What is Chiropractic
Chiropractic is type of alternative medicine. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) defines alternative medicine as “medicine that is not generally considered part of conventional medicine”. The reason that it Chiropractic not considered part of conventional medicine is because, like other forms of alternative medicine, the claims of the practice lack observable, repeatable, and scientifically rigorous evidence.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t any evidence (there’s a bunch of anecdotal evidence); it is to say that the evidence is not scientifically established nor is it repeatable. So one of the NCCAM’s missions is to study through scientific investigation the usefulness and safety of complementary and alternative medicine.
According to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), chiropractic is a health care profession “that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system, and the effects of these disorders on general health”. It is the practice of seeing how the nervous system and disorders of the muscular and skeletal system affect (not spinal health but rather) general health. Then they list what is the common used of Chiropractic without limiting the scope to the following areas: back, neck, joint, arm and leg pain as well as headaches.
You’ll therefore find that chiropractic is also used to offer solutions regarding high blood pressure, bedwetting, irritable bowel syndrome, scoliosis, menstrual pain, phobias, asthma, PMS, colic, and so on.
Chiropractors, they say, provide a hands-on, drug-free, approach to health care that focuses on exercise, nutrition, lifestyle counseling and “spinal manipulation” or “chiropractic adjustment”.
The basis of this “spinal manipulation” is the theory of subluxation which chirocolleges.org defines as “a complex of functional and/or structural and/or pathological articular changes that compromise neural integrity and may influence organ system function and general health.”
The World Health Organization differentiates between medical subluxation and chiropractic subluxation. Medical subluxation is a “significant structural displacement” that is visible in static imaging. Chiropractic subluxation is a “lesion or dysfunction in a joint or motion segment” which alters the function or movement of said joint while the contact between the joint surfaces remains intact. They say, “it is essentially a functional entity, which may influence biomechanical and neural integrity”.
A majority of practitioners within the profession would maintain that the philosophy of chiropractic includes, but is not limited to, concepts of holism, vitalism, naturalism, conservatism, critical rationalism, humanism and ethics (9). The relationship between structure, especially the spine and musculoskeletal system, and function, especially as coordinated by the nervous system, is central to chiropractic and its approach to the restoration and preservation of health (9, 10:167). It is hypothesized that significant neurophysiological consequences may occur as a result of mechanical spinal functional disturbances, described by chiropractors as subluxation and the vertebral subluxation complex (9, 10:169‐170, 11).
The History of Chiropractic
The American Chiropractic Association states (rather than actually tracing) the roots of Chiropractic to ancient Chinese writings. They then quote Hippocrates, “Get knowledge of the spine, for this is the requisite for many diseases.” Afterwards they hop to Daniel David Palmer who “was well read in medical journals of his time and had great knowledge of the developments that were occurring throughout the world regarding anatomy and physiology.”
If you read Palmer’s autobiography, you’ll find that for years he was a magnetic healer who had discovered that many diseases were inextricably linked to the “derangements of the stomach, kidneys and other organs”.
Keating says that Palmer thought he had a gift that gave him insight on “inflammatory lesions” in a person and thus could cool off the tissue by pouring excess magnetic force into the diseased area. It was during this time that Palmer wondered if dis-ease (as he later called it) was connected to the displacement of internal parts—sort of like a machine that runs better when all the parts are in the right place.
For years DD Palmer wondered why you could have a person with pneumonia, typhoid or rheumatism while a fellow right next to such a person didn’t have it. The question, he says, was answered when he met a Mr. Harvey Lillard who became (partially) deaf after exerting himself in a bad physical position. After an examination, Palmer noted that the man’s vertebra was moved from its normal position so he used a lever to move the man’s spine. Several days later, the janitor reported that he thought his hearing was improved: Palmer says that the man’s hearing was healed.
Afterwards he says he was able to alleviate a case of heart trouble by moving a vertebra that was pressing against nerves.
Palmer said the reason for the connection is that “spirit, soul and body compose the being, the source of mentality. Innate and Educated, two. mentalities, look after the welfare of the body physically and its surrounding environments.”
Wikipedia says that speaking to a patient and friend, Samuel Weed, he had help in naming the practice: cheriros and praktikos. Originally he planned to keep the discovery a secret, but then he added it to his magnetic healing school thinking that this was the solution to all sicknesses.
Eventually he developed his theory by stating that the cause of dis-ease was “those anatomic displacements involving osseous pinching of nerves, i.e., the subluxation.” . He believed that 95% of all diseases was caused by subluxation.
