With its roots deep in history, the practice of maintaining a healthy body through maintaining a correctly aligned spine dates back to the time of the ancients.
The profession of chiropractic, as a distinct form of health care, dates back to 1895. Many of the earliest healers understood the relationship between health and the condition of the spine. Hippocrates advised: “Get knowledge of the spine, for this is the requisite for many diseases.”
A contemporary of Hippocrates, Herodotus, gained fame by using therapeutic exercises to cure diseases. If the patient was too weak to exercise, Herodotus would adjust the patient’s spine. Aristotle was critical of Herodotus’ tonic-free approach because, “he made old men young and thus prolonged their lives too greatly.”
It was not until Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer discovered specific spinal adjustments that Chiropractic Care was officially born. “I am not the first person to replace subluxated vertebrae, but I do claim to be the first person to replace displaced vertebrae by using the spinous and transverse processes as levers…and to develop the philosophy and science of chiropractic adjustments.”
D.D. Palmer, Discoverer of Chiropractic
Born in Ontario, Canada, D.D. Palmer moved to the United States when he was 20 years old. He spent the years after the Civil War teaching school, raising bees and selling sweet raspberries in the Iowa and Illinois river towns.
In 1885, D.D. learned of the work of Paul Caster, a magnetic healer who was having some success in Ottumwa. In order to learn more, D.D. moved his family to Burlington, near Ottumwa. He learned the techniques of magnetic healing, a common therapy of the time. Two years later, he moved to Davenport and opened the Palmer Cure & Infirmary.
On September 18, 1895, D.D. Palmer was working late in his office when a janitor, Harvey Lillard, began working nearby. When a noisy fire engine passed by outside, surprised to see that Lillard didn’t react at all, Palmer approached the man to strike up a conversation. He quickly realized Lillard was deaf.
Patiently, Palmer managed to communicate with the man, and learned that he had normal hearing for most of his life. However, one day when he was bent over in a cramped, stooping position, and felt something “pop” in his back. When he stood up, he couldn’t hear. Palmer deduced that the two events — the popping in his back and the deafness — had to be connected.
As D.D. ran his hand carefully down Lillard’s spine, he felt one of the vertebra was not in its normal position. “I reasoned that if that vertebra was replaced, the man’s hearing should be restored,” he wrote in his notes afterwards. “With this object in view, a half hour’s talk persuaded Mr. Lillard to allow me to replace it. I racked it into position by using the spinous process as a lever, and soon the man could hear as before.”
Over the next several months, other patients came to Palmer with every conceivable problem, including flu, sciatica, migraine headaches, stomach complaints, epilepsy and heart trouble.
D.D. Palmer found each of these conditions responded well to the adjustments which he was calling “hand treatments.” It was later he coined the term chiropractic — from the Greek words, Chiro, meaning (hand) and practic, meaning (practice or operation).
Although he never used drugs or medicines, under Palmer’s care fevers broke, pain ended, infections healed, vision improved, stomach disorders disappeared, and of course, hearing returned.
By using adjustments to correct vertebral misalignments, or subluxations, he realized he was eliminating the nerve interference causing the patients’ complaints. This was the birth of Chiropractic care.