The first chiropractic adjustment was given Sept. 18, 1895, in Davenport, Iowa, by Daniel David Palmer. The first chiropractic patient was Harvey Lillard, a janitor in the building.
D.D., as he is most commonly called, had his office. Harvey had lost his hearing 17 years before meeting D.D., and D.D. offered to check his spine for subluxations that may have influenced the function of his hearing. Within three days of that first adjustment, Harvey had his hearing completely restored, and D.D. had established himself in the eyes of the community as a healer who could cure deafness by "laying on hands."
This is the true story of the first chiropractic adjustment. While the story appears miraculous, D.D. had been preparing himself for the opportunity that presented itself in the form of Harvey Lillard. Prior to that adjustment, D.D. had been practicing magnetic healing, studying anatomy and physiology and studying the work of his contemporaries such as A.J. Still, the founder of osteopathy. From his studies, D.D. reasoned that since the nervous system was known to be the communication system in the body, interference to the nervous system would interfere with normal body function and homeostasis. Examining the anatomy of the body, he reasoned that due to the location of the spinal cord within the spine, and the departure of paired spinal nerves from the spinal cord through holes formed by two adjacent vertebrae, misalignments of those adjacent vertebrae would interfere with the function of those paired nerves. The first adjustment he gave was the first opportunity he had to test his theory in practice.
The public response to the first adjustment was enthusiastic. The news spread quickly, and people with very diverse ailments sought care from the person who could "cure the deaf" with his hands. Within three years, the Palmer School of Chiropractic was started, and in the first class of 12 students, six were practicing medical doctors. However, the most important student in that first class was D.D.'s son, Bartlett Joshua Palmer. B.J. took over the school shortly after his graduation, and is often referred to as "the Developer" of chiropractic.
Given the modern perception that chiropractic is an effective treatment only for back or neck pain, it is significant that the first adjustment did not address pain of any kind. Chiropractic was founded as a health care system that has an impact on the entire body, and that foundation has allowed chiropractic to grow into the second largest health care system in this country that has more than 50,000 practicing chiropractors adjusting more than five million different people each year.
The body is composed of approximately three trillion cells all working together in harmony. The heart pumps, the lungs breathe, the intestines digest and absorb, the liver cleans and our muscles move. It all happens in a smooth, unconscious manner. The nervous system is the communication and control system that coordinates all the functions of our body. The communication network of the nervous system is so extensive, that chemicals have been identified - neuropeptides - which direct and control white blood cell activity of our immune system. (Kind of like each white blood cell having its own cellular phone connected to the brain.)
The nervous system is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. The brain and spinal cord, both made of very sensitive and reactive tissue, are protected by the skull and the spine respectively. The peripheral nerves are far less sensitive once they leave the protection of the spinal column and are relatively unprotected. These nerves originate at the spinal cord and fan out to every part of the body, from deep inside our organs, to the top of our head, and the tips of our fingers and toes. Interference with the normal function of the nervous system interferes with the normal communication and control in the body, which in turn interferes with the function of the body. Chiropractors look for nerve system interference in the form of vertebral subluxations.
Vertebral subluxations are misalignments of the vertebrae that interfere with the normal function of the nervous system. Recent research is detailing more and more clearly the damage of the "vertebral subluxation complex." The complex includes the following:
EAbnormal motion or position of the vertebra. (kinesiopathology) The vertebra can be jammed, fixated, and less mobile than they should be, or they can be too mobile, producing noise with normal movement. This changes all of the normal mechanics of the spine.
EAbnormal nervous system function. (neuropathology) Either direct pinching or irritation of the nerves occurs. This alters the normal electro-chemical impulses that travel through the nervous system and changes the chemical environment around the spinal nerve roots.
EAbnormal muscle function. (myopathology) The spinal muscles that control the normal movement of the spine will either spasm, weaken, or both.
EAbnormal soft tissue function. (histopathology) Spinal ligaments, tendons, discs, and other soft tissues can become either acutely or chronically inflamed. This inflammation causes alterations in those tissues and exacerbates the effects of numbers the first three.
EAbnormal function of the spine and the body. (pathology) With reduced function, the body is stressed, and less able to adapt to its environment. This makes it more vulnerable to disease. In the spine, the most common disease process is degenerative arthritis.
When a vertebra is subluxated, all five of the listed components occur even if there is no obvious symptom associated with that component. Adjusting the subluxation begins the process of healing and restoring more normal function in the five components.
Metaphorically, if you think of the nervous system as the wires that carry the life energy throughout the body, each subluxation has the effect of a dimmer switch, gradually reducing the amount of life force to the body. Correcting the subluxations turns on the power. Beginning with (and including) birth, we are susceptible to traumas that can cause subluxation.
Dr. Angela Bremer is a family chiropractor with Explore Chiropractic in Bemidji.