Happy Birthday, Chiropractic!

[originally published in KCN, September 2003]

Birthday CakeMark your calendars!  Because on September 18th, chiropractic turns 108 [115 by today’s date in 2010].  It was on this day back in 1895, from his office on the second floor of the Ryan Block building in Davenport, Iowa, that D.D. Palmer delivered his first adjustment — an adjustment that not only changed the life of his patient, but the lives of millions that would follow the birth of this new profession of chiropractic.

So, just what did the first chiropractic patient complain of?  Well, it may surprise you, but it wasn’t back pain, neck pain, or even headaches.


Dr. D.D. Palmer

No it was — get ready for this — deafness!  His patient, Mr. Harvey Lillard, explained that for the past 17 years he had been unable to hear out of his left ear after an incident in which he exerted himself while working in a “cramped, stooping position,” when something gave way in his back — immediately bringing on the deafness.  Palmer wrote that Mr. Lillard was so deaf that he couldn’t hear the ticking of a watch or the racket of a wagon on the street.  Upon examining the gentleman’s spine, Dr. Palmer found what appeared to be a misaligned vertebra in the mid back region.  Hypothesizing that this misalignment could be the cause of the hearing problem, he persuaded his patient to allow him to realign it.  And align it he did!  Almost immediately following the adjustment, Mr. Lillard could hear again!

Ryan Building

Palmer’s office was on the 2nd Floor of this Ryan Block building

DD Adjustment

DD Palmer adjusting a patient

Harvey Lillard

Harvey Lillard, the first chiropractic patient.

Chiropractic, a cure for deafness?  Palmer probably thought so at first.  But the fact is, chiropractic is not a cure for anything — not even back pain.  Chiropractic, as D.D. Palmer would soon find out, was a way of simply allowing the body to work better by removing nervous system interference due to structural misalignment or dysfunction of the spine.  Mr. Lillard’s deafness happened to have a structural component to it.  Not every condition has a structural component, and certainly not every time.  As far as deafness goes, a structural malposition of a vertebra is not by any means commonplace.  Thankfully it happened to be on that September day in 1895.  For it was this incident that encouraged Palmer to study further and later learn that by optimizing one’s spinal function and position, greater health would come about and maladies tended to disappear.  Interestingly, though, the practice of manipulating joints of the spine and body for health reasons was not a new concept at all.  As a matter of fact, it had been going on practically since the beginning of time.

No one really knows when the practice of joint manipulation began, but as one history article pointed out, it was probably an intuitive attempt by someone to relieve the suffering of another.  Nevertheless, the earliest evidence of this practice can be found in some prehistoric cave paintings.  The paintings depicting spinal manipulation were discovered in southwestern France, and some scientists believe they date back to 17,500 B.C.  Beyond that, ancient Chinese Kung Fou writings of 2700 B.C. described manipulation, and Greek papyruses from 1500 B.C. gave instructions for manipulative maneuvers to help relieve lower back conditions.

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine

Later on the historical records show that manipulation was embraced by some very notable people of times past.

Hippocrates (470-357 B.C.), known by many as the “Father of Modern Medicine,” recognized the relationship of the spine with health and disease in his manuscript Manipulation and Importance of Good Health in which he wrote, “Get knowledge of the spine, for this is requisite for many diseases.”  He was credited with inventing a mechanism in which to stretch the spine out — which is what we probably facetiously refer to today as “the rack.”

“The Rack”

Socrates (469-399 B.C.) advised, “If you would seek health, look first to the spine.”

Claudius Galen, the prince of physicians

Claudius Galen (130-202 A.D.) discovered the relationship between the nervous system of the spine and health.  He became known as the “Prince of Physicians” after he cured a prominent Roman scholar, named Eudemas, of right hand paralysis by aligning his neck.  Galen wrote, “Look to the nervous system as the key to maximum health.”

Historical articles on the topic seem to suggest that more records would be available today had it not been for the fall of the Roman Empire along with the rampant destruction of the scholastic institutes of the time.  Fortunately, the art of manipulation survived through generational “baton passing” —  though, as you’ll see, without its scholarly attachment, it lost some of its credibility.

Ancient Chinese neck manipulation

Documented recordings show us that manipulation of joints was very widespread and a part of many different cultures:  Chinese, Greek, Japanese, Egyptian, European, Babylonian, Asian Indian, Syrian, Hindu, Tibetan, Polynesian, Tahitian, and many of the Native American Indian cultures both North and South.

Early Greek spinal manipulation

From the 11th through the 15th centuries, it was not uncommon for people to walk on each others backs (known as “back walking”) as a means of curing the sick.

Walter Wardwell describes in his chiropractic history text, “During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance the art of manipulation, often called ‘bonesetting,’ was handed down from father to son, or mother to daughter, and was practiced by at least one supposedly ‘gifted’ person in most communities in Europe and Asia….  The results obtained by these individuals were so unusual that the people believed that they inherited a divine gift to heal the sick!”

This art of “bonesetting” continued well into the 19th century, but unfortunately was seen more as a type of “folk practice” and was not recognized by the modern medics of the day.

Wardwell explains in his text that “Bonesetting became identified with the humble oral tradition of uneducated peasant and working people.  That identification became a stigma….  Bonesetting became a symbol of low-level, non-professional status, and status alone blinded professional borrowers who might be tempted to bring it back to respectability.”

Some tried, though. Sir James Paget, a famous British surgeon, authored an article in 1867 which appeared in the British Medical Journal entitled “Cases That Bonesetters Cure.”  In his article, he described the art of bonesetting and advised his profession to “learn…to imitate what is good and avoid what is bad in the practice of bone setters….”  Obviously his advise fell on deaf ears.  Which brings us full-circle to D.D. Palmer and his deaf patient.

We can thank Palmer for refining and perfecting the art of manipulation and raising, or perhaps better stated, resurrecting, its level of validity by backing it with science and a foundational philosophy that would truly make it distinct.

So on the 18th, be sure to wish your neighborhood chiropractor a big “Happy Birthday.”  A big Happy Birthday to a profession that for the past 108 years has enabled an ancient art to continue and gain the reverence that it truly deserves.

Dr. Lamar and Massage Therapist, Erin, party with D.D. like it was 1895

sources used for this article:
Chiropractic History:  ancient history.  Found at koellingchiropractic.com/chiropractic/gonstead/history.htm n 07/13/03.
Chiropractic: orgin and history.  McTimoney Chiropractic Association.  Found at mctimoney-chiropractic.org/chiropractic.htm on 07/14/03.
History of Chiropractic.  Found at drdoran.com/history.htm on 07/14/03.
History of Chiropractic Healthcare.  History of Spinal Manipulation.  Found at chirohelp.com/chirohistory.html on 07/13/03.
History of Manipulation.  Found at drhong.com.hk/hist-e.html on 07/14/03.
History of Spinal Manipulation.  Found at drtetro.com/spine.html on 07/13/03.  Updated Link Here
Manipulation in History.  Found at fultondc.com/manip_history.html on 07/14/03.
Peterson.  Chiropractic:  An illustrated history.  Mosby.  St. Louis, 1995.

Wardwell.  Chiropractic:  History and evolution of a new profession.  Mosby.  St. Louis, 1992.

Explore posts in the same categories: adjustment, chiropractic history

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

2 Comments on “Happy Birthday, Chiropractic!”

  1. drlamar Says:

    Thanks Dr. Gary! 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: