Chiropractic: Sacro-Occipital Technique (1963)

Samuel Homola, D.C.

Chapter 11:
Chiropractic “Technique Wars”
Sacro-Occipital Technique

For chiropractors who are not satisfied with working with one end of the spinal column or the other, or laboriously over the entire spine, Major Bertrand DeJarnett, chiropractor, devised a system whereby a technique is employed involving both ends of the spine — from the occiput (back of the skull) to the sacrum (last major bone of the spinal column). He stated:

Sacro Occipital Technique is a system of chiropractic based upon the provable fact that every human who is sick or in pain has a distortion and a subluxation responsible for that sickness or pain. . . . When you make the right adjustment, at the right spot and the right time, and in the right direction, you release enough nerve energy to cure most anything [1].

The sacro-occipital technique entails an elaborate method of analyzing the body’s structures in the vertical, prone, and supine positions. By following this system, one can supposedly determine the existence of bony distortions and displacements, and, by so doing, make an analysis for “restoring proper nerve force through a balancing of the respiratory and cerebrospinal fluid systems and pressures,” which, in turn, “removes nerve pressure from within by restoring the vital fluid that produces nerve function and this fluid is none other than the cerebrospinal fluid.” [2]

This system claims that variation of pressure in the cerebrospinal fluid (a clear fluid originating in ventricles inside the brain and circulating around the brain and spinal cord) is responsible for “nerve pressure,” and offers a treatment for the control of this fluid! For example, a practitioner might apply pressure in the cervical area at the base of the skull with the thumb and index finger of the left hand, while “pumping” alongside of the spinous process of a given lumbar vertebra with the thumb of the right hand. “Holding your cervical contact,” DeJarnett advises, “you now start pumping the first lumbar with your right hand. Firmly force it headward and slightly anterior. Repeat this movement every five seconds. Continue the thumb pumping until the cervical contact becomes slightly moist.” You then adjust the vertebrae in a certain direction in order to “stretch the meninges of the spinal cord.” [2]

The method of arriving at the site of treatment is probably stranger than the treatment itself. The base of the skull is divided — on a chart — into sections, each section designating a certain spinal area. One has only to palpate the back of the skull in a search for “taut fibers” or “knots” and then adjust the area of the spine corresponding to these sensitive areas. Not only is this procedure supposed to indicate the area of spinal treatment for certain disease conditions, but it is also supposed to accurately predict the future existence of disease. “You palpate [the patient’s] occiput and locate an occipital three major and a lumbar one spinal major [as indicated by taut fibers]. His future is threatened by carcinoma.” [2]

A “visceral-spinal-occipital reflex” is supposed to affect the fibers at the base of the skull (causing them to become sensitive) to indicate the presence or future existence of disease. This implies that a reflex leaving the disturbed organ or organs will travel to the spinal column and then manifest itself in cardinal signs on the back of one’s head. Although it is well known among physicians that diseased organs will communicate symptoms to other portions of the body, palpation of “sensitive areas” near the spine or head as a method of diagnosing and predicting the existence of disease is, of course, quite misleading. While it is true that many reflex symptoms of internal disease are expressed in spinal manifestations, it is also well known that neurasthenia (nervous exhaustion) and other nervous conditions will result in an excessive expression of vague symptoms around the spine — such as backache, headache, “drawing” at the back of the neck, and so forth. “Marked tenderness to pressure is often found at various points along the spinal column, the favorite locations being at the very top near the base of the skull, at the waist line, and at the top of the sacrum,” writes one well-known psychiatrist [3].

Thus, in conditions of nervous exhaustion and fatigue, it is an easy matter to find sensitive areas near the spine, especially in the area of the sacrum and occiput. Although such findings have no meaning at all in the medical diagnosis and treatment of disease, many chiropractic “reflex” techniques hinge their proposed value on detection of these “sensitive” areas. Since an unusually large percentage of chiropractic patients fall into the “nervous” category, these findings are consistently present and misleading. The spinal region is also a favorite site for many of the complaints of self-centered hypochondriacs. This fact has resulted in the failure of many careless physicians to detect the actual presence of spinal disease in a patient they recognize to be neurotic or neurasthenic.

In examining a patient, the sacro-occipital practitioner will also observe the leg lengths of his patient: “The short leg in the prone position has no relationship to posture or weight bearing; rather, it indicates an imbalance between respiratory function and cerebrospinal fluid pressure and movement.” [2]

Allegedly, a block of the spinal fluid in the “sacral fluid basin” is a mechanism affecting leg length and respiration. Pressure over “taut” areas of the shoulders and buttocks is the treatment of choice for this condition. Removal of a “sacro-pelvic respiratory lesion,” as indicated initially by a “short leg in the prone position,” will supposedly remove nerve pressure, abnormal reflexes, and inequality of leg length.

Actually, a block in the circulation of the spinal fluid, as routinely proposed by the sacro-occipital method, probably cannot occur at all. It is possible, of course, for blocks to occur as a result of such conditions as a spinal-cord tumor, subarachnoid hemorrhage (hemorrhage beneath the cover of the spinal cord), or severe spinal injury. Visualization of the spinal fluid channel (by myelography) will reveal the presence of such a block. Manometric studies of the spinal fluid will also reveal evidence of a block in its circulation. Normally this fluid pressure is less than 200 millimeters of water — although it can vary from 100 to 200. When abnormal pressures occur — for example, 260 mm — certain symptoms appear. In brain tumors, pressures from 700 to 800 mm are frequently recorded. When a blockage or increased production of this fluid occurs in the adult, severe headaches might be experienced. All things considered, it seems quite fantastic that a chiropractor, who has no reliable method of measuring spinal fluid pressures (or the right to use such measures), could devise a system of treating disease based upon the unlikely assumption that blocks and disturbances in the spinal fluid are so common as to be a common cause of disease. Like many other methods of chiropractic, however, the complexity of its explanation fabricates feasibility in the minds of those who are uninformed — chiropractors and laypersons alike.

  1. DeJarnette MB. Sacro Occipital Bulletin, April, 1960.
  2. DeJarnette MB. Sacro Occipital Technic of Chiropractic. Nebraska City, Nbraska, 1952.
  3. Sadler WS. Modern Psychiatry. St. Louis: C.V. Mosby Company, 1949.

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