From An Upper Cervical Chiropractic Perspective


Chiropractic isn’t for back pain? Wait, what?

What is the biggest chiropractic myth? That chiropractic is for back pain. Wait–isn’t chiropractic care for back pain? And aren’t chiropractors quite effective at helping people with back problems.

Well, no. And yes. Let’s see why by taking a trip back into history.

The first chiropractic adjustment was an experiment in helping a man with hearing loss

Every year right around the middle of September, many chiropractors and chiropractic colleges celebrate the birthday of chiropractic as a separate and distinct method of health care. September 18th is the date that D.D. Palmer gave the first chiropractic adjustment in Davenport, Iowa in 1895.

Dr. Daniel David Palmer

D.D. Palmer, was a self-taught anatomist, grocer, hobby-farmer, and magnetic healer. He claimed to be the first person (at least in the modern era) to use a short, gentle thrust to adjust a malpositioned vertebra back into position.

(For the technical readers of history, this would be different than the “long-axis” manipulations of Osteopathy. Physicians and healers of all kinds have used manipulation of the spine to create healing, from the time of the ancient Greeks. Whether D.D. Palmer did something original on September 18 is up for debate, but what he certainly did do is create a unique profession and philosophy.)

At this time, D.D. had a large magnetic healing practice in one of the tallest buildings in Davenport, Iowa. Before the era of modern antibiotics and safe and effective surgery, many people turned to magnetic healers for chronic health problems.

(They also turned to homeopathy, herbal remedies, acupuncture, aromatherapy (essential oils!), electromagnetic machines, and other things that are still just as popular as they were in the late 1800s.) D.D. Palmer had many patients as a magnetic healer, but Harvey Lillard was his first patient using what would be become chiropractic care.

And Mr. Lillard, as the first chiropractic patient, wasn’t healed of back pain. Here is a testimonial from Harvey Lillard printed not long after his first chiropractic adjustments.

I was deaf 17 years, and expected always to remain so, for I had doctored a great deal without any benefit. I had long ago made up my mind not to take any more ear treatments, for it did me no good.

…Dr. Palmer told me that my deafness came from an injury to my spine. This was news to me: but it is a fact that my back was injured at the time I went deaf. Dr. Palmer treated me on the spine. In two treatments I could hear quite well. That was eight months ago. My hearing remains good.

–Harvey Lillard

He didn’t find the cure for deafness, but he did discover something else

Harvey Lillard, the first chiropractic patient
Harvey Lillard, the first chiropractic patient

Based on Mr. Lillard’s healing, you couldn’t blame Dr. Palmer if he thought he had found a cure for deafness. He didn’t. But after experimenting with other patients, D.D. learned that he had found something better.

D.D. Palmer had discovered a way to decrease, remove, or reset nervous system stress and irritation coming from the spine. It would take several years to create a comprehensive philosophy of how the neuronal anatomy might work, as many things that we know about the body now he did not at the time.

In Harvey Lillard that stress had contributed to some sort of hearing loss. We know that he wasn’t born deaf, but it had developed later in life, near a spine injury. We can probably assume that he had fully formed, and working auditory parts in his inner ear, yet something was blocking its conductance, most likely in the nerve.

Case reports and some pilot studies for a few kinds of hearing loss do support the story of D.D. Palmer helping Harvey Lillard’s hearing. See for example:

A Randomized Controlled Trial on Treatment  of Cervicogenic Sudden Hearing Loss With Chiropractic
Resolution of hearing loss after chiropractic manipulation
Hearing loss, otalgia, and neck pain
Resolution of conductive hearing loss due to otitis media after chiropractic treatment

This is supported by my own experience and those of other chiropractors (using upper cervical procedures) with Meniere’s Disease, a problem that can include fluctuations in hearing loss.

By the way, this nervous system pressure can also contribute to vertigo, migraine, or seizures, or even mood, sleep, or hormone challenges.

And yes. For many, it creates the primary, most noticeable symptom of spine tension and back pain.

So chiropractors, especially with their long education on the anatomy, physiology, and mechanism of injury in the spine, are quite good at helping people with back pain. But chiropractic care isn’t only about back pain.

It’s ultimately about having a healthy spine and reducing stress to the the nervous system. And all the good things that happen when the nervous system is communicating as it should be.

Celebrating Founder’s Day is a chiropractic tradition

Chiropractors celebrate Founders Day on September 18Each year on September 18, chiropractors all over the world take a moment to recognize the birth of the chiropractic profession in its initial form, by celebrating the first adjustment of Harvey Lillard by Dr. Daniel David Palmer.

What happened in Davenport, Iowa in 1895 has definitely changed the lives of many chiropractic patients.

This year in 2020, we are celebrating 125 years since the birth of chiropractic health care.

Scroll to Top