“Frankenspine” (Chiropractic)


A few chiropractors are distancing themselves from the field’s metaphysical roots. They are downplaying “Innate Intelligence” and other innately unintelligent notions. Innate Intelligence purports that living organisms possess a vitalism force that enables them to organize, maintain, and heal the body. The other key plank of chiropractic is that vertebral sublaxation causes pain and disease in all areas of the body. Those who still embrace the ideas of chiropractic founder Daniel Palmer are informally called straight chiropractors. Those who, to varying degrees, focus less on the Palmer aspects, are called mixed chiropractors.

While I welcome the jettisoning of unscientific ideas, this seems to be being done by a tiny minority of chiropractors, and I’m unsure if mixed chiropractors are replacing it with anything better. And there’s no evidence to suggest any of them are in Moline, which I suspect may be home to the country’s greatest per capita concentration of straight chiropractors. I know of at least 30 in a town of 43,000. I presume this is because Palmer started chiropractic across the river in Davenport, where it was expanded by his son, B.J. Palmer. Davenport is still home to the Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Before we go further, a key distinction must be made. A subluxation is a partial joint dislocation and is a genuine medical condition. However, Vertebral Subluxation Complex is the unfounded idea that spinal issues will cause disease and pain in other parts of the body. If a vertebra did slip out of place, that could theoretically be called a vertebral subluxation, but this condition would be obvious in an X-ray. Further, the howling victim would be concerned only with getting it back into place, not worried about it leading to a leg rash or heartburn.

Yet most chiropractors tell patients their spine is out of alignment, and that this is causing all manner of disease and pain. They insist a spinal adjustment is needed first to fix this, and then to maintain health. They X-ray the spine, or use some other method, and even if nothing abnormal is revealed, will attribute Vertebral Subluxation Complex to their patient’s tinnitus, asthma, or high blood pressure.

Stephen Barrett at Quackwatch wrote this about trying to pin down chiropractors on how they determine vertebral subluxation:

“Old chiropractic textbooks show before-and-after” X-rays that are supposed to demonstrate subluxations. I challenged the local chiropractic society to demonstrate ten such X-ray sets. They refused, suggesting instead that I ask the Palmer School to show me some from its teaching files. When I did, however, a school official replied: ‘Chiropractors do not make the claim to be able to read a specific subluxation from an X-ray film. They can read spinal distortion, which indicates the possible presence of a subluxation and can confirm the actual presence of a subluxation by other physical findings.’”

Barrett learned methods for determining spinal distortion included feeling the spine, measuring skin temperature, detecting nerve irritation, weighing the patient, studying shadows when light is shone on the back, and concluding that a patient’s leg is “functionally longer than the other.”

I looked at the claims made by Moline chiropractors on their websites. Avenue Chiropractic makes this assertion: “By protecting the nervous system, you are more likely to have uninterrupted nerve supply.” This is either pseudoscientific language or I’m missing out on this steady stream of fresh nerve deliveries that everyone else is getting.

Next, we learn, “There are many types of pain that can be eliminated by a good diet, regular exercise, and maintenance chiropractic care.” Proper diet and regular exercise will generally keep a person healthy, so a person could substitute archery or taxidermy for chiropractic and get the same result.

Uptown Chiropractic goes beyond the standard chiropractic claims and states that sublaxation repair will also heal mental issues. “Mood swings may be the result of a person’s body missing a natural and needed ingredient. Chiropractors take a natural approach to treating these symptoms through diet, supplements, and exercise.” You can’t just snap your fingers to chase a bad mood, but apparently snapping your back will do it.

Meanwhile, Real Health Chiropractic promises patients they will receive “Muscle testing to help determine neurological status and balance the physical, chemical, and emotional imbalances related to the vertebral subluxation complex.” The brain might reveal the reasons for muscular degeneration, but not the other way around. And checking a person’s quadriceps to determine if they are mentally stable seems like a true longshot.

Still, Real Health assures us their care will bring relief to “a spectrum of ailments such as headaches, certain types of migraines, menstrual cramps, allergies, asthma, emphysema, stomach disorders, spastic colon, and arm, hand, and leg pain.” In actuality, there is nothing in reputable scientific literature to success chiropractic can treat this medley of maladies.

The only point I found on any of these websites that I agreed with was from the Birdsell site, which quoted this from the New England Journal of Medicine: “Observational study found that low back pain patients receiving chiropractic care…are more satisfied than those receiving medical care.”

Indeed, there are a few types of musculoskeletal lower back pain that chiropractic is effective for. But Birdsell quickly ventures onto more grandiose terrain. “Chiropractic care addresses many common reasons why people experience pain and other health issues. If something is not right with your body’s foundation, then that needs to be addressed before true health can be achieved.” I’m unsure what the body’s foundation is supposed to be, but from context, I’m guessing the spine. I also have no idea how “true health” differs from “health.” But by diverting everything back to the spine, chiropractors can keep patients coming back no matter what unpleasantness they are suffering from.

Or not suffering from, in the case of chiropractic maintenance. “Once your body has fully healed, it is important to come in for periodic chiropractic adjustments to avoid further problems. This phase of chiropractic care requires a quick visit to the chiropractor one to four times per month.” Birdsell is suggesting up to 48 visits a year for someone who is completely healthy! Maybe on some of these visits, this specimen of ideal health can visit the Birdsell acupuncturist, who offers “qi-gong exercises to further help the patient achieve healing energy, or qi.”

QC Chiropractic suggests it can control ADHD. “Instead of treating the various symptoms of hyperactivity, we look for disturbances to the child’s nervous system. This link between the spine, brain stem dysfunction, and ADHD is common. We recommend a schedule of safe and natural chiropractic adjustments to help reduce the accompanying nervous system tension.”

If the ADHD child also has allergies, perhaps QC Chiropractic can offer a two-for-one special. Because it also claims, “We look for ways to restore your ability to adapt to allergens by locating and reducing disturbances to your nervous system.”

Meanwhile, Jack Chiropractic tells us, “Our office recognizes the hazard that Vertebral Subluxation causes in your quality of life. We believe everyone deserves a healthy life, free of vertebral subluxation.” And I believe everybody is leading such a life.

While there is some disagreement among chiropractors about how much to hold onto its metaphysical past, the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners stated last year, “A subluxation affects the nervous system and may lead to reduced function, disability, or illness.”

Chiropractors are highly distinctive from other doctors. They cannot prescribe medication. Rather than attend medical school, they learn their trade in schools like Palmer and have no residencies after graduation. Palmer and other chiropractic schools are accredited by a private organization run by chiropractors. They are not part of the medical mainstream, nor are they competent to be. They are still following the ideas of B.J. Palmer, who wrote this of disease in general and smallpox in particular: “There is no contagious disease. There is no infection. There is a cause internal to man that makes his body a breeding ground for illness.” Smallpox was later eradicated through a means void of any subluxation correction.

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