Palmer’s son, BJ Palmer, ran with this theory as Palmer writes “B.J. Palmer was the first person who learned that a light pressure produced inflammation, an excessive amount of heat, over functional activity; while a heavy pressure caused paralysis, lack of function. This new thought brought much light on what was otherwise obscure. It explains why mental and physical magnetic influence returned the functions of nerves to their normal amount of action, the healer controlling, more or less, the nerves of the patient…” (Palmer, 1906). Indeed, BJ eventually stopped speaking to his father but admits that it has to do with personal reasons and not professional ones.
Finally, reports Keating, David Palmer came up with a new idea whereby he rejected his earlier ideas that vertebral subluxation was pinching nerves. Rather he embraced the thought that “the misalignment of joint surfaces anywhere in the body produced nerve-impingement, thereby altering the tension of the affected nerve and changing its vibratory frequency. Palmer held to a vibrational theory of impulse transmission, a notion that was one of several explanations of nervous system function offered by physiologists of that time.”
Since 1907, chiropractic was fraught with legal battles. First, it battled osteopathic practitioners, then it battled other chiropractors, then it fought a political battle where it sought licensing in all states (Kansas, 1913 – Louisiana, 1974). Indeed, as late as 1987, the American Medical Association (formed in 1847) labeled chiropractic quackery (1966) and later “an unscientific cult” (1983) until it lost an anti-trust case (Wilk vs American Medical Association ,1987) with a permanent injunction.
Judge Getzendanner’s statement for the plaintiff was interesting:
“The plaintiffs clearly want more from the court. They want a judicial pronouncement that chiropractic is a valid, efficacious, even scientific health care service. I believe that the answer to that question can only be provided by a well designed, controlled, scientific study… No such study has ever been done. In the absence of such a study, the court is left to decide the issue on the basis of largely anecdotal evidence. I decline to pronounce chiropractic valid or invalid on anecdotal evidence.”
The Judge also noted that:
“The plaintiffs, however, point out that the anecdotal evidence in the record favors chiropractors. The patients who testified were helped by chiropractors and not by medical physicians.”
But then proceeded to add:
“The defendants have offered some evidence as to the unscientific nature of chiropractic. The study of how the five original named plaintiffs diagnosed and actually treated patients with common symptoms was particularly impressive. (Tr. 2208-319.) This study demonstrated that the plaintiffs do not use common methods in treating common symptoms and that the treatment of patients appears to be undertaken on an ad hoc rather than on a scientific basis. And there was evidence of the use of cranial adjustments to cure cerebral palsy and other equally alarming practices by some chiropractors. (Tr. 917.)”
But, in the end the judge stated:
“I do not minimize the negative evidence. But most of the defense witnesses, surprisingly, appeared to be testifying for the plaintiffs. Taking into account all of the evidence, I conclude only that the AMA has failed to meet its burden on the issue of whether its concern for the scientific method in support of the boycott of the entire chiropractic profession was objectively reasonable throughout the entire period of the boycott. This finding is not and should not be construed as a judicial endorsement of chiropractic.”
All of this is to say that chiropractic is diverse but can be split into three main camps: straights, mixers, and reformers.
The Religion of Chiropractic
In editing The Chiropractic Adjuster, BJ Palmer, David Palmer’s son, felt compelled to edit his Father’s writings by removing any of the personal attacks against him. He reasoned that the field needed his father’s work, unpolluted, with his personal views and attacks against other persons to allow chiropractors to gain deep knowledge about the field. In some cases, BJ couldn’t remove the personal attacks because it was central to the thought-flow, but at the core he tried to include only the things that were central to chiropractic.
Therefore, BJ kept this in, the fact that David Palmer describes chiropractic as a moral and religious duty. Palmer says that the practice of chiropractic is a religious right protected by the Constitution’s freedom of religion clause.
DD says this is the case because chiropractic, when properly understood, actually treats with the character and attributes of God—the All-pervading Universal Intelligence. Chiropractic possibilities are without limit and able to lesson disease, poverty, crime and prepare people for the after-life. He says this is so because the ideas of chiropractic “originated in Divinity, the Universal Intelligence, and constitute qualities of life which, having begun in this world, are never ending.”
In its mission, Chiropractic literature uses technical terms with the purpose of teaching people about Universal Intelligence, which, he points out, the Christian world has decided to label as God.
“Chiropractors declare that God is the All-pervading Intelligence, that each individual, segmented portion of spirit is a part of that intelligent creative principle; that only matter changes its form; that spirit modifies its environment, and dissolution is but a process of reproduction.” (p. 14)
Of course, Palmer goes on to say that Chiropractic is not being re-labeled as a religion because all religious are based upon superstition. The reason Chiropractic isn’t a religion is because it’s not based on superstition: it’s based on the knowledge of principles and facts. (p. 16)
Indeed, DD Palmer said all of this thinking wasn’t developed in a void. He said he got the idea of chiropractic from the spiritual world the same way that Mrs. Eddy did in Christian science. Indeed, Palmer unabashedly says that he’s the religious head of this religion. He’s like Christ, or Mohammed or Martin Luther.
