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What Is Chiropractic?

This page provides information about the science,
art, and philosophy of Chiropractic


Chiropractic (the name of which is derived from the Greek words that mean "done by hand"), was "discovered" or first systematized in 1895 by David Daniel Palmer (pictured). This was only a few years after the founding of osteopathy by Andrew Still, another health care system that D.D. Palmeralso utilized spinal manipulation but which was later organizationally absorbed by the medical (allopathic) profession as a containment strategy. Whereas osteopathy emphasized blood circulation as the chief conduit of health, chiropractic emphasizes the nervous system as the master conveyer of life force (or vivification) to every part of the body, including each of the 75 trillion cells that collectively form the human body.  

A central premise of chiropractic is that vertebral misalignments occur in the spine and can produce interferences in the function of the nervous system which have remarkable and far-reaching effects by impairing the individual's health and performance. These misalignments are referred to in chiropractic as " subluxations", and are corrected with "adjustments" administered by doctors of chiropractic (D.C.s).  

Once the subluxations are removed, the nerve interference also is removed, initiating a process toward improvement and ultimately correction of any related health problems. This internal corrective response is a product of the body's natural inclination to heal and maintain itself in a state of health and is the central premise upon which chiropractic is based.  

Historical records indicate that the beneficial effects of spinal corrections have been recognized and utilized by health care providers in many societies since even before the time of Socrates who advised, "If you would seek health, look first to the spine." 

Chiropractic continues to grow and improve 

Although it has encountered strong resistance from traditional allopathic medicine from its very beginning, chiropractic has continued to grow in acceptance and popularity so that today it is the second largest primary health care system in America, having more than doubled in patient visits since 1984 (an estimated 24 million now being seen annually by some 50,000 doctors of chiropractic). Chiropractors today enjoy licensure as "portal of entry", primary health care providers in all fifty states. 

Just as the art, science and practice of chiropractic have continued to improve over the years, so have the profession's educational requirements. Although it is true that once only 18 months of chiropractic college beyond graduation from high school were required, it should be kept in mind there also was a period in our history when it was possible to become a physician with nothing more than an apprenticeship alongside a medical practitioner.  

Today's chiropractic graduate must first undergo at least two years of accredited undergraduate college education, followed by four academic years of rigorous graduate-level work in a nationally-accredited chiropractic college. The chiropractic curriculum emphasizes both the basic and clinical sciences, along with a professionally supervised two-year internship in out-patient care. In fact, in several areas (such as anatomy, physiology, chemistry, nutrition and radiology/diagnosis), the chiropractor receives a greater number of contact hours than does his medical counterpart! 

Chiropractors are both specialists and generalists 

Chiropractors base their practice upon the idea that interference with the function of the nervous system in turn interferes with the body's health and well being, and that the most likely place for this interference to occur is in segmental misalignments in the spine (i.e., vertebral subluxations). By locating and removing subluxations and therefore the clinically-significant nerve interference and symptomatology they produce, it is appropriate to regard doctors of chiropractic as specialists in that they have specialized in the nervous system, especially as it relates to the biomechanics (structure and motion) of the spine. Consequently, the spine is the area of anatomical specialty that has been legislatively assigned to chiropractors and upon which their very licensure is based.  

On the other hand, it is equally appropriate for chiropractors to be viewed as generalists in that the far-reaching effects of their highly specific spinal adjustments usually are followed by the decrease and often disappearance of a very broad array of symptoms, disabilities and pathological conditions. This is why it is not at all uncommon for a patient to go to a chiropractor with a specific complaint and then to be delighted with the improvement of not only that complaint but also other problems during the course of their chiropractic care. 

Do chiropractors treat disease? 

Although chiropractors are generalists as well as specialists, they do not treat diseases per se. To do so would clearly constitute one of the legal definitions of the practice of medicine. This is also why chiropractors do not perform medical diagnostic procedures or make medical diagnoses (i.e. assign disease lables to their findings). They are well trained, however, to perform chiropractic diagnostic procedures which are designed to guide them in providing the very best of the kind of patient care for which they are so eminently qualified. 

