Do you know what chiropractic is? Most people that have heard of it will generally hazard a guess that it is something to do with bad backs. They are sort of right. Chiropractors do manipulate the spine, and other parts of the musculoskeletal system. But they do it in the belief that some or all other medical problems are a result of problems with the spine, and can be fixed through manipulating the spine.
Daniel David Palmer invented the theory of chiropractic in 1895. He decided that all living things have vital energy called Innate Intelligence. Innate Intelligence supposedly flows out of the brain and through the spine to the organs. According to Palmer, misaligned vertebrae block the flow of Innate Intelligence, and that is the cause of all other illness. Palmer also rejected the idea of germs and of vaccination because he thought that all illness is caused by this blockage.
These ideas, of course, have no basis in science at all, and there is no evidence that things work this way. In 2008 the British Chiropractic Association launched a libel case against science writer Simon Singh over an article that he wrote in The Guardian. I have reproduced the relevant part here. See the rest, with notes in this article: The libellous Simon Singh article on chiropractors.
First, you might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that, “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.
You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.
This lawsuit caused uproar in the scientific world because the BCA was effectively using libel law to silence scientific opinion. Simon Singh’s defence effectively put the efficacy of chiropractic on trial. The BCA dropped their case in April 2010. The idea that chiropractic can be used to treat colic, habits, ear infections and asthma is not only without scientific basis, but also dangerous. Someone seeking treatment for these things will not get the real effective treatment that they need. Promoting the use of chiropractic to treat babies for these things is just cruel. The lack of proper treatment will lead to suffering for the baby, and the chiropractic treatment can itself cause injury and prolonged pain.
Chiropractic does seem to fill a gap in health services. I have spoken to several people in both the UK and the USA who have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) and visit chiropractors. The problem seems to be that physiotherapists and other specialists within the NHS and conventional healthcare don’t seem to have the knowledge or the time necessary to deal with problems caused by hypermobility. Chiropractors appear to know the musculoskelatal system and especially the spine in a lot more detail, and are willing to help reset subluxations. (Partial dislocations) Chiropractors also take the time to listen to their patients. This could be because they are generally seen privately and so have more incentive to earn their fee.
Unfortunately despite them offering useful help with back and joint problems, I think any good in Chiropractic is negated by the rest of what they believe. For a start, there is room for confusion because chiropractors use the term subluxation in a different sense to the medical profession – they believe that there are dysfunctional segments of the spine that block innate energy, and they call this a subluxation too. Chiropractors believe that these vertebral subluxations (which aren’t subluxations in the normal sense) block innate intelligence and prevent if from reaching the rest of the body. They think that this is the cause of infections and illness. I think possibly the worst thing that chiropractors do is to advise people not to get their vaccinations. I have said before when talking about homeopathy that we all rely on “Herd Immunity” for vaccines to work, and telling people not to have them in the hope that chiropracty or homeopathy will prevent viral infections is not only obscenely stupid, it’s a danger to the whole of society.
Some people will argue that it is acceptable to use a Chiropractor if they stick to actual physical problems and avoid other issues, but in my opinion this is that this gives them some respect in the mind of the public and opens the way for people to fall for the rest of what they say. Ultimately, if a person is spending their own money, and receives some benefit from chiropractic treatment for physical problems, it isn’t my place to tell them to stop seeing a chiropractor. I do think that they are making a mistake though, and I really hope that no one else will see it as a reason to trust a chiropractor for anything else.