The story of chiropractic began more than 100 years ago with a man named Harvey Lillard. Lillard was working as a janitor in Davenport, Iowa when he strained his back and lost much of his hearing in the process. Enter Daniel David Palmer, a magnetic healer who worked in the same building. Palmer examined Lillard, saw that his spine was out of alignment and offered to readjust it in hopes of relieving a pinched nerve leading to his ears. Using only his hands, Palmer worked his magic – a few gentle thrusts restored Lillard’s spine and returned much of his hearing.
Palmer didn’t know it, but the treatment for Lillard’s back trouble on that September day in 1895 marked the start of chiropractic. For the Canadian-born Palmer, it was initially just a cue to turn his attention to spinal adjustment. Although he had no formal training, Palmer subscribed to medical journals of the day and was particularly well-read in subjects like anatomy and physiology. Before long, he had conceived of chiropractic as a natural approach to healing, rejecting the use of drugs or surgery. Instead, it would focus on the neuromusculoskeletal system and its effect on general health, with an emphasis on the body’s ability to heal itself.
In 1897, he opened the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Davenport with a total of 14 students. Today it is one of more than 30 chiropractic colleges worldwide recognized by the World Federation of Chiropractic (WFC).
One of the first things to distinguish chiropractic from other late 19th-century modes of health care was its ability to survive into the 1900s while other alternative approaches dwindled next to the rise of conventional allopathic medicine. That’s not to say the profession hasn’t had its battles. For years, many chiropractors were accused of practicing medicine without a license. Funding has also been a source of conflict. Following the 1910 “Flexner Report,” the US federal government and, later, corporations, opted to throw most of their financial support behind conventional medical research and practice, making it the de facto authority on bodily healing and treatment.
Such was not the case for chiropractic. Schools of chiropractic remained relatively immature in terms of entrance qualifications, faculty and curriculum through the first half of the century. Money was also a problem; without enough of it, the profession couldn’t afford to carry out proper clinical research. A turning point came in 1944, with the establishment of the Foundation for Chiropractic Education and Research (FCER). With that, the profession had a primary source of funding.
Support for chiropractic accelerated in the 1960s and ‘70s. When the federal government recognized the US Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE) as the accrediting agency for schools of chiropractic, it was the first-time chiropractic colleges had educational standards for curriculum and admission processes. This boosted their credibility significantly. When several major government inquiries found strong medical evidence to back the effectiveness of chiropractic treatment, the profession edged its way further into the medical mainstream.
In the past 20 years, tensions between medical doctors and chiropractors have waned, largely due to the realization that chiropractic patients – who often rely on both forms of health care – want their chosen providers to cooperate. Furthermore, an increasing number of doctors have recognized chiropractic’s wide range of medical merits. With over 160,000 people in more than 70 countries now making careers as doctors of chiropractic, the profession has a secure, established base on which to work and grow.