Chiropractic regards disease as a response of the body largely because the body is not functioning optimally and is therefore unable to adequately defend itself against ever-present microorganisms which can subsequently overwhelm it. Chiropractic philosophy contends that by keeping the nervous system functioning normally (along with promoting a lifestyle which includes an intelligent diet, appropriate exercise and adequate rest), the body is able to maximize the powerful defense against illness and disease that a healthy auto-immune system provides. 

Chiropractic does not share medicine's traditional focus upon symptomatology. Rather, it focuses upon what it regards as the usual cause of symptomatology---a nervous system impairment that has resulted in an interference with the body's own built-in defenses and regulatory mechanisms. Chiropractic contends that an optimally-functioning nervous system enables the body to maintain its homeostasis (i.e., its proper internal environment) and therefore its adaptability---both of which are prerequisites for its health and survival of life's many onslaughts. 

In addition to its objective to maximize the body's homeostasis and natural armamentarium against disease, chiropractic intervention enjoys the added advantage of being non-invasive. This means that chiropractic care provides the patient a means of recovery and ongoing wellness without the trade-off risks of pharmacological "side effects" and without the risks of possible permanent damage from surgery---risks under which traditional medicine with its invasive procedures must always labor. This important advantage greatly contributes to chiropractic's rapidly growing acceptance and popularity by the consumer public. 

Is chiropractic unscientific or a cult? 

Chiropractic, from its very beginning, has been accused of being both unscientific and a cult. Actually, it is based upon the same scientific premises and observations that characterize the medical profession---it is chiropractic's perspective that is the difference. Unlike the medical profession, chiropractic has a very strong philosophical basis, which no doubt has contributed to its having been labled "unscientific" by the more mechanistically-oriented scientific community. Unlike a "cult" (which is characterized as excluding all other viewpoints unlike its own), chiropractic respects all bodies of knowledge or systems that have been shown to have health-restoring value, including those that are medical in nature. On the other hand (and ironically), it is the medical profession that has a cult-like tradition of excluding or discrediting other viewpoints or health-care approaches that differ from its own. In fact, it is this kind of resistance from the medical profession that continues to be a problem despite the fact that chiropractic won an anti-trust suit and injunction against the American Medical Association concerning its decades of effort to restrict and even eliminate it (just as it did homeopathy and naturopathy). 

It must be kept in mind that any health care profession actually is much more a matter of art than it is science. The challenge of the scientific basis of chiropractic by the medical profession was largely as a result of the lack of prior investigation and understanding on the part of the challenger. However, the ultimate criterion for the success of any profession and the basis of its scientific credibility and acceptance should be the degree to which it achieves desired results for those it serves. The fact that chiropractic has enjoyed consistent success in helping its patients---and frequently when all else had failed---is a matter of record. It is not at all uncommon for chiropractic care to turn cases of medical failures into chiropractic successes. In such instances, the clergyman may refer to such a success as a "miracle", the physcian as "a spontaneous remission", and the chiropractor as simply "an everyday occurrence". 

Based on natural laws, chiropractic is scientific 

Chiropractic is scientific in that it is based upon the natural laws that govern life, healing and vivification (life flow). In fact, it is the dependability of these laws that gives chiropractic its credibility and its gratifying predictability. This gives chiropractic a distinct advantage over the practice of medicine (much of which is based upon trial and error). Although the philosophy and principles upon which chiropractic is based are difficult to comprehend for those who are medically oriented, this makes them no less true or effective.  

It appears that education will prove to be the best strategy in the "war on drugs", including education about the dangers of drugs available on the street and also those available from the physician as prescriptions. Furthermore, there is a great need for education about the various forms of alternative health care that are available. Most promising of these is chiropractic by virtue of its immediate and far-reaching, non-invasive benefits.  

Chiropractic: A proven health care system that offers an effective, low-risk, relatively inexpensive means of intervention for a broad array of health problems through both prevention and correction. Chiropractic: A system of health care that emphasizes and maximizes the awesome self-healing, self-regulating power of the body. Chiropractic: The health care system whose time as the official guardian of the public's health is fast approaching! 

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