Bonesetting, Chiropractic, and Cultism: Chapter 7

Chapter 7: How Chiropractic
Got Its Start

©1963, Samuel Homola, D.C.

Heading is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity
                        HIPPOCRATES, 400 B.C.
95 per cent of diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae; the remainder by luxations of other joints.
                         D.D. PALMER, 1910

In 1885, A group of magnetic healers passed through the town of Davenport, Iowa, where D.D. Palmer, grocer and fish vender, was earning his livelihood. These “healers” treated disease by placing their hands upon the patient and letting “curative electromagnetic forces” (“animal magnetism”) flow from the body of the “gifted” healer through the body of the patient. There were a great number of these healers in the 19th century, and, while many people recognized them as quacks, there were large numbers who sincerely believed that certain individuals were actually gifted with a healing touch. As a result, magnetic healing and the “laying on of hands” was a profitable practice in those early days if the practitioner had sufficient personality to attract a following. We remember from studying ancient history that this method of healing had been used for centuries, and that, at one time, people believed that kings were always given the power to cure by the laying on of hands. So strong and so prevalent was this belief, in those early years, in the curative power of the hands, that there still exist many individuals today who believe and practice this method of healing. Many of the magnetic healers sincerely believed that they had curative powers, ignorant as they were of human psychology and the course of human disease; and since their “cure” was primarily one of faith, their own faith was instrumental in the effect of their treatment. D.D. Palmer might have been one of those who believed that he had curative power in his hands, for he observed the ways of the magnetic healers and set out with them to convey his “cure” to suffering humanity.

During this time, Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of osteopathy, was teaching that vertebral misalignment was the cause of all disease. Still’s treatment was performed by manipulating the structures of the body for the purpose of relieving pressure upon nerves and blood vessels that supposedly resulted from misaligned or “subluxated” bones. Some say that during Palmer’s ten years as a magnetic healer he observed and learned the ways of the osteopath, studied the teachings of Still, and then started to promote some of these theories as his own. In any event, in 1895, twenty-one years after Still founded osteopathy, Palmer announced the principles of chiropractic, which were almost identical to those of osteopathy. He had supposedly made his discovery when he manipulated the spine of a colored janitor, who had been deaf for 17 years, and restored his hearing. According to the sworn testimony of B.J. Palmer, son of D.D. Palmer, here is what happened:

Harvey Lillard was a janitor in the building in which father had his office. Harvey came in one day, thoroughly deaf. Father asked him how long he had been deaf, and he told him seventeen years.

Father said, “How did this occur?” Harvey said, “I was in a stooped, cramped position and while in that position I felt something pop and heard it crack in my back.”

Father looked him over, laid him down on the cot, and there was a great subluxation (maladjustment) on the back. Harvey said he went deaf within two minutes after that popping occurred in the spine, and he had been deaf ever since.

Father reasoned out the fundamental thought of this thing, which was that if something went wrong in that back and caused deafness, the reduction of that subluxation would cure it. That bump was adjusted — was reduced — and within ten minutes Harvey had his hearing and has had it ever since [1].

D.D. Palmer organized his theory of chiropractic, polished up his technic, and started his search for students. It is interesting to note that, appropriately enough, chiropractic was named by a minister, the Rev. Samuel H. Weed, who suggested the Greek term “cheirprakticos,” which means “hand-practitioner.” In 1897, the first student enrolled in Palmer’s school of chiropractic. Simultaneously, the osteopathic profession, established as a system of adjusting the vertebrae since 1874, published this statement in the Journal of Osteopathy:

There is one fake magnetic healer in Iowa who issued a paper devoted to his alleged new system, and who until recently made up his entire publication from the contents of the Journal of Osteopathy, changing it only to insert the name of his own practice.

D.D. Palmer consistently maintained, however, that all he said and did was his own creation:

There is a vast difference between treating effects and adjusting the causes. I was the first to adjust the cause of disease. . . . The man who had the intellectual capacity to comprehend the displacement of vertebrae; the mental ability to grasp the significance of nerve impingement; the power to conceive and discriminate between normal and abnormal positions; the foresight and wisdom to discern the outcome; the genius of originality to create such a unique science; the judgment needed for the occasion; the brain caliber capable of reasoning on this heretofore perplexing question — the cause of disease; the sense of touch required to discover a racked vertebra and the skill and tact to replace it, was the one destined to discover and develop the science which he named chiropractic [2].

Palmer, obviously, had no small opinion of himself — all of which is a necessary quality to practice any form of faith healing. According to some chiropractic writers, however, Palmer did not do too well in magnetic healing, and, for that reason, was continually searching for a better system of healing. In noting the comments of the Journal of Osteopathy in 1897, we are forced to suspect that D.D. Palmer might simply have been an opportunist, grasping for an activity that would elevate him to the status he thought he deserved.

