The Toftness Radiation Detector is a hand-held instrument claimed to detect low levels of electromagnetic radiation from the human body and focus it so that a chiropractor could detect conditions requiring treatment. The device, patented in 1971  and 1984 , consists of a plastic cylinder containing a series of plastic lenses. Its inventor, chiropractor Irwing N. Toftness (1909-1990), claimed that energy with a frequency of 69.5 gigahertz emanates from compressed spinal nerves.
According to an article in Dynamic Chiropractic, Toftness was a disciple of Albert Abrams, M.D. [a man whom the AMA considered the “dean of gadget quacks”]. In 1936, Toftness began developing a version of an Abrams’ “radionics” device for the chiropractic profession. He started with a plate similar to a drum head that was rubbed, producing a crackling sound similar to that of a Geiger counter. Toftness claimed he could feel heat arising from the spine by simply holding his hand over the patient. Because his colleagues could not reproduce what he felt, he developed his device to “amplify the heat” he allegedly felt when subluxation or disease were present .
The device supposedly focused the radiation so the chiropractor could detect it while rubbing his fingers on the detection plate . Rubbing hard could produce a crackling sound. According to Toftness, when the lens came to a diseased part of the back, the operator’s fingers would encounter increased friction and start to “stick” on the rubbing plate. The more crackles, supposedly, the greater the “nerve interference” or “subluxation.” The purported disturbances would then be treated by low-force spinal adjustments. Toftness conducted seminars to train chiropractors in the use of his apparatus, which he would lease for use in their own offices.
The device was originally called the Neurolinometer. Later he redesigned it and marketed it under the names “Toftness Research Instrument” and “Toftness Radiation Detector.” Yale University’s Edmund S. Crelin, Ph.D., who tested a Toftness Radiation Detector for the FDA, concluded that it was “hocus-pocus” He pointed out that radiation at 69.5 gigahertz would penetrate only about one millimeter of body tissue, while the spinal nerves are two to three inches from the body’s surface. So even if a dysfunctional nerve could radiate the tiny amount of energy claimed by Toftness, the radiation would be absorbed by surrounding tissues and would not be detectable at or above the body’s surface .
In 1989, two chiropractors studied the use of a Toftness Radiation Detector to look for “upper cervical subluxations” in 50 patients. Since “upper cervical subluxation” has no anatomical reality, the study was meaningless on its face. Nevertheless, the authors concluded that the device had “fair but inadequate reliability.”  Not long afterward, the device was redesigned and was renamed the Sensometer.
In 1985, an article in Today’s Chiropractic described what sounds like a similar device, the Jennetics Radiation Detector, developed by Martin Jenness, D.C., Ph.D. According to the article, the device is aimed at the patient and enables the chiropractic to detect changes in the feel of the membrane supposedly due to changes in microwave radiation . Jenness also offered seminars in the “JENNETICS Brain Adjustment System.” Searching with Google in 2013, I found that a few chiropractors still used Jenness’s device.
It took the FDA more than 70 years to stop the overt marketing of Toftness’s devices in interstate commerce. In 1938, the FDA seized six Neurolinometers and obtained a court decree under which the devices were given to the FDA to use for educational purposes . In 1962 the FDA obtained court orders that disposed of 29 more devices, most of which had been distributed by the Toftness Postgraduate School of Chiropractic, the Toftness Chiropractic Clinic, or Toftness’s Foundation for Advancement of Research. Some of the Neurolinometers had been labeled with the name “Toftness Research Instrument” and said to be “strictly limited to personal research work by duly qualified practitioners in chiropractic.” But they were shipped together with a booklet claiming that they could detect nerve interference, which enabled the FDA to assert in court that that the devices were really intended for diagnosis .
Notices in FDA magazines indicate that between 1962 and 1967, the FDA initiated seizures that led to condemnation of at least 12 devices in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nevada. In 1973 and 1975, the FDA arranged for two more to be seized at the Toftness Post-Graduate School of Chiropractic in Cumberland, Wisconsin . In 1982, a Wisconsin federal judge condemned the devices and ordered Dr. Toftness and the school to notify chiropractors who still possessed a Toftness device to return it . In 1984, after the the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the judge’s order  and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, the U.S. Justice Department and Toftness issued notices [13,14]. However, a few chiropractors continued to use the device, and articles promoting it occasionally appeared in chiropractic publications.
The appellate court decision stated that to obtain a Toftness device, chiropractors had to take a course for several weeks that cost $400 and sign a 15-year lease that called for payment of $700 for the first year and $100 for subsequent years and that by 1982, about 700 chiropractors had signed leases. The leases stated that use of the instrument should be limited to research and that users should keep careful records and forward them to Toftness’s school. However, evidence in the case showed that the device was intended for use in diagnosis and as a guide to treatment and therefore could not be legally marketed without FDA approval.
