American Chiropractic History of Treatment for Back Pain and Neck Pain

Since its inception in 1895, chiropractic has provided treatment for patients with back pain, neck pain and headache. Throughout American chiropractic history, some chiropractors have claimed a relationship among the spine, nervous system and brain as essential to one's health and have held that structural imbalances within the spine can affect functioning with the spinal cord, nerves, muscles, bones and joints of the body.

See Chiropractic Treatments for Lower Back Pain

Over the years, based on evidence from the scientific literature, chiropractic physicians have increasingly focused on evidence-based treatment of spine-related disorders as well as other musculoskeletal problems.

Chiropractic treatment has traditionally been based on spinal manipulation, which generally involves applying a manual, controlled force into joints that have become restricted by tissue injury with the purpose of restoring the joint's mobility, alleviating related pain and tightness, and allowing the tissues to heal.1

While spinal manipulation has become more specialized since its earliest applications in chiropractic care, it has remained one of the most commonly used chiropractic treatments of a profession that does not prescribe medication or perform surgery.


However, as chiropractic doctors have evolved with the emerging evidence as to the most effective approaches to back pain, neck pain and headaches, they have embraced a variety of evidence-based treatment approaches.

See Chiropractic Manipulation for the Cervical Spine

A number of chiropractors have obtained additional degrees such as PhD's and have begun to investigate the effects of manipulation as well as other treatments provided by chiropractors.


Spinal Manipulation in American Chiropractic History

Spinal manipulation was not invented by a chiropractor, nor is it even a new or recent method. Manipulation of the spine dates back to the beginning of recorded time, with Hippocrates once noting it as a key to treating diseases.2-4

Spinal manipulation is often associated with chiropractic care because of a man named Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer, the founder of chiropractic in the United States. Prior to the 20th century, Palmer maintained an interest in the spine's role on health and began to study its anatomy, learn more about the use of spinal manipulation in ancient times, and teach himself how to manipulate the spine.5

In 1895, Palmer was approached by a janitor who was deaf in one ear. Palmer theorized that the condition was likely related to the spine, possibly a displaced vertebra.5

According to many historical accounts, Palmer examined the man's back, noticed a bump near the spine, and manipulated the area. The hands-on adjustment was reported by Palmer to quickly restore the man's hearing.5 This event is considered the start of chiropractic history.

A combination of the Greek words "cheir" (hand) and praktos ("done"), chiropractic means "Done by Hand",6 although it is important to note that modern spinal manipulation has expanded beyond just hands-based adjustments.

In 1907, Palmer added the term “subluxation” to the chiropractic vocabulary.7 Palmer explained "subluxations" in terms of the spinal vertebrae and joints putting pressure on the nerves, thus impairing functioning, and then detailed how spinal adjustments could be used to reduce subluxation and improve patient symptoms.5

Subluxation is still used today by some chiropractors to describe specific misalignments of the spinal vertebrae and joints and to determine appropriate treatment options. Other terminology currently in use includes manipulative lesion, spinal dysfunction, or joint dysfunction.

At least one chiropractic school (National University of Health Sciences) has begun to refer to the term "subluxation" from a historical perspective only.

American Chiropractic History in the 20th and 21st Century

In 1897, Palmer founded the Palmer School of Chiropractic (which still exists today) to teach students about chiropractic principles and train them in chiropractic manipulation.6

See Understanding Spinal Manipulation

Palmer's son Bartlett Joshua (B.J.) further developed and promoted chiropractic in the first half of the 20th century. B.J. Palmer not only provided training in chiropractic but aided in the education of both the medical community and the general public on the profession.8

During this time, chiropractic gradually grew in popularity for patients seeking alternatives to traditional treatments using drugs, and its core principles slowly gained more acceptance with continued research.8

By the late 20th century, chiropractic emerged as one of the most popular and accessible forms of health care.


  • 1.What is Chiropractic? American Chiropractic Association (ACA). (November 2009).
  • 2.History of Chiropractic Care. American Chiropractic Association (ACA). (July 2009).
  • 3.Withington, ET. Hippocrates, with an English translation. Cambridge, Mass:Harvard University Press; 1928.
  • 4.Anderson R. On doctors and bonesetters in the 16th and 17th centuries. Chiropractic Hist 1983; 3:11-15.
  • 5.Chiropractor Profession. Medline Plus. February 5, 2008 (October 2009).
  • 6.Origins and History of Chiropractic Care. American Chiropractic Association (ACA). (PDF) (October 2009).
  • 7.Smith OG, Langworthy SM, Paxson MC. Modernized chiropractic. Cedar Rapids, IA: Lawrence Press Co; 1906.
  • 8.Wardwell, Walter. Chiropractic’s unique evolution and its future status. JCCA 1996; 40(1):34-39).