Chiropractor Helps Blind Man See Again!

1016396_visual_aid_1[originally published in KCN, October 2008]

With a headline of almost tabloid proportions — I must admit, I treaded lightly at first when I viewed the Iowa TV 9 news broadcast on

The story featured  38 year-old, Dubuque man, Doug Harkey, who had been legally blind in his left eye for 12 years — that is until his January 3, 2008 chiropractic visit with Tim Stackis, D.C.  Harkey recounted that after his adjustment, his left eye started watering for 45 minutes straight.  Then his right eye started watering too.  As he wiped his right eye, his vision miraculously returned to his left! Evaluation with an eye doctor found that, indeed, Harkey’s vision in his left eye had returned.  Testing found it to be at 20/100 with potential  future improvement to 20/30 with corrective lenses.

But does Harkey really have chiropractic to thank, or was this just some sort of weird coincidence?  Well, as his chiropractor correctly pointed out, “the nervous system controls and regulates every function of the body.”  Even so, we chiropractors are not enabling the blind to see on a daily basis.  As a matter of fact, one of my colleagues in chiropractic school was blind, and, to my knowledge, still is.  That said, however, there are exceptional cases where chiropractic can improve or restore vision — I believe that Harkey’s situation was one of them.

1369752_brailleIn the interest of full disclosure, I have never enabled the blind to see.  I have, however, had a handful of patients report being “able to see better” following an adjustment.  I even had one patient pull a u-turn and drive back to the office to tell me about it.   I also remember when I was a intern, there was a longtime patient to the school clinic that would judge our adjustive skills by how well she could read the eye chart following our treatments  — talk about intimidation!

There are plenty of naysayers. One states that “There is simply no biological mechanism for neck manipulation to restore vision to one or both eyes…. the pathway from the eyes to the brain is fairly direct and does not pass anywhere near the neck.”  Instead, he chalks events like Harkey’s up to “spontaneous recovery.”

Perhaps he forgot that the upper four cervical nerves communicate with the rami communicants, which in turn communicate with the superior cervical ganglion, which then transmits with the cavernous plexus made up chiefly of the medial division of the internal carotid nerve, which then communicates with the nerves of the eye through the ciliary ganglion (oculomotor nerve, ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve, and the nerve to the ophthalmic artery).

Another mechanism that perhaps slipped his mind was that misaligned vertebrae can interfere with adequate blood flow to the optic nerve — via the sympathetics — and can rob its ability to process sight appropriately.

But, then again, “spontaneous recovery” is always a distant possibility — but I would bet that the patients involved in the following sample of case studies would disagree.

• In the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics (JMPT), a case study of a 9 year-old female was reported.  The girl essentially had tunnel vision in both eyes.  After one adjustment her vision normalized.  Then, one year later, she returned with vision loss in one eye after being hit in the head with a ball.  One manipulation later, she could see again.

• Another case report in the same journal talked about a 62 year-old man with a week-long visual loss in one eye, along with headache and neck strain.  Eye examination showed no problems.  After a week of spinal manipulative therapy, his vision improved dramatically and was confirmed with computerized static perimetry.

• Again in the JMPT,  a case study was reported of two 13 year-old cousins with constricted visual fields and diminished visual acuities.  Over a period of only 7 chiropractic treatments, recovery of normal vision was obtained for both — with much of the improvement being seen immediately following the adjustments.

• A 53-year old woman  who experienced loss of vision as a result of a facial fracture from a fall down a stairwell was written up in the JMPT, as well.  With chiropractic adjustments she was able to regain full optic nerve function.

• The Journal of Behavioral Optometry reported on an elderly man who lost his vision following a trauma to the head.  Both optometric and ophthalmological examinations confirmed his blindness with the ophthalmologist reporting that the blindness was permanent and no medical treatment was indicated. After 3 visits to the chiropractor, hints of vision began to return.  With subsequent visits his vision improved more and more to the point that he was eventually able to “read comfortably.”

• In the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the author reported on 114 patients with neck arthritis and associated visual disorders.  Following “manipulative treatment” 83% of these patients showed visual improvements — with 91% of the 54 followup cases showing lasting effects.

Regardless of the exact mechanism that is at play here, something is indeed happening, and I find it very hard to cast all of this evidence aside and place it in the “spontaneous recovery” category.  What makes our blind man’s story even more interesting is the fact that he resides in Dubuque, Iowa — a mere 71 miles north of Davenport, Iowa.  Davenport, of course, is where our profession was birthed when D.D. Palmer delivered a spinal adjustment that restored the hearing in Harvey Lillard’s deaf ear of 17 years — a story of equal fascination.

And so, after pondering the geographical significance of these two chiropractic miracle stories, I offer up my own theory for your consideration:  there’s something in the water.

Sources used for this article:
Changjiang I, Yici W, Wenquin L, et al: “Study on cervical visual disturbance and its manipulative treatment.” Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 1984 4:205.
Chiropractic heals the blind.  KCRG  TV 9 News Broadcast.  Dubuque, Iowa. January 2008.  
Gilman G, Bergstrand J: “Visual recovery following chiropractic intervention.” Journal of Behavioral Optometry 1990 1(3):3.
Hogstrom.  Visit to chiropractor restores man’s sight.  Telegraph Herald.  Dubuque, IA. January 11, 2008.
Kent.  Vision, the cervical spine, and chiropractic.  The Chiropractic Journal.  November 1996.   
Gorman RF: “Monocular vision loss after closed head trauma: immediate resolution associated with spinal         manipulation.” JMPT (1995) 18(5):308.
Gorman RF: “Monocular scotoma and spinal manipulation: the step phenomenon.” JMPT (1996) 19(5):344.
Gorman RF: “The treatment of presumptive optic nerve ischemia by spinal manipulation.” JMPT (1995) 18(3):172.
Novella.  Making the lame see and the blind walk.  Neurologica Blog:  your daily fix of neuroscience, skepticism, and critical thinking.  January 14, 2008.                                                                                                                                
Palmer MH. Chiropractic anatomy. The Palmer School of Chiropractic.  Davenport Iowa 1923.
Schutte B, Teese H, Jamison J: “Chiropractic adjustments and esophoria: a retrospective study and theoretical discussion.” J Aust Chiro Assoc Dec 1989 19(4):126.
Stephens D, Gorman F, Bilton D . The step phenomenon in the recovery of vision with spinal manipulation: a report on two 13-yr-olds treated together. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 1997 Nov-Dec;20(9):628-33
Terrett AGJ: “Cerebral dysfunction: a theory to explain some of the effects of chiropractic spinal manipulation.” Chiropractic Technique (1993) 5(4):168.
Terrett AGJ, Gorman RF: “The eye, the cervical spine, and spinal manipulative therapy: a review of the literature.” Chiropractic Technique (1995) 7(2):43.
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