In 2005, the FDA discovered that violative devices were still being shipped by Irwing Toffness’s nephew, David Ray Toftness, D.C., and the Toftness Post-Graduate School of Chiropractic, Inc. (David, who inherited the school when Irwing died, was the sole shareholder, officer, and director.) In 2007, the agency conducted a search during which 96 instruments were seized. In 2010, Glen Thomas Lindahl, of Churubusco, Ind., pleaded guilty  and was fined $540 for making and shipping devices to Wisconsin. In 2013, David and the school were charged  and pleaded guilty to shipping unapproved devices in interstate commerce. The plea agreements called for forfeiture of the seized devices as well as any others in defendants’ possession or that could be recalled from buyers [17,18]. In August 2013, David was fined $5,000 and the school was fined $50,000 and placed on probation for one year.
Other Government Actions
In 1988, the Arizona Board of Chiropractic Examiners filed a complaint against Richard Neil Ashden, D.C. In 1990, the Board concluded that he had engaged in “unprofessional or dishonorable conduct” by (a) telling a wheelchair-bound patient with chronic multiple sclerosis that she would be walking again in 6 months, (b) prescribing vitamins and other nutritional supplements after taking a hair analysis, and (c) using a Toftness device. The board fined Ashden $1,000 and suspended his license for 3 months .
In 1992, the state of Oregon prosecuted four chiropractors who had been accused of using a “Toftness-like device” in their practices. Although the chiropractors claimed to have abandoned the outlawed Toftness device, prosecutors maintained that they were guilty of using a Toftness-like device. Their derivative, designed by one of the defendants, consisted of a block of wood with an embedded concave plastic surface, but the “rubbing plate” was placed on an adjacent horizontal surface rather than on the instrument that was in direct contact with the spine. The chiropractor would use his left hand to feel the patient’s spine moving the fingers of his right hand back and forth across the plastic rubbing plate. The defendants claimed that whenever their left hand contacted a problematic spot on a patient’s spine, friction would increase, causing the fingers of their right hand to “stick” on the rubbing plate .
In 1994, the Arkansas State Board of Chiropractic Examiners reprimanded Richard F. Rankin, D.C. fined him $1,000, and placed him on probation for two years. As part of the case settlement, he was required to stop using a Toftness device in the treatment of patients. . In 2004, the Arkansas board concluded that he had violated the 1994 order by diagnosing another patient with a Toftness device and inappropriate muscle-testing (applied kinesiology). The board fined him $2,000, suspended his license for 30 days, ordered him to take 12 hours of remedial education, placed him on probation for two years, and permanently banned him from using a Toftness device for diagnosis or treatment of any patient .
In 2003, the Wisconsin Chiropractic Examining Board voted to revoke the license of Harold J. Dykema, D.C, based on his use of a Toftness Sensometer and three other dubious approaches (neural organization technique, neuro emotional technique, and live cell analysis). The administrative law judge who evaluated the case for the board concluded:
There is no scientific basis for concluding that the device is a viable diagnostic tool. . . .
Respondent’s use of the “sensometer” to alert him to the presence of vertebral subluxations constitutes . . . . unprofessional conduct. . . .
If he believes it works, then his competence as a trained health care professional is thrown into question. If he knows that it doesn’t, then he is attempting to defraud and deceive his patients. Either way, he has violated the board’s rules of conduct .
In June 2007, the Wisconsin Board suspended the chiropractic license of James A. Wilke, D.C. for a minimum of one year after concluding that he had improperly treated a patient at her home. The board’s order stated that he used a Toftness device (or a substantiality similar device), conducted a muscle test involving her narcotic medications, and subsequently confessed to the police that he had stole some of the medications . The suspension was stayed in February 1989.
In 2009, the Wisconsin board ordered a one-year suspension for Judith Yager, D.C., for six violations, one of which was the use of a Toftness device .
In 2013, the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners cited David Manago, D.C., for using a Sensometer to diagnose and treat patients. The board concluded that this constituted gross and repeated negligence. He was ordered to pay $500 and stop using the device .
Chiropractic regulators in British Columbia (Canada) have declared that “A chiropractor will not use the Toftness Radiation Detector or sensometer as a method of diagnosis.” 