He says that as he spoke to his long dead friend, he got the idea of this physical phenomenon:
“The knowledge and philosophy given me by Dr. Jim Atkinson, an intelligent spiritual being, together with explanations of phenomena, principles resolved from causes, effects, powers, laws and utility, appealed to my reason. The method by which I obtained an explanation of certain physical phenomena, from an intelligence in the spiritual world, is known in biblical language as inspiration. In a great measure The Chiropractor’s Adjuster was written under such spiritual promptings.” (p. 5)
Noting the greatness of his discovery, he boldly claims that he has “answered the time-worn question—what is life?”
B.J. Palmer, allowing all of these writings to stand, eventually writes a pamphlet asking “Do Chiropractors Pray?” The answer? Not to some exterior intelligence but rather to the innate intelligence within man. The views continue today when Mike Reid in “The Seven Laws of the Power of Attraction” writes:
“We are spiritual beings who are a piece of an entire bigger picture with a purpose in life … As chiropractors, we already know that the universal intelligence lies within us as innate intelligence, causes our heart to beat, digests our food, and allows us to think as free people … Listen to your innate … Sit in a lotus position with your palms opened up. See yourself as one and the same with the universe.”
The Science of Chiropractic
From within the ranks, several Chiropractors state that their profession “has an obligation to actively divorce itself from metaphysical explanations of health and disease as well as to actively regulate itself in refusing to tolerate fraud, abuse and quackery, which are more rampant in our profession than in other healthcare professions” Here they cite Carter R: Subluxation – the silent killer. J Can Chiropr Assoc 2000, 44(1):9-18.
Indeed, the AMA at one point labeled Chiropractors “rabid dogs” and the practice as“quackery” before losing an anti-trust lawsuit (Wilk vs. AMA). You can read through the Quackwatch site and view the Chirobase with significant data reports.
Here are some facts:
- There is no supportive evidence found for chiropractic subluxation.
- There is no supportive evidence found for subluxations associated with any disease.
- There is no scientific basis for mis-alignments of the spine causing other diseases and yet the government was covering it with medicare
- Chiropractic degrees are given out by only 15 colleges in the US in half the time it takes to become an actual MD
- There is no credible evidence to support the use of spinal manipulation for anything other than uncomplicated mechanical-type back pain and … no evidence at all to support chiropractic subluxation theory
- Chiropractic manipulation can actually cause a stroke ( here and here)
- Most neck and back pain go away within 6 to 12 weeks.
- Chiropractic and spinal manipulation is not the same thing. You can actually go to a Physiatrist (an actual doctor) who can treat lower back pain with a team of neurologists, orthopedic surgeons, and physical therapists.
- NYU points out that although Chiropractic has gained acceptance and millions of people have reported relief by means of “spinal manipulation”, at present the research record is inconclusive. Indeed, NYU notes that most of the studies have been of the sort that pit chiropractic care versus no treatment whatsoever which means that there is no way to scientifically establish if chiropractic was the solution or the fact that they had someone checking their problem out!
From the chirobase: “Chiropractic’s legitimate scope of practice is too limited and its adherence to pseudoscience is too entrenched to promote optimal physical medicine.”
But I’ve Visited a Chiropractor And It Worked (or My Theological Problems with Chiropractic, Yoga, Reiki, and Anything Else that Works)
If you have gotten this far through the post, you probably have enough evidence to know the problem areas. Chiropractic is based on no consistent observation, it seems to have originated in a vision from the dead, it was promoted as a catchall solution for all diseases, promoted as a religion, and there is actual science-based medicine that is safer. All of this should have Christians quickly agreeing, “This is not something a Christian should be participating in”.
That was actually the case some thirty or some forty or so years ago—but it has all changed.
Today, not only do Christians visit and recommend Chiropractors, some have even opted to become Chiropractors. In fact, I’m fairly sure this post will meet with no small amount of resistance. I’m sure this will even come from Christians who, in some cases, are openly hostile against Halloween (or Christmas!) because of its (alleged) pagan origins.
Theologically there is something going on that is currently reflected in the culture today. After all, Christian Chiropractic is only one color on the spectrum. Today we also highlight Christian Yoga, Christian Reiki, Christian Buddhism, and even Christian Wicca.
Recently, Albert Mohler had a conversation with Candy Gunther Brown ( “Are We All Syncretists Now?”) highlighted some of these troubling aspects in our culture.
Brown noted that Christians rejected yoga and chiropractic as idolatry because of a sort of divide between actions and intent. She said that Catholics have historically believed in conveying belief through actions and symbols but Evangelicals focus on intent: if no one says it is religious then Evangelicals tend to think it isn’t religious.