So, with the contention that “95 percent of diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae; the remainder by luxations of other joints,” and with defensive accusations that, quoting Palmer, “. . . several persons have tried to make fame and reputation for themselves by an endeavor to wrest from me the honor and distinction due me as the discoverer and developer of chiropractic,” Palmer opened the first chiropractic college in Davenport, Iowa: a three-week course with no entrance requirements. The school, called the Palmer Infirmary and Chiropractic Institute, taught simple, “straight chiropractic” — that is, adjustment of the joints as a treatment for disease. Other chiropractic schools, however, much to the consternation of the original Palmerites, began to dilute pure chiropractic with other therapeutic measures (such as massage, colon irrigation, and heat lamps). This was the beginning of the “mixers” as opposed to the “straights” who limited themselves to manipulation of the spine with “hands only.” The pattern of disagreement that began in those early days of chiropractic remains in the practice today.

When the Palmer Infirmary began to totter under the inept leadership of D.D. Palmer, B.J. Palmer entered the picture; leading the “straights,” he took over his father’s school, now called the Palmer School of Chiropractic. “B.J.” was a shrewd business man, and by 1921 the institution in Davenport had an annual income of $1,000,000 at its peak. This was quite a feat, considering the fact t at Palmer had no formal education beyond the 9th grade.

In 1921, two years after World War I had ended, the Palmer School had 2,000 students. Many of them were veterans of the war who had been suddenly released from the armed forces without an occupation or trade. It was during that time that the Palmer School of Chiropractic was estimated to be a $1,000,000-a-year business. In 1932, however, as the Great Depression hit the world, students became more scarce, and the enrollment at the Palmer School dropped to 300. Today, the Palmer School has an average of 1,000 students enrolled in its classes. The school has had as many as 3,200 students, according to its catalogs.

A May 1960 issue of the Palmer School Fountain Head News featured the address of a practitioner who stated that there were 3,600 students in the Palmer School in the fall of 1922. He also stated that the Universal Chiropractic Association, under the leadership of B.J. Palmer, was carrying on a public relations program (“there were 33 magazines and publications carrying Chiropractic copy and advertisements”) that cost the organization $15,774.58 in April 1924.

Theatrical personnel, some of whom traveled from state to state, were given “Palmergrams,” “which entitled them to free service from the local Chiropractor, and these performers gave Chiropractic a plug from the stage in return for the service they had received.”

In 1946, the school in Davenport, still privately owned, was turning out chiropractors after only eighteen months of instruction. “Our school,” Palmer explained, “is on a business, not a professional basis. We manufacture chiropractors.”

“Give me a simple mind that thinks along single tracts, give me 30 days to instruct him, and that individual can go forth on the highways and byways and get more sick people well than the best, most complete, all around, unlimited medical education of any medical man who ever lived,” said Palmer. No doubt, many would-be chiropractors became convinced that manipulation of the spine was probably the quickest way to rescue the patient from suffering and the “doctor” from poverty [3]. In any event, the fact that medical science had not yet found the answer to a great many of man’s illnesses, when added to the short course of chiropractic study, attracted a large number of students, many of whom account for a good number of the chiropractors practicing today.

Until October 1950, the Palmer School continued to offer the eighteen-month course for the chiropractic degree. By this time, however, the majority of states were requiring that a chiropractor have four years of training in order to apply for a license; thus, the Palmer School was forced to comply with these standards in order to maintain its volume of students. Although this school was one of the last chiropractic schools to raise its educational standards, it still maintains an enrollment that is usually about three times as large as that of the average chiropractic college.

B.J. Palmer instilled into his students the faith and enthusiasm necessary to sell a controversial service or product. “They have got to work just like machinery,” he said. “A course of salesmanship goes along with their training. We teach them the idea and then we show them how to sell it.” Palmer made these statements in 1950, the same year he reluctantly raised the course of education at the Palmer School to four years. Under the principle of salesmanship, however, the Palmer students carried on, selling under the same pressure that attracted them; a cycle unbroken, even today, among chiropractors who use salesmanship to “sell” themselves, their profession, their patients, and new students for the Palmer School.

