Date: Thu Aug 25 1994 23:28:00
From: Jeff Welch
Subj: Chiropractic Quackery
Exerpts from "A Consumer's Guide to Alternative Medicine: A Close Look
at Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Faith-Healing, and Other Unconventional
Treatments", by Kurt Butler, edited by Stephen Barrett, Consumer Health
Library, Prometheus Books, NY, 1992:
For nearly a hundred years chiropractors have insisted that spinal
misalignments can cause and/or aggravate a wide assortment of diseases
by impinging on nerves as the exit the spine. According to chiropractic
theory, this impedes the flow of "vital energy" (often called "Innate
Intelligence") to organs and tissues throughout the body.
However, instead of doing scientific studies to test beliefs like these,
chiropractors have relentlessly waged what Consumer Reports has called a
"war with science." (Consumer Reports, 1975) Thanks to victories in
legislatures and courts, their number, priviliges, and income continue
to grow, even thouugh their underlying theory has been thoroughly
discredited. (Crelin, E. "A Scientific Test of the Chiropractic Theory",
American Scientist, 1973)
The medical profession, concerned about chiropractic's dangers, shunned
chiropractors and did its best to educate legislators and the public
about chiropractic's absurdities and dangers. But intense lobbying
enabled chiropractors to become licensed as independent practitioners
in every state, gain inclusion under Medicare and many other insurance
programs, and achieve the freedom to shower the public inappropriately
There is no evidence that subluxations as defined by chiropractors
exist, or have any clinical significance, or that chiropractors can
agree on what x-ray features signify a subluxation. Yet Medicare covers
chiropractic patients only for treatment of "subluxations demonstrated
by x-rays to exist."
The x-ray in the hands of some chiropractors is like a horoscope in the
hands of an astrologer. But at least astrologers don't dose clients
As with astrology, chiropractic has established no scientific standards.
There is a wide range of philosophy, theory, and practice. Some believe
that their professional role is to detect what they call "subluxations"
and to adjust and correct them. Even spinal adjustment techniques vary
widely. There are dozens of different methods, none of which has been
scientifically validated or proven better or worse than the rest.
Despite wide variations, most chiropractors adhere to the following
1. The human spine is subject to frequent and significant misalignments
("subluxations") from a wide variety of causes, including practically
all simple daily activities. Even malnutrition, air pollution,
cigarette smoking, and pesticides in food can aggravate subluxations.
2. Subluxations interfere with the normal flow of "nerve energy". This
causes or aggravates malfunction of the organs and tissues that they
supply, and can cause disease and death.
3. Spinal manipulations ("adjustments") can fix misalignments, thereby
normalizing the flow of nerve energy and restoring normal nerve function
and normal organ and tissue function.
4. Chiropactors have a unique ability to diagnose and correct spinal
subluxations. These lesions can cause or aggravate no only pain but
practically every health problem known to humans. Among those specified
in widely distributed pamphlets and books are heart disease, cancer,
asthma, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, hyperactivity, sinusitis,
colds, and emotional, neurological, gastrointestinal, and skin
Chiropractic resembles religion more than science. Many chiropractors
believe in a force or power they call Innate Intelligence. It is, they
say, unmeasurable, but chiropractors are nevertheless certain that their
manipulations and adjustments facilitate its flow and thereby enhance
Chiroprators don't even know whether their manipulations increase or
decrease impulses in the nerves they claim to be helping. Dogma would
seem to dictate that adjustments always increase impulses, since the
purpose is to free up blockages. But in cases in which manipulations do
appear to reduce chronic pain, impulses may be reduced, not increased.
In 1976, Chester Wilk and four other D.C.'s charged that the American
Medical Association (AMA) and more than a dozen other organizations had
violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by trying to eliminate their
profession. In 1981, a jury sided with the AMA, but an appeals court
overturned the decision on procedural grounds.
Under antitrust law, it turned out, scientific truth had little
In 1987, federal judge Susan Getzendanner ruled that the AMA had engaged
in an illegal boycott. Although she concluded that the dominant reason
for the AMA's antichiropractic campaign was the belief that chiropractic
was not in the best interest of patients, she ruled that the AMA had
gone too far.
Chiropractors trumpet the case as an endorsement of their methods. But
it was not. Close reading of the judge's opinion shows she had little
regard for chiropractic itself. She noted, for example, that during the
1960's "there was a lot of material available to the AMA Committee on
Quackery that supported its belief that all chiropractic was
unscientific and deleterious." In a dubious exercise of judicial logic,
she ruled that chiropractic's shorcomings did not justify attempting to
contain and eliminate an entire licensed profession without first
demonstrating that a less restrictive campaign could not succeed in
protecting the public.
The Court of Appeals said, "Neither the district court, nor this court
is equipped to determine whether chiropractic is scientific or not."
In other words, the defendents (AMA) were deprived of their main defense
because the judges refused to judge the merits of their argument. Our
society may pay dearly for the courts' self-imposed scientific
illiteracy. Moreover, other dubious healers may be free to follow in
the chiropractors footsteps. For example, if state legislatures
legitimize astrological medicine because of pressures from local
astrologers, antitrust laws could make it difficult for medical
organizations to prevent astrologers from participating in insurance
programs and gaining hospital privileges. This is essentially what
happened with chiropractic.