So in one case the practitioners may call something the Inner Intelligence or the Force and Evangelicals just call it The Holy Spirit but she offers a cogent warning: Simply relabeling “Brahman” as “Holy Spirit,” or relabeling “becoming one with God” as “coming into closer relationship with God” doesn’t necessarily change the effect of engaging in that practice.
Let me break the third wall and plead with you. I know you’ve visited a Chiropractor. I know you’re okay with it. I know that it worked for you. I really do believe you. I also believe that Reiki works. And Yoga works. And even Wicca works. At least sometimes.
All of that is beside the point. My problem isn’t with it working (even if the science doesn’t come up Millhouse when it puts it under the microscope). My problem is deeper.
Christians, here’s the basic problem: because our comfort is primary we uncritically adopt practices.
We didn’t examine Chiropractic. We didn’t critique it. We noted that in some anecdotal cases it worked and therefore it must be okay. We may have even tried it, and it worked, and that made it okay.
We ignored the way the Bereans worked (Acts 17:11), ignored how John worked (1 John 4:1), ignored how Paul worked (1 Thess 5:21) and subsequently downplayed the very real warnings about the spiritual forces that are actually out there (Galatians 5:20, Eph 6:12, 1 Corinthians 10) simply because it worked. That was enough to embrace it.
The world tells us that our comfort is number one and we believe it then act out our belief.
Our backs should always feel right. Our eyes should always feel right. We shouldn’t be getting up a million times at night to pee. We should be sleeping straight through. Our sex life should be active. Our heads shouldn’t hurt.
And yeah, there’s some truth there. CS Lewis said, “The fact that our hearts yearn for something Earth can’t supply is proof that heaven is our home.”
The lie that world tells us, and the modern prosperity Gospel, is that those yearnings can be addressed now.
That’s the ugly lie.
Ease is ultimately important and therefore suffering is only an option when there are no more options. Paul stopped after three times, we would have kept asking (2 Cor 12:7-9).
Today, we might justify the ministry of a demon-possessed girl because her message was right (Acts 16:16-18) and it made things easier.
That’s the problem.
Oh sure, I know the response. “We know that girl was demon-possessed: we can’t say the same about a practice.” The thing is, the practice is still grounded in religion. In effect, we’re still visiting the witch in Endor but justifying it because sometimes it works (1 Samuel 28:9-19) and that makes life easier.
We’re given no assurances about this life beside the fact that the Lord does care for us (Matt 6:25-34), feels our pain (Psalm 116:15) and that we will suffer (Phil 1:29) while he’s working everything out for good (Romans 8). Indeed, we’re told that we’re to expect it (2 Tim 3:12). Know that suffering comes from all sorts of places (2 Corinthians 4:8–9) but it is part of the package for the people of God (Col 1:24 cf. Daniel 12:10) because it’s how we’re made ready (2 Corinthians 4:17–18; Romans 5). Expect suffering.
And unfortunately, I hear the false assurance of the prosperity gospel—the promise that you won’t suffer—all the time. Do the right thing and you won’t suffer. Follow this program and you won’t suffer. Trust God and he won’t let you suffer.
The fact is that the one who eminently trusted God suffered and he told us to follow in his footsteps (Matthew 16:24-26). When you trust God and act accordingly, you may very well suffer greatly.
Sometimes, that means that there will be pains that cannot, and maybe should not, be fixed by just any means the world, or the Abyss, provides.
Be careful, Christians. By rejecting even these comparatively light crosses, we, like Saul, can have our solutions and satisfaction but also have a party at the precipice of the abyss (1 Samuel 28:23-25).
Now you’re wondering if you’re sinning if you go to a Chiropractor. Or you’re wondering if there are any Physiatrists in your area as an alternative to a Chiropractor. Or if you should be stewing in the pain you have in your lower back instead of just visiting this guy that everyone has told you actually works.
In some cases, you might be thinking that I am just another close-minded Christian, but note that this post is primarily aimed at confessing Christians. If you are not a Christian and are comfortable with the lack of scientific data, I do not have much to offer you.
But some of you Christians are wondering if I’m making a mountain out of a dust-pile. If I am off, once again, fighting wind-mills. If I’ve committed a genetic fallacy by condemning a whole practice based on the origins. Or perhaps thinking that I haven’t done enough research to actually condemn this practice (or even the others).
Perhaps you think that Wicca, Yoga, Reiki and Chiropractic are actually all compatible with Christianity in different ways. Perhaps all truth is God’s truth and the bits that are actually true in all of these things are actually legitimate and should be embraced.
Indeed, you’re probably even what I would say to such-and-such individual.
To all of this I now remain silent.