During the early 1900’s, hundreds of chiropractic schools sprang up, many of them offering correspondence courses. One witness before a U. S. Senate committee asserted that, at one time, there were more than 200 chiropractic schools in Michigan alone. “They would start up with anything,” he testified, “in a back parlor for instance. We had a man on East Capitol Street who was advertising to teach chiropractic in 30 days for $10.” Like many other chiropractic colleges, the Palmer School, the “Fountain Head of Chiropractic,” was conducting a high-powered advertising campaign to attract students. “Do you want to follow manual labor or a profession?” the ads asked. “The common labor field is crowded. There are many persons who want to do hard work. Let those who are anxious have it. You fit yourself for a profession.”

In addition to the large number of chiropractic schools that cropped up around the country in those early years, there were many practitioners, holding various unheard of degrees, conducting courses in “spondylotherapy” (spinal treatment), or offering mail-order courses in chiropractic and spinal care. Albert Abrams, for example, a quack medical practitioner, was offering “clinical courses” in spondylotherapy in various parts of the country, which he started with publication of his book, Spondylotherapy, in 1910. This was the same year, incidentally, that D.D. Palmer, the founder of chiropractic, published his books on chiropractic. Abrams charged $200 for a course in spinal therapy. It was not until he had exhausted the financial possibilities of this approach that he turned to the creation of his celebrated “electronic” diagnostic and treatment machines (discussed elsewhere) and a subsequent concentration upon the abdominal area of the patient [4].

In the mail-order field, Hobart Bradstreet was selling a course in “spine motion” in order to enable every man to be “his own chiropractor.” Full-page advertisements, entitled “Bride and Groom,” pictured a gray-haired gentleman of advanced age who had just taken a bride of twenty. The bridegroom’s youthful vitality was supposedly due to Hobart’s course in “spine motion.” The bride was quoted as having said: :The Colonel may look his age, but by all that’s remarkable he doesn’t act it — nor feel it, if his enthusiasm is any indication.” [3]

The advertisement, which was supposed to have been a true testimony, was exposed by the Federal Trade Commission as fraudulent. Needless to say, the aphrodisiacal approach of Bradstreet’s advertisements probably sold many courses in “spinal motion” and created many self-made chiropractors.

Another notorious quack of the early 1900’s was George Starr White, who claimed several degrees, three of which (N.D., D.C., and Ph.C.) were issued to him in 1921 by the Los Angeles College of Chiropractic. White also had medical degrees obtained from the New York Homeopathic Medical College in 1908 [5]. White, who promoted himself through newspaper advertisements and testimonials, was a follower of Albert Abrams and taught courses in spondylotherapy — that lasted one week — throughout the west and midwest. In addition to the practice of chiropractic, White was responsible for the promotion of an endless array of mechanical and medical nostrums. Many such “medical practitioners” are quoted today by cults and quasimedical organizations that still exist in the twilight of pseudoprofessionalism. The teachings and quackery of both Abrams and White still exert an influence over the practice of a few present-day chiropractors.

Needless to say, under the conditions of the first part of the 20th Century, the number of chiropractors rapidly multiplied. By the late 1920’s, competition began to get a bit tough, and, in addition, many chiropractors were being prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license. In fact, things were becoming quite insecure. As a result, practicing chiropractors swarmed upon the state legislators, demanding higher educational standards for new chiropractors and legalization of their own status. As the laws were passed, those chiropractors already practicing were granted licenses under “grandfather clauses.” Consequently, thousands of chiropractors who had received only short-term educations were legally licensed and shielded from further competition. The large numbers of chiropractors graduated in the early years of the chiropractic profession gave the chiropractors some assurance of legalization, for in numbers their existence was justified and, en masse, a great deal of influence could be exerted toward their recognition through legislative and licensing bodies. Realizing this, chiropractic educators stressed quantity rather than quality, with hopes that their profession, once legalized, could be properly developed with time.

By 1931, chiropractors had been legally recognized in 39 states. Practically all of laws were put into effect in the early 1900’s. Kansas and North Dakota were the first states to pass laws, in 1913 and 1915 respectively, giving legal recognition to chiropractic — eighteen years after the founding of chiropractic and 39 years after Andrew Taylor Still announced the principles of osteopathy. It soon became obvious, however, that legalizing the practice of chiropractic and permitting chiropractors themselves to examine applicants for licensure did not raise the quality of chiropractic practice to any appreciable extent. As a result, many of the states began to put basic science laws into effect whereby all practitioners were required to take an examination in the basic sciences before they could apply for examination by their respective professional boards. Connecticut and Wisconsin passed the first basic science laws in 1925, requiring that examinations be taken in such subjects as anatomy, bacteriology, physiology, chemistry, diagnosis, and pathology. B.J. Palmer, the private owner of a school that … manufactured” chiropractors, felt that the legislation requested by practitioners in the field, and the resulting basic science laws in some states, would mean the end of chiropractic. “Chiropractic is doomed,” he warned his colleagues in 1928. (On October 13, 1927, Palmer had informed gathered members of the Florida Chiropractic Association that “chiropractic is doomed to die within the next ten years.”)

