet, few understand the history, philosophy, or mechanisms underlying chiropractic practice. Consumers of chiropractic care and health care professionals who must advise patients concerning complementary medicine should inform themselves of how chiropractic is most beneficial and understand its limitations and its indications and contraindications. Chiropractic has a rich and intriguing history, a history that explains much about the tensions between conventional medicine and alternative therapies in general. It is always wise to be an informed consumer of any medical intervention— conventional or alternative. The reader can become more informed by reading this chapter.
Chiropractic is a profession that works on the musculoskeletal system of the body. Manipulation as a form of treatment is an ancient healing art. No single origin of the practice of manipulation can be identified, although many of the concepts of basic manipulation appear to be shared across time and by various cultures. Daniel David Palmer (known as D. D. Palmer), a self‐ styled magnetic healer, founded chiropractic in 1895. D.D. Palmer's son, B.J. Palmer, became known as "the developer" of the chiropractic movement and was initially responsible for its continuing success and survival.
Historically, the main emphasis of chiropractic has been and still is on the spine and its effects on the nervous system. The original chiropractic theory suggested that misaligned spinal vertebrae interfered with nerve function, ultimately resulting in an altered physiologic condition that contributed to pain and disease. It was believed that if a nerve was impinged because of a misalignment in the spine, a condition called subluxation occurred. Although the main symptom of a subluxation was pain, chiropractors also believed that spinal misalignment impaired the body's defenses.
Today, chiropractors still believe and emphasize that adjusting the spinal joints and resolving subluxations will restore normal nerve function and optimal health. However, the meaning of subluxation has been expanded. Improved joint mobility and the alleviation of spinal fixation or restricted movement is a focus of chiropractic today. 58
In recent decades, chiropractic theories concerning how mechanical spinal joint dysfunction may influence neurophysiology have also undergone significant modification and now reflect a more contemporary view of physiology. 29 This modification of theory has continued to expand the meaning of subluxation.