Chiropractic has been evolving over the past century, but its roots go back to ancient China and Greece. Ancient writings in these cultures mention manipulation of the spine and maneuvering of the lower extremities to ease low back pain. Even Hippocrates, who lived from 460 to 357 B.C. published texts detailing the importance of chiropractic care. He wrote, “Get knowledge of the spine, for this is the requisite for many diseases.”
Modern chiropractic emerged near the end of the 19th century when health care was a conglomeration of competing theories, practitioners, potions and schemes. Except in urban centers, doctors were scarce, and most health care was provided in the home by family members. Hospitals were even scarcer than doctors and were seen as places where the terminally ill went to die. Heroic medicine was the most prevalent form of “orthodox” medicine in the first half of the 19th century. Heroic practice involved the notion that the harshness of the doctor’s remedies should be in proportion to the severity of the patient’s disease. This meant that the sickest patients were at risk of dying from the treatment since most doctors used things such as mercury and other toxins as well as lancets for letting of blood.
Against this backdrop of heroic medicine, the Native American and Thompsonian traditions of herbal and other botanical remedies grew popular, and were joined in the early part of the 19th century by homeopathic medicine (promoted by Samuel Hahnemann, M.D., of Germany) and the magnetic healing methods of Franz Anton Mesmer, M.D. It was during this era of medicine that the founder of modern chiropractic, Daniel David Palmer, was born. Daniel David (known as D.D.) was born in 1845 in rural Ontario, Canada, but his family relocated to the Mississippi River valley near the end of the Civil War. It was here that D.D. took up the practice of magnetic healing.
After nine years of clinical experience and theorizing, D.D. had decided that inflammation was the essential characteristic of all disease. With his sensitive fingers, Palmer sought to locate inflammation in his patients. By late 1895, Palmer began theorizing that inflammation occurred when displaced anatomical structures rubbed against one another, causing friction and heat. So Palmer started trying to manually reposition the parts of the body so as to prevent friction and the development of inflamed tissue.
The first recipient of D.D. Palmer’s new strategy of treatment was a janitor in the building where Palmer operated his 40-room facility. Patient Harvey Lillard reported in the January 1897 issue of The Chiropractic that: “I was deaf 17 years and I expected to always remain so, for I had doctored a great deal without any benefit. I had long ago made up my mind to not take any more ear treatments, for it did me no good. Last January Dr. Palmer told me that my deafness came from an injury in my spine. This was new to me; but it is a fact that my back was injured at the time I went deaf. Dr. Palmer treated me on the spine; in two treatments I could hear quite well. That was eight months ago. My hearing remains good.”
Pleased with his results with Harvey Lillard, D.D. Palmer extended his new work as a “magnetic manipulator” (Palmer 1897) to patients with a variety of other health problems, with reportedly good results. In the summer of 1896 he sought and obtained a charter for the Palmer School of Magnetic Cure, wherein he would teach his new method (Wiese 1896). With the assistance of his friend and patient, Reverend Samuel Weed, D.D. adopted Greek terms to form the word “chiropractic,” meaning done by hand. His school became known informally as Palmer’s School of Chiropractic (PSC), and he trained a few students, several of whom were allopathic and osteopathic doctors.
D.D.’s son B.J. took over the running of the Palmer School while D.D. went on to open two other schools. D.D. passed away in 1913 of typhoid fever in Los Angeles, California. D.D. left the legacy of a founding a form of healthcare that has helped millions of people over the past century.