The exponents of this system contend that there is always a subluxation in the area of the spine corresponding to the disease. In any event, treatment is directed to preselected areas of the spine. Often a section of the spine is adjusted for “stimulating” or “inhibiting” effects-to speed up or slow down a visceral function.
In the meric system, it is supposedly possible to palpate the spine from top to bottom and determine which organ is diseased by detecting the presence of subluxated vertebrae which, it is claimed, will correspond to the area of the disease. Indoctrinated patients might attempt to “test” the ability of a chiropractor by refusing to tell him their troubles and asking him to find out for himself by examining their spine. It is quite common for patients, who have been previously treated under this method, to ask for treatment at the “stomach place,” “gall bladder place,” “heart place,” and so forth. Such patients often feel that a periodic X-ray examination and spinal manipulation are all that are necessary to diagnose and treat disease, and to maintain health.
Obviously, chiropractors following such guides in the treatment of disease have little or no basis for eliminating conditions they should not treat, as well as no specific basis for treating anything at all. The chiropractor who treats a “cold,” for example, by manipulating the spine, can, according to the same theory, treat every infection known to man.
Although most chiropractors claim that disease is caused by an interruption of nerve function, there are actually some diseases that are best treated by completely severing sections of the nervous system. In certain intractable cases of disease originating in emotional tensions, such as stomach ulcers, nerves have been cut in order to interrupt pathways through which emotional conflicts are discharged into the organs. On the other hand, large sections of the autonomic nervous system have been removed in an effort to combat severe hypertension (resulting from malignant emotional disorders) with no results at all. It seems that certain emotional states are capable of causing an overproduction of endocrine substances or hormones having much the same effect as the action of a disturbed nervous system. We can see the possibilities here of how Christian Science and other forms of faith healing might actually aid in the recovery of nervous and emotionally disturbed people.
A great many disease processes probably materialize from excessive or abnormal impulses that originate in the nerve centers as a result of mental agitation, stress, endocrine imbalance, and so forth, but not from irritation of the fibers of a single nerve trunk. Visceral functions, for example, depend upon nerve impulses from a great number of similar and different nerves and nerve plexuses over a wide distribution and not upon innervation by one or more spinal nerve trunks. The spinal nerves primarily supply those structures of the body under the control of the will and, essentially, have nothing to do with visceral function (internal organs)-such function being controlled by the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Since pressure or irritation over the trunk of a spinal nerve usually results in easily recognized symptoms, it may be safely said that the frequency of disease does not, by any means, correspond to the frequency of pressure upon a spinal nerve.
The vagus nerve, one of the most important nerves in the body, passes from the skull down through the neck and thorax into the abdomen, supplying the heart, lungs, stomach, liver, intestines and other important structures. Part of the parasympathetic nervous system, Thist nerve does not pass through a joint but passes through openings of solid bone in the base of the skull. According to the textbook, The Physiological Basis of Medical Practice, by Best & Taylor, two of the nation’s leading physiologists, it is not likely that the vagus can be stimulated by mechanical pressure:
Many of the examples in the literature of bradycardia [slow heart] due presumably to pressure upon the vagus were in all likelihood due to a sinus reflex. Indeed, it is very questionable whether the vagus can be stimulated by pressure through the overlying tissues, for in operations upon the neck, even pinching the nerve with forceps does not stimulate it; and in animals, the vagus is relatively unresponsive to mechanical stimulation .
In contrast, pressure upon the carotid artery or carotid sinus in the neck will result in a slowing of heart rate and a drop in blood pressure. Fainting has been known to occur in individuals (as a result of this mechanism) following the buttoning of a tight collar. In manipulating the neck, and inadvertently applying pressure upon the carotid structures, many chiropractors attribute the resulting, though temporary, fall in blood pressure to “stimulation” of the vagus nerve.
Since the vagus nerve supplies the most important organs in the body, nature has apparently designed it to carry controlling impulses from the brain centers to the organs with a high degree of protection. Any disturbance in the function of this nerve is likely to occur at its point of origin — although abnormal impulses may be generated according to signals received from disturbed organs.
