“Oof!” I grunted as my breath left me.
“I think you’ll come to enjoy your treatments after a while,” said my chiropractor. “Most of my patients actually look forward to their sessions.”
“I’m—oof!—sure I will,” I gasped while the bones in my neck popped in succession as my head was twisted farther and farther around.
I was getting the full benefit of the $35 I had paid for a complete “chiropractic spinal analysis.” So far, I had been poked, palpated, questioned, massaged, hot-packed, and x-rayed. Now I was undergoing the pièce de resistance of chiropractic art—the adjustment. Adjustments consist of forcibly pushing the bones of the spine into a straight line. It hurts a little and makes a distressing popping noise. Chiropractors feel that adjustments can cure some diseases and help to prevent others.
The US Public Health Service estimates that four million people in the United States visit a chiropractor for various ailments each year. In Texas, there are between 850 and 900 practicing chiropractors, or DCs. There is a chiropractic college in Pasadena and a state association. Medicare, Medicaid, and Workmen’s Compensation all pay for chiropractic treatment, as do some health insurance policies. Many people will swear up and down that without their chiropractors they’d be in wheelchairs or worse.
Medical doctors in general, and the Texas Medical Association ( TMA) in particular, detest chiropractors. “Chiropractic,” says TMA, “is an unscientific cult whose practitioners lack the necessary training and background to diag nose and treat human disease. Chiropractic constitutes a hazard to rational health care in the United States because of the substandard and unscientific education of its practitioners and their rigid adherence to an irrational, unscientific approach to disease causation.” Medical doctors are not supposed to associate with chiropractors or refer patients to them. The TMA wages an ongoing battle in the Texas Legislature with the Texas Chiropractic Association ( TCA), and the TMA public relations office is crammed with anti-chiropractic leaflets and books. The two groups apparently spy on one another. I was briefly suspected by a chiropractor of being a “medical plant.”
The public seems to be more or less unaware of this mini-war. Public attitudes range from complete ignorance of what a chiropractor does to unreserved devotion to a particular chiropractor. Most of this devotion comes from peopie in rural areas where the chiropractor is sometimes the only health care person in town, but there is no lack of urban adherents to chiropractic care. It is not unusual to hear people claim that a chiropractor cured an intractable sinus problem, or asthma, or a “slipped disc.”
Chiropractic was one of many medical theories of disease causation and treatment that sprang up in America in the 19th century. In addition, there were naturopathy, naprapathy, magnetic healing, homeopathy, osteopathy, and allopathy. Of these, only osteopathy, allopathy, and chiropractic have survived. There are scattered practitioners of the other systems, but they usually are ar rested for quackery before they have been in practice too long. One of the reasons that the prepotent American Medical Association was founded was to oppose quackery.
Chiropractic was discovered by Dan iel David Palmer, a grocer and magnetic healer, in 1895. Chiropractors like to point out that this is the same year that Wilhelm Röntgen discovered the roentgen ray, or x-ray, which is the main diagnostic tool of the chiropractor. Palmer, in his Textbook of the Science, Art and Philosophy of Chiropractic, Founded on Tone, says that on the same street where he had his office in Davenport, Iowa, there was a janitor who had been deaf for seventeen years. The janitor mentioned that his deafness had started when he felt a bone pop in his back as he was lifting a heavy load. Palmer reasoned that if the vertebra were snapped back into place, the man might be helped. Sure enough, when the mis aligned vertebra had been adjusted, the man could hear again. Palmer dropped his magnetic healing and grocery business and began to stump for his new science of chiropractic. Palmer College of Chiropractic is still in existence in Davenport.
Palmer decided that the cause of all disease stems from “subluxated,” or misaligned, vertebrae. When a vertebra is out of line, he reasoned, nerves which lead from the spine to other parts of the body are pinched, cutting off the flow of “vital nerve energy” to the various or gans. When the misaligned vertebra is put back into place, this energy is restored, along with the patient’s health. The official definition of modern chiropractic, as published in the U.S. Vocational Guide, reads: “Chiropractic is a system of treatment based on the premise that the nervous system controls all other systems and physiological functions of the human body; that interference with the nerve control of these systems impairs their functions and induces disease by rendering the body less resistant to infection or other exciting causes.”
Today, the chiropractor uses x-rays to determine the location of misaligned vertebrae. He then snaps these vertebrae back into place by manipulation of the spinal cord. Some chiropractors, called “mixers,” also use non-prescription diet ary supplements, and heat and water therapy. They do not use drugs, perform surgery, or immunize against disease, and generally do not operate special chiropractic hospitals. They are accused by medical doctors of keeping patients with treatable diseases from going to medical doctors, and of sometimes indirectly causing the deaths of these patients. The chiropractor, in turn, accuses the medical profession of trying to run him out of business for economic motives, and says that MDs cause just as many deaths with their use of drugs and surgery.
I was the first patient of the day for “my” chiropractor. The reception room was small, reminiscent of the waiting rooms of country doctors, and neat. There were several copies of W. Clement Stone’s Success, magazine around. I was given the inevitable form to fill out: name, address, age, Social Security number, insurance, when did you have this accident? have you seen an attorney?