Although the basic science bills did not put an end to chiropractic, they proved to be effective in cutting down the number of chiropractors licensed in those states where this measure was put into effect. From 1927 to 1944, for example, only 367 chiropractors took the examinations and only 28% managed to pass. During that same time, 87% of nearly 20,000 medical students passed the examinations. After 1944, a considerably larger number of chiropractors took the basic science examination than before, but the percent that passed remained about the same. Between the year of 1927 and 1950, for example, 1,984 chiropractors took these tests and about 33% managed to pass. Of 37,447 students and graduates of medical schools, 86% passed the examinations.
Today, about half the states have basic science bills in their statutes. B.J. Palmer’s prediction that basic science laws would put an end to chiropractic might have proved correct if every state had passed these laws along with other laws legalizing the practice of chiropractic during those early and crucial years. As it turned out, however, it was still not difficult to get a license in a great many other states, and the chiropractic schools continued to flourish.


According to present-day chiropractic literature, the popular trend of all states to require at least two years of preprofessional college training for licensure in the healing arts poses a serious threat to the yet undeveloped chiropractic profession. Whether the practice will survive such demands long enough to develop its body into an organized, recognized, and professional group remains to be seen. It is of interest to note here that the same concern expressed by B.J. Palmer in 1928 when the basic science laws were being put into effect, and when the Palmer School was forced to raise its standards to support a four-year course in 1950, was again expressed by Palmer at the prospect of chiropractic schools being forced to require two years of preprofessional training for licensure under state law. It would seem that while Palmer believed chiropractic to be a healing art that was superior to all others, he also believed that the practice would die in direct proportion to elevated educational standards. This would lead one to wonder whether Palmer really believed that chiropractic is a “superior therapy,” or whether he believed that it is a practice that would then and forever appeal only to the semi-literate and half-educated. In any event, it seems that Palmer’s fears this time were not without justification; for, as we demonstrated in an earlier chapter, the number of chiropractors are actually diminishing in certain states as standards arrive that are inevitably demanded for all those who would treat human disease and label themselves physicians. Contrary to Palmer’s dreams, it is quite an impossibility for any school of healing, regardless of the simplicity of its philosophy and its teachings, to separately compete with other schools of healing that have higher standards. It is also quite true that, of two schools requiring equal educational standards, the one more limited in its privileges would have more difficulty in securing students.

In the growing days of the chiropractic profession, when competition began to get tough, some of the practitioners, who were not already graduates of “mixed” chiropractic colleges, added other measures to their practice in order to “beat competition.” In addition, from the beginning, there were some who were to inevitably experience disappointment in the use of the “straight” chiropractic adjustment. Many of these practitioners, losing much of their faith in the chiropractic adjustment, also searched out and used other therapeutic measures in their practice. Thus, the battle between the “mixers” and the “straights,” sprouting from the first seed of chiropractic, grew progressively worse with the passing years.

The Neurocalometer

In 1924, B.J. Palmer came out with a neurocalometer, an instrument that was said to locate “pinched nerves,” the cause of all disease. Described as a measurer of “nerve heat,” the neurocalometer was probably also brought into existence in order to permit the chiropractors to meet the competition of the osteopaths who were using fantastic pieces of diagnostic equipment designed by Albert Abrams, an M.D. turned charlatan. Needless to say, the neurocalometer, owned and leased exclusively by the Palmer School, not only provided a rich source of income for its promoter but also attracted many new students to the Palmer School where they could earn the “exclusive right” to use the instrument — for a fee. The device was promoted as an infallible method of locating “nerve pressure” (obviously a sensational innovation for the chiropractor), and the practitioner who did not have one was “less competent” than the practitioner who did.

The following description of the chiropractor’s neurocalometer, condensed, was taken froma 1924 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association:

The “neurocalometer” appeared to be two thermopiles connected mechanically but separated sufficiently to allow them to “straddle” the vertebral column. From the thermopiles ran wires to carry the weak electric current (always generated when the thermopile is subjected to difference in temperature) to a galvanometer. Like Abrams’ device, it was sealed and the lessee had to sign a contract not to break or tamper with the seats. The price of a lease of a neurocalometer was $2,200-$1,000 cash at the time the contract was made and $10 a month for 10 years. The lessee was required to charge his patient $10 for a neurocalometer “reading” — no cut rates permitted. It was announced at the time that the neurocalometer was brought out that no other “college” of chiropractic would be able to lease a neurocalometer and those who were considering taking up chiropractic as a trade were told that if they matriculated in any other school except the one from which the neurocalometer emanated they would not be able to lease a neurocalometer.