In an attempt to influence the vagus nerve, the chiropractor might adjust the atlas, the first vertebra of the spine (supporting the skull). For opposite effects, he might adjust a dorsal vertebra, either to correct a “subluxation” that is supposedly pressing against a spinal nerve (that is contributing fibers to a sympathetic ganglion supplying a particular organ) or to stimulate the sympathetic ganglia lying near the spine. In any event, an attempt is made to “normalize” or balance the action between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. As we have already shown, however, considering the many factors influencing the nervous system, this is not likely to be accomplished simply by manipulating the spine. Any one of the many other factors influencing the nervous system are more likely to disturb the nervous balance than the chiropractor’s version of the spinal subluxation.
Certain nerves (both sympathetic and parasympathetic) supplying the pelvic structures (prostate, bladder, etc.) also pass through openings in solid bone (through sacral foramina at the bottom of the spine). The structures supplied by these nerves all exhibit disease without nerve pressure, and no amount of manipulation will change the openings through which these nerves pass.
In addition to a parasympathetic nerve supply that, for the most part, does not pass through a joint, the visceral organs also receive sympathetic fibers from ganglia situated adjacent to and up and down the spinal column. Although these ganglia receive tiny fibers from the spinal cord through the intervertebral foramina, they are essentially independent nerve centers and receive spinal fibers primarily for the purpose of coordinating functions among the organs. The function of an organ, of course, does not depend upon innervation over a single nerve from a single joint. Nature could not be so incompetent. In addition, nature seems to have provided much better protection for the more important visceral nerves than for the spinal nerves which pass through movable joints. With few exceptions, the spinal nerves have ample room in the intervertebral foramina formed by normal vertebrae. Outside the existence of vertebral pathology, with the possible exception of the 5th lumbar intervertebral foramen which, as we noted earlier, fits snugly around its nerve trunk, compression of a spinal nerve does not occur easily. Many people go through life without experiencing the severe pain of a thoroughly compressed or irritated nerve trunk. Slight irritation or compression of a spinal nerve will, however, result in neurological and painful symptoms being referred over the course of the nerve into such structures as the arms, legs, and trunk, but this does not necessarily result in a disturbance of the internal organs.
In opposition to the theory of chiropractic, that most disease is caused by nerve pressure, the pamphlet “Myth and Menace, The Truth About Chiropractic,” published by the Medical Society of the State of New York, states:
It is impossible to explain disease in some tissues as due to pressure on nerves, particularly in those tissues which receive no nerves. The blood is subject to a variety of diseases but receives no nerves, not even in the bones where most of the blood cells are formed. Malaria is a protozoan blood disease transmitted to man by mosquitoes. The organisms can be seen in the red blood cells which circulate throughout the body. Where do chiropractors manipulate to relieve a disease existing throughout the body in the blood, a tissue which receives no nerves? Pernicious anemia poses the same problem. . . . Nerve fibers have specific functions and those functions are lost with continued pressure on the nerve. The area of skin deprived of its nerves does not show increased susceptibility to cancer. There are no nerve fibers for kidney disease, tuberculosis or diphtheria. The stomach and the heart receive the same kind of nerve fibers, one type decreasing, the other increasing the functioning of these organs. But even though these organs receive the same type of nerves, the diseases seen in these two organs can be different and can appear with normal innervation .
Although individual tissue cells do not all have direct nerve supply, the chiropractor claims to treat even the smallest cell through the nervous system. The catalogue of the National College of Chiropractic explains:
Chiropractic is based upon the removal of the cause of disease rather than the symptoms. It recognizes the dependence of cell chemistry upon the nervous system, and in disease seeks to find and adjust the subluxations or abnormal stresses which interfere with nerve functions, thus giving the recuperative power of the cell the opportunity to rid itself of foreign chemicals with which it is encumbered .
Thus, the scope of the chiropractic adjustment becomes all-inclusive. Using the spine as a “switchboard,” the chiropractor is, according to the chiropractor, daily switching on and off the vital current that controls and conquers disease.
- 1. Best CH, Taylor, NB. The Physiological Basis of Medical Practice, 5th Edition, Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins,1950.
- 2. Public Relations Bureau. Myth and Menace: The Truth About Chiropractic. New York: Medical Society of the State of New York, 1948.
- 3. Chiropractic . . . A Career. Webster City, IA: National Chiropractic Association, undated.