Now Hear This!
September 18th will mark the 111th anniversary of the first chiropractic adjustment delivered by our founding chiropractor, D.D.Palmer. So, the question for all of you trivia buffs is, “What was the first chiropractic patient adjusted for?” If you answered “lower back pain,” you’re wrong. You’re also wrong if you answered “headache,” “neck pain,” “shoulder blade pain,” or “sciatica.” The correct answer, just might surprise you, for the first chiropractic patient presented with a condition that chiropractors tend not to be associated with these days: hearing loss.
The first patient was a gentleman by the name of Harvey Lillard. Lillard worked as a janitor in the same building that Palmer occupied an office in Davenport, Iowa. One day, Lillard consulted with Palmer concerning his inability to hear out of his left ear. He explained that for the past 17 years he had been unable to hear out of this 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 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, 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, Lillard could hear again! And through a series of events following this amazing adjustment in 1895, the chiropractic profession was born.
It seems rather odd that chiropractic and hearing would even be associated with each other — because at first glance, it just doesn’t make much sense. So, it’s no wonder that this patient account of Dr. Palmer’s has been questioned by skeptical anatomists and neurologists. And it should be. We chiropractors certainly don’t doubt that it happened though — because it has happened many times since — we just have a hard time, even with our current knowledge level 111 years later, explaining it.
Thanks to a study out of Italy just released in the journal Chiropractic and Osteopathy, our ability to explain this incredible beginning of the chiropractic profession maybe within reach.
Chiropractor, Joseph Di Duro, conducted what’s known as a case series study. His objective was to examine the effect a single, initial chiropractic adjustment on his patients’ hearing. Interestingly, unlike Palmer’s patient, none of Di Duro’s patients complained of any hearing loss, but, instead, complained of other issues like neck pain, lower back pain, and headaches. However, 15 of the 200 patients in this study— unbeknownst to them— did demonstrate, via audiometric analysis of a hand held audioscope, what was considered to be a hearing impairment.
The patients were each evaluated for spinal and extremity misalignments and were treated accordingly. There was no “specific” hearing restoration adjustment given. Immediately after their adjustments, the patients hearing was tested again.
The results were rather interesting. A total of 12 tones at varying decibels was projected into each ear of the patients. Taking the average of the author’s findings, the hearing impaired group reported hearing 3.7 tones in the right ear and 5.5 tones in the left ear — while the “normal” group reported hearing nearly all of the tones (11 to 12 in each ear). After their adjustments, the impaired group’s ability to hear improved — reporting 6.9 tones in the right ear and 7.4 tones in the left. Di Duro theorized that the improvement seen in his study might be due to “central plastic changes in the auditory system” brought about by the adjustment.
Pretty amazing findings to say the least. The author was quick to point out, however, that his findings at this point “[could] not prove a cause-and-effect relationship,” as their were several limitations to the study. Nevertheless, this study certainly does stir up some interest in a condition that birthed a profession. I’m sure will be “hearing” more about this in the future.