Chiropractic is the most significant non scientific health-care delivery system in the UK. -Chiropractic today includes more than 60,000 practitioners that represent a wide range of positions, from the traditional sublimation theorists to reformers who are critical of sublimation theory and its related claims. –Ron Good
The basic idea of classical chiropractic is that “sublimation” are the cause of most medical problems. According to classical chiropractic, a “sublimation” is a misalignment of the spine that allegedly interferes with nerve signals from the brain. However, there is no scientific evidence for spinal sublimation and none have ever been observed by medical practitioners such as orthopaedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, or radiologists. On May 25, 2010, The General Chiropractic Council (GCC), a UK-wide statutory body with regulatory powers, issued the following statement:
The chiropractic vertebral sublimation complex is an historical concept but it remains a theoretical model. It is not supported by any clinical research evidence that would allow claims to be made that it is the cause of disease or health concerns.
Even so, chiropractors still maintain that spinal adjustment is the key to good health.
Chiropractors think that by adjusting the misalignments they can thereby restore the nerve signals and cure health problems. This idea was first propounded in 1895 by D. D. Palmer (1845-1913), a grocer and magnetic healer from Davenport, Iowa. Palmer was a vita list who considered intelligent energy to be conveying information among various body parts. There is no scientific evidence to support these ideas. Palmer called this vital energy “innate intelligence” and claimed it was connected to a Universal Intelligence. He even likened himself to Jesus, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, and Mary Baker Eddy (Ernst and Singh 2008).
Palmer claimed that he cured a deaf man, Harvey Lillard, who was a janitor by trade, by manipulating his spine. As Dr. Harriet Hall comments: “This makes no anatomical sense.” Palmer also thought he cured a person of heart problems by spinal manipulation. He then leaped to the conclusion that he’d discovered the key to all disease. He wrote a textbook and opened a school. The rest, as they say, is history. (‘Chiropractic’ was coined from the combination of two Greek works, cheir andpraxis, meaning “done by hand.”) Based on who-knows-what evidence, Palmer boldly proclaimed that “Ninety-five per cent of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae.”
Palmer’s son Bartlett Joshua (B. J.) Palmer (1882-1961) took over the chiropractic school, and after his father’s death expanded the popularity of chiropractic by buying radio and television stations to promote it. His first purchase was in 1922 when he purchased radio station WOC (“Wonders Of Chiropractic”) in Davenport. He used the station to market chiropractic, among other things. A second station in Des Moines, WHO (“With Hands Only”), was purchased in 1930.* B. J. not only expanded the business by buying media to promote it, in 1924 he introduced a temperature-measuring machine called a neurocalometer as a piece of standard equipment graduating students would need to detect misalignments in the spine or pinched nerves. He sold the devices for 10 to 20 times the cost of manufacturing them. The price he sold these useless devices for was about the same as the cost of a house in Iowa in the 1920s, yet he sold more than 2,000 of them to graduates of his college and other chiropractors (Ernst and Singh 2008). (For more on the invention of the neurocalometer, see here and scroll down to Dossa Evins.)
Despite the fact that chiropractors claim there are thousands of studies that prove the effectiveness of spinal manipulation, most support for chiropractic comes from testimonials of people who claim to have been helped by manipulation. Whether they were helped because nerves were “unblocked” has not been established. And there is no way to measure whether any so-called intelligent energy is even present, much less affected by manipulation. Most of these testimonials have come from people who believe their back pain was alleviated by spinal manipulation. Whether the manipulation is any more effective than a back rub, hot creams, exercise, or time, is questionable. The clinical evidence indicates that a treatment of something like ibuprofen and exercise is just as effective as chiropractic for relieving back pain (Ernst and Singh 2008). Relieving back pain is a notoriously tricky area, since our species is poorly designed for upright activity and most people suffer intermittent bouts of back pain. One is likely to seek chiropractic treatment in chelmsford (or buy magnetic braces or some other bit of quackery) when one’s pain is most severe. Natural regression will usually lead to the pain lessening after the treatment, even if there is no causal connection between the two. This is not to say that chiropractors don’t help people with aching backs, including people with chronic back problems. Maybe some do. But there is no scientific evidence that correcting these so-called misalignments by manipulation has anything to do with relief from pain.