The number of chiropractors still using Toftness devices is small, but 3.3% of American chiropractors who responded to a 1991 survey of the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE) said they used Toftness techniques . Subsequent NCBE surveys found that 1.8% of Australian chiropractors, 2.2% of Canadian chiropractors, and 2.9% of New Zealand chiropractors reported using Toftness techniques. The 1998 and later NBCE surveys did not include a question about Toftness techniques.
Despite the nonsensical nature of his device, Irwing Toftness is still held in high esteem in many chiropractic circles.
If you encounter a practitioner who uses this device, please let me know.
- Toftness IN. Lens radiation and sensing device. U.S. Patent #3,626,930 , Dec 14, 1971.
- Toftness IN. Method of spinal radiometer analysis and corrective adjustment. U.S. Patent #4,479,478, Oct 30, 1984.
- Abrams-like devices are Toftness-like devices and rubbing plates. Dynamic Chiropractic 9(14), 1,5, 1991.
- Instructions for use. Toftness Postgraduate School of Chiropractic, Cumberland, Wisconsin. Undated, early 1980s.
- Crelin ES. Chiropractic. In Stalker D, Glymour C (eds). Examining Holistic Medicine. Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 1989.
- Gemmell HA and others. Interexaminer reliability of the Toftness Radiation Detector for determining the presence of upper cervical subluxation. Chiropractic Technique 2:10-12, 1990.
- Hosek RS. The JENNETICS Radiation Detector. Today’s Chiropractic, May/June 1985, PP 11, 64.
- FDA Notices of Judgment. Various dates in 1962.
- Wollschleger EJ. Letter to Carl S. Cleveland, Jr, D.C., 1964. Reported in Keating JC Jr. Chronology of J. Stanley Hayes, D.C.
- FDA Papers, November 1967, p. 39 and March 1972, p 35; FDA Consumer Oct 1973, p. 4; and Sept 1975, p. 33.
- Judgment. United States of America v. An article of device … “Toftness Radiation Detector,” Toftness Graduate School of Chiropractic, Inc., and Irwing N. Toftness. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. Case No 75-C-478 & 479, filed Jan 18, 1982.
- Decision. United States of America v. An article of device . . . “Toftness Radiation Detector,” Toftness Graduate School of Chiropractic, Inc., and Irwing N. Toftness. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, April 4, 1984.
- Burley DO. Important notice concerning Toftness Radiation Detectors. U.S. Department of Justice.
- Toftness IN. Letter to chiropractors who had purchased a device. Oct 16, 1984.
- Information. United States of America v. Toftness Post-Graduate School of Chiropractic, Inc., and David Ray Toftness. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Case No 3:13-cr-00048, filed April 25, 2013.
- Plea agreement. United States v. David Ray Toftness. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Case No 3:13-cr-00048, filed May 2, 2013.
- Plea agreement. United States v. Toftness Post-Graduate School of Chiropractic, Inc. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Case No 3:13-cr-00048, filed May 2, 2013.
- Plea agreement. United States v. Glenn Thomas Lindahl. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Case No. 3:10-mj-00021, filed July 14, 2010.
- Findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order. In the matter of the holder of License No. 1072 for the practice of chiropractic issued to Richard N. Ashden, D.C. Before the Arizona Board of Chiropractic Examiners, April 30, 1990.
- Hyman R. The mischief-making of ideomotor action. The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine 3(2)34-43, 1999.
- Consent decree. In the matter of Richard Rankin, D.C. Before the Arkansas State Board of Chiropractic Examiners, July 16, 1994.
- Final order. In the matter of Richard Rankin, D.C. Before the Arkansas State Board of Chiropractic Examiners, Dec 30, 2004.
- Final decision and order. In the matter of disciplinary proceedings against Harold J. Dykema, D.C. Before the Wisconsin Chiropractic Examining Board, LS0105071CHI, Jan 29, 2003.
- Final decision and order. In the matter of disciplinary proceedings against James A. Wilke, D.C. Before the Wisconsin Chiropractic Examining Board, LS0706282CHI, June 28, 2007.
- Final decision and order. In the matter of disciplinary proceedings against Judith A. Yager, D.C. Before the Wisconsin Chiropractic Examining Board, LS0908134CHI, Aug 13, 2009.
- Citation order. Citation number 2013-10838. California Board of Chiropractic Examiners, March 22, 2013.
- College of Chiropractors of British Columbia Professional Conduct Handbook. College of Chiropractors of British Columbia, July 2009, page 13.
- Christenson MG, Morgan DRD. Job Analysis of Chiropractic: A Report, Survey Analysis, and Summary of the Practice of Chiropractic within the United States. Greeley, CO: National Board of Chiropractic Examiners, 1993.
This article was revised on May 17, 2017.