It’s a convincing title: Chiropractor.
It carries with it a certain level of medical authority and expertise, without any of the snickers or eye rolls that might accompany more out-there “health specialists” like acupuncturist or Inner Health Practitioner.
Chiropractors tend to fly under the radar of even health-savvy patients, who consider them just another kind of doctor they need to see when their back inevitably acts up. That’s the popular belief; “Oh, chiropractors? They’re like back and neck doctors, right?”
But while they are technically doctors (of Chiropractic), their profession betrays a long history of unscientific, untested and untenable claims and practices. Claims that few of us on the outside have likely heard of, and which have fueled battles between chiropractors and MD’s and within the chiropractic community itself for over a century.Founded by former magnetic therapist, Daniel David Palmer, in 1895, Palmer claimed that chiropractic was discovered through sheer luck when, according to Palmer, a deaf janitor’s hearing was perfectly returned to him after Palmer manually adjusted his neck (Spoiler: That’s not how deafness works).
Soon after, Palmer developed an entire theory of medicine based around what he called “innate intelligence”, a vague energy force that permeates from the brain to the rest of the body through every person’s spinal cord and is occasionally disturbed via subluxations, an even vaguer term for distorted nerves caused by misalignments in the spine and neck (Spoiler: That’s not how the nervous system works). These subluxations, which of course could be corrected by constant, vigilant, and expensive chiropractic manipulations, are the root of all disease and disorder in Palmer’s theory (Spoiler: That’s not how disease works), a theory to this day still embraced by a large population of modern-day chiropractors.
But not all. As the years went by and the successes of conventional medicine gave us decades on our lifespans (with help from proper sanitation methods) via antibiotics, vaccines and refined medical procedures, many chiropractors began to partially, if half-hearteningly, abandon the pre-scientific teachings of Palmer and his son, acknowledging basic scientific principles like germ theory and advances in neurology and anatomy while still claiming spinal adjustments could fix back and neck problems and/or improve health and well-being.
These mixers as they’re called are far from the medical experts they espouse themselves to be though, as many have only replaced subluxation therapy with other sparkling examples of unproven medicine, such as homeopathy, iridology (the belief that examining the irises of the eye can tell you what’s wrong with someone), reflexology and an assorted grab-bag of fancy-sounding but ultimately worthless “treatments”; while their schools are still reluctant to fully abandon the chiropractic version of what is essentially magic.
Speaking of their schools, since the days of Palmer, few chiropractors have been content with being relegated to the back and neck, fully confident that their alternative theory of disease makes them full-suited to replace physicians as the go-to source for any and every health problem. The only problem with that is not only are they being taught inaccurately, they’re not even being taught as rigorously or as long as anyone with a MD would be.
Yet, chiropractic has reached the mainstream for all intents and purposes, with some surveys estimating 20% of Americans having visited one in their lifetime. And we likely all have a friend who swears by their chiropractor. The evidence for innate intelligence and subluxations existing is as plentiful as evidence for Mitt Romney being a cybernetic unicorn (who loves to flip-flop), but it’s not all downhill for chiropractic. When it comes to short-term lower back pain, there has been support that back manipulation can work just as well as medication or other accepted treatments. When it comes to every other condition, like chronic back pain, asthma, deafness, migraines, or health improving-ness, studies show chiropractic is no better than placebo. Also note that I said back manipulation, not chiropractic in general; as it turns out, there are legitimate fields of medicine such as physical therapy that also use massage and manipulation when need be. These doctors strangely enough don’t profess to be able to cure your lazy eye with a simple crack of the neck.
A small number of the chiropractic community have looked to these studies and called for the total abolishing of chiropractic concepts like subluxations and innate intelligence by mixers and straights (those who still follow Palmer’s original ideas) while accepting their limitations, but with ideological rifts and the ever present dollar at stake, few have taken them up on the offer.
Meanwhile the follies and quackery of chiropractic therapy remain played down to the larger community as clever marketing and legal maneuvering (becoming accepted under Medicare and other insurance plans in the last few decades) has assured the continued over-reach of chiropractic as a field of medicine. By banking on their somewhat useful application as back pain specialists, chiropractic has played a sort of carnival game with their patients, selling one temporary cure while slyly implying a myriad of others just beyond the curtain. For the low, low cost of expensive continued lifetime visits and the possible risk of stroke should they rupture an artery during a neck adjustment (a low, but hardly mentioned risk).
Luckily for us, chiropractors are not the stalwart saviors of back and neck pain, nor are they the mavericks of a new system of health-care. They’re pseudodoctors practicing pseudoscience. And we can do better than that when it comes to our health.
That wraps it for this week. A day late but never a dollar short. Catch a second post on the weekend. Seeya guys soon.