The History of Chiropractic

black and white photograph of chiropractor in the 1920s

As an alternative healthcare profession, chiropractic has sparked interest and debate since its inception in the late 19th century. Born from the idea that manual manipulation of the spine could improve health, chiropractic care has evolved from its contentious roots to become a recognized and widely practiced form of treatment. In retracing the origins and journey of this unique form of care, we uncover a story of innovation, challenge, and staunch advocacy for a holistic approach to well-being.

The Origins of Chiropractic Care

The story of chiropractic begins with Daniel David Palmer, a healer who performed the first recorded chiropractic adjustment in 1895. Palmer’s concept hinged on the belief that misalignments of the spine, or “subluxations,” interrupted the body’s natural flow of innate intelligence — a vitalistic life force responsible for health. This first adjustment allegedly restored hearing to a man who had been deaf for 17 years, setting the foundation of chiropractic practice.

Daniel David Palmer

Daniel David Palmer, the founder of Chiropractic

Fun fact: D.D. Palmer’s first chiropractic patient, Harvey Lillard, reported hearing the noises of the streets for the first time in over a decade following his adjustment.

Palmer’s chiropractic contended with widespread skepticism, often intersecting with the legal and scientific standards of the time. Initially, chiropractors faced numerous challenges, including arrest for practicing medicine without a license. The road to legitimacy was fraught with trials and tribulations, yet it marked the beginning of a healthcare revolution.

Key takeaway: The origins of chiropractic highlight a radical departure from conventional medicine, based on a theory of innate intelligence that would shape the profession’s future.

Pioneers and Key Figures in Chiropractic History

Beyond D.D. Palmer, chiropractic’s history is rich with figures whose contributions have been vital to its evolution. Palmer’s son, Bartlett Joshua (B.J.) Palmer, is often credited with establishing chiropractic as a health profession. Under B.J.’s leadership, the Palmer School of Chiropractic flourished, and he introduced scientific instruments and X-rays into chiropractic practice.

Palmer School of Chiropractic

Palmer School of Chiropractic

Palmer College of Chiropractic quickly became the epicentre of the profession, attracting prospective chiropractors worldwide. Yet, the field also witnessed the emergence of other influencers. Mabel Palmer, B.J.’s wife, became one of the first female chiropractors and helped to enhance the academic rigour of chiropractic education.

Fun fact: B.J. Palmer was notorious for his flamboyant marketing tactics, including owning radio stations and a chiropractic health radio show.

The Palmer family’s dedication to chiropractic education set the stage for the profession’s spread, with individuals like Clarence Gonstead and Logan D. David further refining chiropractic techniques and teaching.

Key takeaway: The Palmer family and other key figures helped to institutionalize chiropractic, laying the foundation for its professionalization and wider societal acceptance.

The Expansion of Chiropractic Philosophy

Chiropractic philosophy has traditionally posited that the body possesses an innate intelligence able to heal itself, a concept that was radically different from mainstream medicine. This principle of vitalism required a holistic approach to patient care, considering the interconnectivity of the body’s systems. The early 20th century saw expansion in chiropractic thinking and the establishment of several philosophical camps. The “straights” advocated for pure chiropractic focus on vertebral subluxations, while the “mixers” embraced other therapeutic methods alongside spinal adjustments.

As chiropractic care transitioned from art to science, the profession grappled with the challenge of integrating a belief in innate intelligence with burgeoning evidence-based healthcare models. The World Chiropractic Alliance and other organizations later emerged to preserve the profession’s founding principles while also promoting research and development.

Institutions like the Logan College of Chiropractic and others were pivotal in creating an academic environment that weaved chiropractic philosophy with practical, diagnostic, and treatment techniques.

Key takeaway: With the expansion of chiropractic philosophy, the profession sought a balance between foundational vitalistic values and the emerging dominance of evidence-based medicine.

Innovations in Chiropractic Techniques

From its inception, chiropractic has always been hands-on, literally. Daniel David Palmer’s initial manual adjustment technique set the precedent for a myriad of methods that would follow. These traditional hands-on approaches, predicated on feel and intuition, became known as “diversified technique,” but innovation did not stop there. Instrument-assisted adjustments, such as the Activator Method, provided an alternative to manual manipulation with the use of hand-held devices.

Technological advances in the late 20th century allowed for the integration of computerized analysis into chiropractic care, such as surface electromyography (sEMG) and digital motion X-rays. Scientific studies supported the development of these methods while ensuring efficacy and patient safety.

Chiropractic techniques have diversified dramatically since Palmer’s day, with practitioners often tailoring adjustments to individual patient needs and advancing science.

Key takeaway: The continuing innovation in chiropractic techniques reflects the profession’s adaptability and commitment to combining traditional practices with modern technology.

Legal Milestones and Professional Recognition

Throughout the 20th century, chiropractic faced significant legal challenges as it sought legitimacy within the broader healthcare landscape. In the United States, a pivotal lawsuit in 1987 marked a turning point when the American Medical Association was found guilty of antitrust violations for conspiring against chiropractors. Although this case took place in the U.S., it had international ramifications, fostering a more inclusive environment for chiropractors in other countries, including Canada.

health acts passed by canada

In Canada, provinces began to recognize and regulate chiropractic care individually, with Manitoba being the first in 1943. By the 1970s, chiropractic had achieved regulated status in most Canadian provinces. The introduction of provincial health acts provided a legal framework within which chiropractors could operate, setting standards for education and practice, and offering public assurance through regulated professional titles.

