There’s an interesting idea out there among people who adhere to a belief that can be proven to be less than substantial that in order to contradict or challenge that belief, one must become an expert in that belief. It’s silly, and it’s frustrating to run into. It’s also usually hypocritical, because people who are firm believers in something do not apply the same standards to themselves – and in this particular case, the folks who are insisting that one must become an expert in the workings of chiropractic before being qualified to dismiss them feel no such obligation to become expert in the voluminous amount of medical knowledge that provides robust evidence for the failure of chiropractic. I mean, you’re presenting me with a book about how chiropractic can fix an area of the brain. . .if I have to learn all about chiropractic to say it doesn’t work, how come you don’t have to become an expert in neurology to tell me that the neurological impairment evidence is wrong? (The first place I saw this argument was coming from Christian Apologetics. . .who didn’t, BTW, become experts in any other religions before declaring that they were immune from criticism by anyone without a degree in Biblical Theology. . .)
The flaw in the argument is that you really don’t need to be an expert in something to know it’s bogus if there’s good, solid information that it couldn’t possibly work and/or it’s making ridiculous claims in the first place. I could be picking anything to poke at right now, but because the thing that’s irritating me right now is ridiculous claims about chiropractic and being told to STFU until I become an expert in chiropractic, that’s what I’m gonna talk about.
Chiropractic’s origins in fraud
To be honest, chiropractic is another one of those things that should never have been taken seriously long enough to last as long as it has. It started off as snake oil, made up by an opportunist looking to make a quick buck, and never had any supportive evidence in the first place. Daniel D. Palmer, a former grocer turned “magnetic healer” came up with the idea in 1895. He claimed that a careful examination and spinal adjustment resulted in the restoration of hearing to a completely deaf man. . .however, the daughter of the man in question tells a completely different story –
She said that her father told her that he was telling jokes to a friend in the hall outside Palmer’s office and Palmer, who had been reading, joined them. When Lillard reached the punch line, Palmer, laughing heartily, slapped Lillard on the back with the hand holding the heavy book he had been reading. A few days later, Lillard told Palmer that his hearing seemed better. Palmer then decided to explore manipulation as an expansion of his magnetic healing practice. Simons said “the compact was that if they can make [something of] it, then they both would share. But, it didn’t happen.”
The wiki link quoted here has a good summation of the origins of chiropractic, and the business ethics and medical training (i.e., none, in both cases) of its founder. The potential benefits of chiropractic were made up on the fly, and were rooted in a combination of magical thinking and marketing potential. Palmer and his son were probably the most honest chiropractors, though, since it’s doubtful either believed any of the claims they made.
One could make an exception for Edzard Ernst, though. Ernst was a chiropractor himself, and a Professor of Complementary Medicine, but has published some of the most revealing critiques of chiropractic, based on not only the level of understanding one must supposedly have to be allowed to criticize, but also on the voluminous scientific research that contradicted the claims of chiropractic. His paper, “Chiropractic: A Critical Evaluation,” is thorough and damning. He provides examples of chiropractic as a religious or metaphysical belief system rather than an actual method of diagnosing or treating illness, in that none of its ideas can be demonstrated (right from the vertebral subluxation, which you simply have to believe exists, to the “innate intelligence” of the body to heal itself – but only with the assistance of chiropractic) and that the mechanism works with supernatural forces to heal. In no cases in which chiropractic has been tested regarding its claims has it ever been shown to work; scientifically, it fails.
Chiropractic’s dirty secret
Ernst and Simon Singh together published “Trick or Treatment,” which addresses the lack of efficacy of several alternative approaches, including chiropractic. Singh had presented some of his criticisms in an article published in The Guardian which brought about a number of changes in Great Britain’s libel laws. The British Chiropractic Association, in lieu of providing evidence to refute his claims, filed suit against him for saying bad things about them.
Some of the bad things had to do with the injuries and deaths that were attributable to chiropractic treatments. Because chiropractors can call themselves “Doctor” in many countries, despite having no actual medical degree, you would think that if they did something wrong, there would be a record of it. However, that’s medical reporting – so when someone came into the hospital with an injury from a chiropractic adjustment, the chiropractor himself didn’t have to report it as an adverse event. For that reason, they were able to claim that treatments were perfectly safe. Singh’s and Ernst’s work threatened the industry with accountability, and directly contradicted its claims of harmlessness.
Even with accountability being difficult to establish, there are statistics being collected. Neck manipulation can damage or even sever arteries and lead to increased risk of stroke, and it’s especially bad for infants.
Chiropractic’s false claims
Now, another thing that calls the legitimacy of a treatment into question is if it claims to be a treatment for multiple unrelated conditions. Harriet Hall wrote an excellent article about this a few years back. She’s not the only one, but I happen to like this summation. Now, if you look at a chiropractic treatment chart, you will see a lot of unrelated conditions. In fact, this is only the short list, as Palmer and many chiropractors today still claim that 99% of all diseases are caused by vertebral subluxations.
If you know anything about medicine or health, you will know that there are a lot of diseases that are caused by pathogens – bacteria and viruses. You will also know that they are things that get into your body from outside, are organisms that are not inherent parts of your body, and can be caused only by exposure, prevented only by protection from exposure or immunity (via vaccinations or previous exposure) and in no possible way can be caused by vertebral subluxations or cured by spinal manipulation.
There are other conditions that are an overreaction of the immune system, in which chemical signals are sent from various sources in the body that recognize outside invasion attack the body’s own tissues instead. These are widely diverse and complex conditions that respond only to very specific treatments that provide for the needs that used to be filled by the destroyed tissue, or slow the immune response, or delay the progression of the disease, or simply aid in reducing symptoms. At best, treating these with chiropractic, which cannot possibly alter immune response in such a target-specific matter, will lead to worsening of the condition or its symptoms. At worst, it can lead to death from organ failure.
Chiropractic also claims to be able to cure neurological and psychiatric conditions. This is ludicrous, because there is no possible way that manipulating the spine could alter the neurological or synaptic structure of the brain. A site to which I will not link recommends chiropractic for Autism, ADHD, Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, and even Deafness and Blindness. (It also claims to help degenerative joint diseases – if your bones are deteriorating, a Chiropractor is probably the last person you want to visit!)
There is, essentially, nothing that cannot be treated or cured with chiropractic, according to chiropractic. That right there should tell you that there is nothing that can be treated or cured with chiropractic, because it’s not based in biological or medical reality.
Just as a note on this, there seems to be some co-operative effort between Chiropractic and Scientology. They both share the idea of metaphysical healing, and endorse one another a little too frequently for my comfort level. Some chiropractic practitioners have even incorporated Scientology’s e-meters into their diagnoses and treatments.
Chiropractic – why do I need to read up on it, again?
Even the only thing chiropractic could conceivably help with – back pain – it doesn’t do all that good a job. Samuel Homola, a retired chiropractor, outlines not only the reasons you shouldn’t go see a chiropractor for this, but the reasons you should see a Physical Therapist instead in this article. He and Stephen Barrett have spent plenty of time compiling information on chiropractic that proves that I don’t need to immerse myself in an intensive study of chiropractic to know it’s nonsense.