Thus, it seems that the neurocalometer was introduced primarily as an instrument of commercialism, designed to take advantage of the fact that it was originated at the “Fountain Head of Chiropractic.” Today, a large number of chiropractors are still using the neurocalometer, still advertising the fact that they use, in their office, this “infallible” method of locating nerve pressure. There are also many other similar devices on the chiropractic market for “locating and measuring nerve pressure.”

In 1935, eleven years after Palmer introduced the neurocalometer and about one year after the ten-year lease many chiropractors had on the device ran out, Palmer introduced the neurocalograph, which was essentially a neurocalometer that made an automatic graph of “nerve interference” as it was found. By 1953, the Palmer School was also employing the use of a “chirometer,” an improved neurocalograph that was supposed to determine whether or not nerve interference existed and, after treatment, whether or not the nerve interference had been removed. Probably, few chiropractors cared whether or not the original neurocalometer actually worked, for it was obviously a brilliant piece of salesmanship when used in conjunction with the chiropractic adjustment.

The 1960-61 Membership Roster of the International Chiropractic Association lists 21 diagnostic instruments used by its members: Analagraph, Chirograph, Chirometer, Elcctrograph, Electro Neurometer, Micro-Dynameter, Nervometer, Nervoscope, Neurocalograph, Neurocalometer, Neurocalotone, Neuro-Encephalometer, Neuropyrometer, Neuroscribe, Neuro-Sound, Neurotemporacter, Thermograph, Thermeter, Thermoscribe, Toftness Research Instrument, Visual Nerve Tracing Instrument (and, of course, the X-ray). On June 21, 1962, the Food and Drug Administration announced plans to seize the Micro-Dynameter. Commissioner George P. Larrick said that “thousands of patients are being hoodwinked into believing they have diseases they do not have or failing to get proper treatment for diseases they do have.” F.D.A. officials added that the Micro-Dynameter could not correctly diagnose any disease, and that it was capable only of measuring the amount of perspiration on the skin of the patient.

Strangely enough, many chiropractors believed in Palmer, in spite of the fact that his exclusive innovations placed many of them in the “obsolete” bracket unless they partook of the Palmer regime and the “Fountain Head of Chiropractic.” In our discussion elsewhere, we have described a change that took place in the method of treatment at the Palmer School in spite of the fact that thousands had been taught earlier to use a different method. This change provided the school with another “exclusive” that brought many chiropractors back for post-graduate training and many new students to the “Home of Chiropractic.”
In comparing the development of osteopathy and chiropractic, it seems that the development of one closely parallels the other, with chiropractic following a pattern already set by osteopathy. Not only is this evident in initial theories and treatment methods, as shown by comparing old professional literature, it is also evident in methods of utilizing various mechanical devices. Dr. Arthur Cramp, for example, described similar use of two popular osteopathic and chiropractic “nostrums” in his 1936 edition of Nostrums & Quackery & PseudoMedicine, which he compiled after serving 30 years as Director of Investigation of the American Medical Association:

When Spondylotherapy began to wane as a business asset, Abrams brought into existence his so-called “Electronic Reactions” which soon became abbreviated “E.R.A.” There went with this new cult various pieces of apparatus that Abrams leased to his disciples. Each piece was scaled and the lessee had to sign a contract not to open it. Among the many pieces of electrical hokum devised by Abrams, there were two outstanding devices. One was for the alleged diagnosis of disease; the other was for the treatment of such diseases as were diagnosed. . . . The diagnostic instrument, according to Abrams, determined the “vibratory rate” of disease. The treatment device known as the “Oscilloclast” cured the disease by applying to the patient the same “vibratory rate” as that of the disease of which the patient was suffering. . . . Many of the outstanding quacks of the country became lessees of the Abrams devices and the fact that Abrams would lease his instrument to osteopaths prolonged the life of their dying cult. Incidentally, it also resulted in forcing the chiropractors to bring out their piece of mechanical hokum (the Neurocalometer) in order to meet the competition of the osteopaths with their Oscilloclasts and other Abrams magic boxes [3].