Fun fact: Today, the Canadian Chiropractic Association represents over 9,000 licensed chiropractors across Canada, advocating for the profession at national and international levels.

The forging of these legal inroads has not only helped chiropractors establish their practices but has also opened the door for integration into public health insurance plans, further cementing chiropractic’s role within the healthcare system.

Key takeaway: Legal milestones in the history of chiropractic have been critical in earning the profession recognition and respect within the medical community and among patients.

Chiropractic Around the World

Chiropractic care has grown from its roots in the American Midwest to an international healthcare practice. Across the world, each country has its unique narrative when it comes to the acceptance and regulation of chiropractic. While the profession enjoys considerable recognition in places like the United States, Canada, and Australia, it is still emerging in others.

In regions like Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East, the chiropractic profession is at varying stages of development. This variance is often due to differing cultural attitudes towards alternative medicine and the presence of established medical infrastructure that may or may not be receptive to chiropractic integration. The World Federation of Chiropractic plays a crucial role in fostering a global understanding and standardization of chiropractic care.

Fun fact: The World Federation of Chiropractic has members from over 90 countries, signifying the global spread and acceptance of chiropractic practices.

This global expansion has presented challenges, such as navigating diverse healthcare regulations and competing with other forms of traditional and complementary medicine. Yet, the spread of chiropractic worldwide indicates a growing search for holistic and non-invasive healthcare options.

Key takeaway: Chiropractic’s global reach reflects the profession’s adaptability and the universal desire for alternative healthcare modalities that emphasize whole-body wellness.

The Chiropractic Research Movement

The critical mass that chiropractic has achieved in the health industry is partly due to a concerted effort to bolster its scientific foundation. As evidence-based practice becomes the gold standard in healthcare, chiropractic researchers have responded by conducting clinical trials and publishing studies that affirm the efficacy and safety of chiropractic treatments.

For example, the relationship between chiropractic care and the relief of back pain has been well-documented in the scientific literature, with numerous studies illustrating chiropractic as a viable treatment option. This research has been pivotal in bridging the gap between chiropractic and conventional medicine, providing a shared language of evaluation and discourse.

Key takeaway: The burgeoning chiropractic research movement has played a fundamental role in validating the profession and ensuring its practices meet contemporary standards of healthcare evidence and efficacy.

The Current Landscape of Chiropractic Care

Today’s chiropractors operate in a healthcare environment that is incredibly different from that of D.D. Palmer’s era. Modern chiropractic clinics are often state-of-the-art facilities that employ a variety of diagnostic tools.

The profession itself has seen a shift towards a more collaborative role within healthcare, with chiropractors often working alongside other health professionals in multidisciplinary teams. This integration is reflective of a holistic approach to patient wellness, which is at the heart of contemporary chiropractic practice.

Additionally, the field has witnessed a proliferation of specializations, allowing chiropractors to focus on areas like sports medicine, pediatrics, and neurology. Continued education remains a cornerstone of the profession, ensuring practitioners stay abreast of the latest research and techniques.

Key takeaway: The advent of modern technology, combined with a commitment to ongoing education, has shaped the current landscape of chiropractic care, making it a dynamic and patient-centric field.

The Future of Chiropractic Practice

The chiropractic profession continues to evolve, with advances in technology and changes in healthcare policy shaping its trajectory. As innovation progresses, new techniques and tools are expected to emerge, enhancing the precision and effectiveness of chiropractic care.

One area of potential growth is the integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning in diagnostic processes, which could further personalize and enhance chiropractic treatment plans. Additionally, the increasing focus on preventive healthcare may see chiropractic care becoming more involved in early intervention strategies.

As healthcare models globally shift towards patient-centred approaches, chiropractic is poised to adapt alongside these changes. This could involve expanded scopes of practice for chiropractors, greater interdisciplinary collaboration, and more robust integration within primary healthcare settings.

Policy changes, such as those pertaining to the opioid crisis, may influence chiropractic’s role in pain management. Public health initiatives are increasingly recognizing the value of chiropractic’s non-invasive approach in this regard.

Key takeaway: Anticipated frameworks of future healthcare systems suggest a bright future for chiropractic, with potential for expansion, innovation, and greater acceptance within integrative care models.


The journey of chiropractic from its controversial beginnings to its current status as a recognized and valued health profession is a testament to its adaptability and relentless pursuit of patient wellness. Reflecting on its history, we see a tapestry of innovation, resilience, and commitment to a unique philosophy of care. This overview underscores the importance of understanding both the roots and the ongoing evolution of chiropractic practices to appreciate fully its role in modern healthcare.


1. What was the first chiropractic school and when was it founded?
The first chiropractic school was the Palmer School of Chiropractic, founded by D.D. Palmer in 1897 in Davenport, Iowa.

2. How have public perceptions of chiropractic changed over the years?
Initially viewed with skepticism and often classified as an unscientific form of treatment, public perception has shifted to recognize chiropractic as a legitimate healthcare practice, particularly for musculoskeletal issues.

3. What are some current debates or controversies in the field of chiropractic?
Debates continue over the extent of the role of subluxations, the evidence base for various treatments, and the integration of chiropractic with conventional medical care.

4. How does chiropractic education differ from medical education?
Chiropractic education focuses on musculoskeletal diagnosis, manual adjustment techniques, and a holistic approach to health.

5. Can chiropractors be considered primary care providers?
In many jurisdictions, chiropractors are considered primary care providers, especially for musculoskeletal conditions, and can be the first point of contact for patients seeking healthcare services.