Chiropractic is a system of therapy based on manipulation of the joints, particularly those of the spine. It emphasizes the role of the nervous system in good health and the system’s malfunction as a cause of disease. In this it differs from the theory behind osteopathy which concentrates more on the role of the circulatory system.

The word chiropractic comes from two Greek words cheir – hands, and prattein – done by, so it means, literally, ‘done by hands’. It is an ancient discipline: Hippocrates wrote about it, ancient Egyptian manuscripts refer to it and the early Chinese, Hindus, Assyrians and Babylonians are known to have used this manipulative treatment, which in popular language is known as ‘bone-cracking’. The founder of modern chiropractic was a Canadian healer called Daniel David Palmer (1845-1913). In the late nineteenth century, he put forward a theory based on a Hippocratic idea that we should look to the nervous system, particularly with relation to the spinal column, as the cause of disease. Palmer’s first success was to cure his janitor of deafness by manipulating the vertebrae in his neck.

In 1895 chiropractic was ‘launched’ in the United States, and over the years various colleges were established there, and in other countries, to train chiropractic students. Today there is official registration of qualified chiropractors in some countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland. The training course is now full-time for four years.

According to Palmer, chiropractic works by rebalancing the body’s natural function by manipulating joints affected by malfunction of the nervous system. He maintained that in someone enjoying good health, the impulses transmitted through the nerves produce normal functions. However, any sort of pressure on the nervous system affects its efficiency in transmitting impulses. Undue pressure on the nervous system can be caused by factors such as toxins in the body or the irritation of sensory nerves, which in turn can produce muscular contractions that can pull a bone out of its correct position. The resultant slight dislocation of bony parts, particularly in the spine, are known as subluxations.

Palmer concluded that manual adjustments of misaligned parts would allow the nerve impulses to travel freely again. His ideas remain the basis of modern chiropractic although some of the early fundamentalist theory has now been abandoned. Chiropractic treatment usually involves the specific adjustment of a particular joint. The patient may feel a slight movement in the area affected, but the treatment is not painful. Besides chiropractors who restrict themselves to physical adjustment, there are those who also advise about exercises, posture and nutrition. The aim is to make sure that the benefits of treatment are maintained and to help prevent similar problems from recurring.

A single chiropractic treatment last about 15 minutes, and the average patient with a back pain usually expects to attend for about six treatments. After a course of treatment, some patients need a follow-up visit to make sure that they maintain their improvement. If the trouble should recur it can often be Some massage techniques cleared up quite quickly if the chiropractor is consulted immediately.

Chiropractic is one of the largest and most widely recognized forms of alternative medicine worldwide. In order to aid diagnosis, a full medical history is taken at the first consultation together with measuring the static and dynamic proportions of the spine, testing the strength and flexibility of the muscles, taking the temperature of the skin, and in addition to these X-rays are quite often taken. X-rays, particularly of the spinal and pelvic structures, are an important part of diagnosis because they clearly show abnormalities of joint position and movement. In examining the spine, the chiropractor judges its movement as a whole. He or she feels for individual joint position and flexibility, and looks at factors such as posture, weight-bearing and even the mental attitude of the patient.

Chiropractic is used most frequently as a treatment for low back pain, but it is also said to be effective for other conditions originating from the spine which are felt in other parts of the body. Such conditions include sciatica and shoulder, arm and leg pains. ‘Slipped’ discs are often successfully treated, along with hip and knee problems, muscular aches, joint pains and ‘pins and needles’ or numbness.

Many headaches are caused by muscle contractions in the neck brought about by neck disorders. Muscle tension in the neck is increased and pain is referred from the neck area to the head, producing the typical tension headache. In some cases even the headache associated with migraine can be traced to a disturbance of the spine. Disorders of the spine can upset the autonomic nervous system, causing various problems which do not seem to be related to the spine. These include dizziness and, in children and young adults, asthma. Occasionally chiropractic treatment seems also to relieve other complaints such as catarrh and sinus problems, digestive disorders, constipation and menstrual problems. Although severe rheumatoid arthritis cannot be improved by chiropractic, the symptoms of osteoarthritis can respond favourably, and much relief be gained from this painful condition. Diseases which are not suitable for treatment are in general degenerative diseases of the central nervous system and hereditary diseases.