Abrams died in 1924, but it is reported that lie made a fortune leasing his devices. Many of Abrams’ disciples, those who leased his machines, also did quite well diagnosing and treating diseases that did not actually exist. If the patient was unable to make it to the office of the practitioner, to be examined by the “Electronic Reactions” machine, all he had to do was send in a drop of blood or an autograph and the diagnosis could be made from that. For a specified fee, a cure was usually guaranteed. Many of the practitioners professed to be able to cure a patient who was hundreds of miles away simply by tuning the “vibratory rate” of the machine to correspond with that determined by examination of a drop of blood on a piece of white blotting paper. It seems that the “vibrations” would penetrate the atmosphere, seeking out the only individual to whom they would correspond, and cure that individual of his illness. Like all other instruments and methods of quackery, the machine, employed in the darkness of ignorance, probably seemed to be 90 percent effective, since the majority of those gullible individuals who were treated by it either had no disease at all or just recovered with time.

It would be interesting to discuss more of Abrams’ fantastic devices, but no useful purpose would result from further diversion at this point. In describing some of Abrams’ activities we simply wanted to demonstrate how activities and illusions in one cult can often be paralleled in another. In 1954, the Electronics Medical Foundation in San Francisco, still distributing Abrams’ electronic nostrum, was refrained by injunction from the Food and Drug Administration to cease interstate shipment of the machines. It was estimated that about 5,000 of the devices were being used throughout the United States by osteopaths, chiropractors, naturopaths, and “other fringe practitioners.” There are still some chiropractors, in certain states, who employ machines resembling Abrams’ Oscilloclast .Some of the practitioners who own these machines, especially naturopaths, tour the country and conduct “clinics” in the offices of other chiropractors and naturopaths. In Most Rates where chiropractors are licensed, however, chiropractic examining boards usually attempt to prevent the use of this device. There are other devices regularly used in some chiropractors’ offices that are the subject of much criticism.

The 20th century, only on the threshold of science and better education, presents many opportunities for pseudoscientific pretensions, the success of which are not so much dependent upon the intelligence of the promoters as upon ignorance and disregard for human ethics. In the field of healing, “There is no quackery too absurd to find its defenders. The healing power of nature and the vagaries of the human mind are sufficient explanation. . . . Credulity is born of lack of knowledge rather than lack of brains.” [3]

Deafness and Spinal Manipulation

The contention that D.D. Palmer, in establishing the chiropractic profession, restored the sense of hearing in a man who had been deaf for 17 years by adjusting a “bump” in his spine has been thoroughly disputed by accredited authorities — at least insofar as the explanation of how it occurred is concerned. There has been no real evidence that a misplaced vertebra, causing nerve pressure, is capable of causing deafness. The fact that all the nerves of hearing are enclosed within the skull, with none of these nerves originating in the spinal cord, brings this statement from modern chiropractors:

Actually, no miracle was involved. Sympathetic nerves leaving the spinal cord in the upper thoracic area and regulating the blood supply of the structures in the head apparently had been freed from irritation. The nerves of hearing required this blood supply in order to function [6].

To some degree, the blood supply in the head is controlled by a portion of the sympathetic nervous system located adjacent to and up and down the spinal column: the very uppermost portion called the “superior cervical ganglion.” It states in a medical text dealing with body mechanics, for example:

The superior cervical ganglion is one of the most important in the sympathetic (nervous) system. It innervates the blood vessels of the head, the muscles of the hair bulbs, the sweat glands of the head, the dilator muscle fibers of the eye and the orbital muscles of Muller. It connects with the first four cervical nerves and the pharyngeal and the superior cardiac nerves. Its usual location is opposite the second and the third cervical vertebrae [upper part of the neck]. . . .

The sympathetic ganglia connected with the dorsal [upper back] nerve roots, so far as can be determined, are not subject, as are the cervical ganglia, to mechanical trauma in faulty body mechanics [7].

D.D. Palmer supposedly adjusted a “great subluxation” (a “bump”) in the dorsal area of Harvey Lillard’s spine — the 4th dorsal vertebra to be exact — far removed from the sympathetic ganglion, located high up in the neck, that is known to innervate some of the blood vessels in the head. The 4th dorsal vertebra is eight vertebrae below the 3rd cervical vertebra where the superior cervical ganglion is located. In today’s chiropractic literature, the 4th dorsal vertebra is designated as “Heart Place,” or the place to look for the cause and correction of heart trouble. If slight deviations of the spine here could cause heart disease, it would seem that a “subluxation” in the spine of Harvey Lillard severe enough to cause a visible “bump” would have surely stricken him down with heart disease. Yet, supposedly, the nerves of hearing, remotely enclosed within the skull, were affected by the disorder, resulting in deafness which lasted for 17 healthy years.

