Chiropractic History: Getting to Know the Pioneers of the Practice

You can’t have a discussion about chiropractic history without mentioning Harvey Lillard. He was an African American janitor who worked in the Ryan Building on Brady Street in Davenport, Iowa.  The year was 1895, and something big was about to happen.

Lillard maintained the building where Daniel David Palmer practiced magnetic healing.  In September of 1895, Lillard told Palmer that he had lost most of his hearing and was almost completely deaf.  Lillard added that he “could not hear the racket of a wagon on the street or the ticking of a watch.” When asked how he had become deaf he replied that, 17 years before, while bent over in a cramped, stooping position, he “heard something “pop” in his spine” and immediately lost most of his hearing.

Palmer offered to take a look at Lillard’s spine and found a lump just between his shoulders blades.  He persuaded Lillard to allow him to “rack his bone back into position.”  Palmer, in fact, thought Lillard’s hearing loss was due to a misalignment that blocked the spinal nerves which control the inner ear.  This misalignment is now called, “subluxation,” a subtle, slight dislocation of spinal vertebrae.  Palmer pushed the vertebrae back into place, and after a few days, Lillard said that his hearing was better and almost completely restored.

Lillard described:

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. HARVEY LILLARD, 320 W. Eleventh St., Davenport, Iowa.

Daniel David Palmer is sometimes called the Father of Chiropractic and a giant of the chiropractic history, was a magnetic healer, with a thriving practice in Davenport, Iowa. He questioned the “germ theory” as the explanation for what causes disease. He wondered, “If germs kill, shouldn’t we all be dead,” because we are constantly exposed to a variety of germs?

How was it that two brothers could work in the same shop, eat the same food, sleep in the same bed, and that one would succumb to a disease while the other one would not?”

Dr. Palmer argued that it was not just the seed (germ) which causes disease, but that the “soil” (body) is in a condition that will either allow seeds (germs) to grow or kill them so the organism can stay well.  He postulated that the “soil” or the recuperative power of the body (which he later referred to as “innate intelligence”, and we now call homeostasis) was the more important part of health and disease.

D.D. Palmer’s son, BJ Palmer is credited with developing chiropractic in the early 20th century to what it is today.  Chiropractors are licensed and recognized as doctors in the United States and in many parts of the world, and most states give status as “portal of entry” or primary care to chiropractic physicians because of their ability to examine and diagnose problems, then refer to the appropriate specialist if the requisite care is out of their scope.

As modern science understands the nervous system and its control over the immune system, creating its own page in chiropractic history, it is entirely plausible that if a vertebral subluxation interferes with the function of spinal nerve roots as they exit the spine, then manipulating the spine can help to normalize the immune system, thereby restoring homeostasis and enhancing the ability of the immune system to fight disease. 

Though clinical studies are difficult to perform in declaring the subluxation’s effect on the nervous system, it is clear that chiropractic adjustments help with back pain and headaches.  Indeed, for recovery after sports injuries and auto accidents, chiropractic is the recommended method of care.  Consider the following excerpt from the Journal of Orthopaedic Medicine:

“Chiropractic is the only proven effective treatment for rehabilitating whiplash injuries.”

JOM, 1999: Khan, Cook, Gargan, Bannister

chiropractic history

Chiropractic History: The Pioneers of the Practice

Chiropractic History

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