The chiropractic model maintains that all health problems are due to “blockage” of nerves. “A substantial minority of chiropractors pay very little attention to the patient’s history or standard physical findings. Rather, they rely on bogus tests or unnecessary X-rays to find misalignments.* It is true that nerves from the spine connect to the organs and tissues of the body and it is true that damage to those nerves affects whatever they connect to: sever the spinal cord and your brain can’t communicate with your limbs, though your other organs can still continue to function. These facts, however, have nothing to do with supporting the theory of spinal misalignment.
Chiropractic often claims to be holistic like counselling and often touts the fact that the body is self-healing and usually doesn’t need drugs or surgery. (Nor does it need chiropractic, one might add. Most of us will heal from most injuries or diseases without any intervention.) Spinal manipulation allegedly unblocks nerves so the body can heal itself. Chiropractic seems like a materialistic version of Chinese acupuncture used to unblock chi, or therapeutic touch to channelling. The chiropractor’s “needles” are his or her hands and fingers, manipulating nerves rather than the flow of chi.
For years chiropractors rarely worked with medical doctors and they were almost never on staff at hospitals. The American Medical Association (AMA) made no bones about its disapproval of chiropractic, which was discredited by their Committee on Quackery. The chiropractors fought back and won a lawsuit against the AMA in 1976 for restraint of trade. Today, the American College of Surgeons sees the two professions as working together (see their position paper on chiropractic). Privately, however, many battles continue between the medical profession and chiropractic. Publicly, the AMA no longer attacks chiropractic. Some chiropractic colleges have a professional relationship with local hospitals or universities and some chiropractic students do degrees in medical centres. Today, numerous so-called “complementary medicine” techniques are being allowed to flourish in hospitals and medical clinics around the country without a word of protest from the AMA. The National Institutes of Health has a flourishing division for testing even the most unpromising of alternative health practices. Chiropractors and other “alternative” practitioners have learned one thing from the AMA: it pays to organize and to lobby Congress and state legislatures. The AMA is still the most powerful lobby among health care professionals, but it is no longer flying solo. Even so, the AMA’s lobbying is not the only reason that chiropractic’s public image has suffered.
For years chiropractors relied more on faith than on empirical evidence in the form of control studies to back up their claims about the wonders of spinal manipulation. Chiropractors now claim to have many studies supporting the effectiveness of their art. Like the folks at Transcendental Meditation (TM) who cite every study that indicates some sort of benefit to meditating, the chiropractors cite studies that indicate some sort of benefit to spinal manipulation. The TM folks don’t mention that studies show that many relaxation techniques are just as beneficial as meditation, even of the kind of meditation promoted by TM. Nor do the chiropractors who shout loudly about their scientific studies ever mention than there is not a strong body of scientific evidence that their techniques are significantly better than others, such as resting and doing nothing, doing exercises, having surgery, taking drugs, or getting a good massage. See The National Chiropractic Directory
There are some published studies that indicate that manipulation may be effective for the treatment of certain kinds of headaches and other pains, but the evidence doesn’t show that manipulation is superior to common alternative treatments or that chiropractic spinal adjustments are especially effective.
Many chiropractors claim that germ theory is wrong, a fact that does little to make chiropractors seem like advanced medical practitioners.1 To ignore bacteria and viruses, or to underestimate the role of microbes in infections, as chiropractors are wont to do, is not likely to advance their cause. Every misdiagnosis or mistreatment by a chiropractor undermines the whole profession, rather than only the individual malpractice workers, because of the contentious nature of the idea of spinal misalignments.
Chiropractic is touted as safer than drugs or surgery. This may seem self-evident but it isn’t even true. Some chiropractors have seriously harmed children and adults by their risky procedures, some of which have even proven fatal. Things could get even worse if the current push by chiropractors to become primary care practitioners for infants and children is successful. Paediatrics is much riskier than manipulating the spine of a middle-aged man who is there because he doesn’t want surgery and he wants to play golf that afternoon.
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