Primarily, the sympathetic ganglia (a chain of nerve centers located outside and near the spinal column), which supply the body’s involuntary functions, work independently of the central nervous system and most often receive nerve fibers from the spinal cord for the purpose of coordinating functions under their control. While irritation of the superior cervical ganglion might occur as a result of disturbances immediately adjacent to it, with resulting symptoms, the function of that ganglion would hardly be significantly altered by a disturbance far down the spine. Irritation of a sympathetic ganglion in the dorsal area, where Palmer worked, while rarely caused by vertebral deviations, has been known to result from displacement of the rib joints. Although many vague symptoms may result from such irritation, there is no known possibility of deafness occurring. To single out one spinal nerve trunk as a controlling factor over hearing has even less possibilities of being correct.

It is doubtful whether deafness could occur even by direct irritation of the uppermost ganglion in the neck. Irritation of the superior cervical ganglion in the neck has been recognized by medical authorities as a cause of pseudomigraine headache, especially following severe injuries in the area of the cervical spine. Such irritation has occurred numerous times — as we shall show — but deafness has not occurred as a result. In contending that deafness occurred and was corrected immediately following displacement and correction of a vertebra between the shoulders, chiropractors claim that nerve fibers (apparently undiscovered by neurologists) pass from the spinal cord by way of the thoracic vertebrae, to the sympathetic chain, and travel up to the nerve ganglia in the neck in sufficient numbers to exert a controlling influence over the blood supply to the nerves of hearing. While it is true that the sympathetic chain in the neck receives spinal nerve fibers from the upper thoracic spinal nerves, most authorities contend that “it is probable that few, if any of the afferent fibers, pass in the trunk above the middle cervical ganglion.” [8] In any event, it can hardly be imagined that subluxation of a single thoracic vertebra could sufficiently curb the function of the nerves of hearing to cause deafness. In the intricate and little understood, interwoven mechanism of the nervous system, however, one might theoretically link quite impossible effects with highly improbable causes. In argument with chiropractors, medical authorities have often stated:

For many years chiropractors have claimed that they have discovered an entirely new system of nerves in the human body, a system not yet known to the neurosurgeons who have spent many lifetimes in the study of nerve structures [9].

While this may seem to be an exaggeration of the chiropractor’s attitude, it is obviously applicable as long as he continues to maintain that subluxation of a vertebra, such as the 4th dorsal, is capable of causing such conditions as deafness. In referring to the case of Harvey Lillard, it is significant to note that there has never been a similar case demonstrated — in spite of the fact that chiropractors are daily engaged in correcting “subluxations” that supposedly exist in the spine of everyone.

Giving the Harvey Lillard cure the benefit of a doubt — that is, if the phenomenon described by Palmer actually did occur — it obviously occurred under such rare circumstances that it would hardly justify a basis for applying the same treatment to the general ills of mankind. Unless chiropractic authorities are confident that time will prove the more highly educated neurologist wrong, and the less educated chiropractor right, it seems that more progress would be made in the field of chiropractic if claims such as those surrounding the case of Harvey Lillard were submitted to the realm of speculation and not used as positive evidence comprising the foundation of a profession. It should be remembered, however, that, right or wrong, the existence and development of a dual and antithetical system of healing, in competition with medical science in general, could not possibly survive, in the beginning, without supporting sensational claims not found within the realm of medical science. Such claims could not be abandoned, even if they were false, until more substantial foundations were constructed or adopted.

In discussing the correction of Harvey Lillard’s spine, it is difficult to believe that any spinal joint, misplaced for 17 years, could suddenly and easily be restored, with an immediate correction of all the difficulties it had caused, leaving no permanent disorder of the supposedly affected tissues — locally or remotely. A displacement in the spine severe enough to cause a “bump” on the back would, of necessity, have to be a rather severe dislocation and, consequently, a quite crippling injury. In addition, adhesions usually form around displaced joints after a matter of weeks, and, over a period of time, muscles, ligaments, and other tissues shorten to accommodate the change in the joints. Yet Palmer was supposed to have made the correction in one treatment!

The more incredulous authors of chiropractic literature prefer to believe that Harvey Lillard was only partially deaf, thus, seemingly, leaning more away from the improbable incidence. The pamphlet, “The Present Day Doctor of Chiropractic,” for example, states:

It is a far cry from that day more than half a century ago (1895) when D.D. Palmer, a nonmedical man, treated Harvey Lillard who had lost approximately 90% of his hearing and had been in this condition for twenty years. Finding a lump on the backbone, Palmer “adjusted” the area, and in what was regarded by many as a miraculous cure the patient’s hearing was restored. Thereafter, his own medical physician made an examination and attested the full recovery of the hearing of his patient [6].

The author above states that Harvey Lillard had lost only 90% of his hearing, whereas other writers say that Lillard was “thoroughly deaf.” It is interesting to note, however, that in the original description of the incident by B.J. Palmer, D.D. Palmer asked Harvey Lillard how he became deaf and Lillard answered him. He said he had been deaf for 17 years. (The writer quoted above reported that Lillard had been deaf for twenty years.) In a Wisconsin court in 1910, a source of information quoted earlier, B.J. Palmer was questioned concerning his father’s explanation of the janitor’s treatment and his alleged cure. During the court examination, wrote Albert Q. Maisel in a 1946 issue of Hygeia:

Young Palmer was not embarrassed when the cross questioning attorney asked how the janitor managed to hold a conversation while still deaf. Nor did he have any trouble in proving that a spinal kink could cause blindness or deafness despite the fact that these nerves do not pass through the spine. He pointed out to the gasping court that the trouble was that the standard systems of anatomy showed only one set of nerve paths, whereas the chiropractors had discovered a second system of nerve paths “not recorded in any anatomy I know anything of.” [10]

Thus, a chiropractor, through mysterious methods and nerve pathways unknown to medical science, supposedly restored the hearing of a man who was, obviously, only partially deaf and who has since become the guiding inspiration of many chiropractors’ treatment for disease.

Needless to say, the power of suggestion is extremely effective on those who have only partially lost a function. The “miraculous” cures wrought in faith healers’ tents throughout the nation, for example, stem largely from delusions of improvement in partially lost functions that are temporarily improved by an enhanced state of mind. Harvey Lillard’s “recovery” might have been such a case. In any event, the ignorance of explanation surrounding the treatment and the alleged recovery certainly detracts from the reliability of the testimony.

In discussing the effects of manipulation on deafness, Dr. James Mennell, in his book on joint manipulation, provided an explanation of how manipulation might possibly affect deafness if such treatment were applied to a source of pain and discomfort in the neck. Although Palmer manipulated Harvey Lillard between the shoulders in treating him for deafness — thereby reducing the possibilities that the treatment could have had much physical effect upon his condition — it is of interest, regardless, to consider Mennell’s discussion:

There are many patients, take the deaf as an example, who in addition to the deafness, suffer pain and discomfort in the ascending branches of the superficial cervical plexus and if this pain is relieved by manipulation of the joints in the neighborhood of the third and fourth cervical regions, the patient will often suffer from the delusion that hearing has improved. This, of course, is a definite gain for the individual, in spite of the fact that no alteration in any of the structures connected with the auditory mechanism has been effected. Still, if manipulative treatment can convey a treatment by suggestion which adds to the well-being of the patient, it is surely justifiable, provided no false claim is made as an excuse for continuing treatment that is no longer required for physical reasons or likely to be of further assistance [11].

Mennell, who recognized the suggestive nature of manipulation and the tendency of such treatment to be falsely impressed in the mind of both the patient and the practitioner, cautioned against unwarranted use of the treatment, on the basis of suggestion, in conditions outside the physical field. What Mennell cautions the practitioner against is, in essence, the basis underlying the practice of many chiropractors who treat disease in a general practice.

Aside from a sense of well-being and temporary relief of pain that often follows gentle manipulation, attention is often diverted from the site of the pain, or pain relatively dulled for the movement, by heavy and vigorous manipulation that is painful in itself. Apprehension, or painful treatment, very often leaves one feeling that the original pain is better, only to have the pain return when one’s emotional state has subsided. There are many explanations of the effects of physical treatment, much of which is of immeasurable value as long as it is not applied with misrepresentation or with promiscuity.

1. State of Wisconsin vs. S. R. Jansheski, December, 1910.
2. Palmer B.J. Shall Chiropractic Survive? 1st Edition. Davenport, Iowa: Palmer School of Chiropractic, 1958.
3. Journal of the American Medical Association, Sept. 19, 1925.
4. Cramp AJ. Nostrums and Quackery and PseudoMedicine (Volume 3). Chicago: Bureau of Investigation, American Medical Association, 1936.
5. Journal of the American Medical Association, April 13, 1929.
6. Anderson D. The Present Day Doctor of Chiropractic. Washington, DC: Public Affairs Institute, 1956.
7. Goldthwait JE. Essentials of Body Mechanics. 5th Edition. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1945.
8. Gray H. Gray’s Anatomy. (Edited by Charles Mayo Goss, M.D.) 25th Edition. Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger, 1951.
9. Dear Doctor (A Report to the Medical Profession, Unlawful Practice of Medicine by Chiropractors). Louisiana State Medical Society Committee on Public P:olicy, undated.
10. Maisel AQ. Can Chiropractic Cure? Hygeia. 1946.
11. Mennell JM. The Science and Art of Joint Manipulation. Volume 1, The Extremities. New York: Blakiston Company, 1949.

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