Mr William Harvey Lillard was the janitor contracted to clean the Ryan Building where D. D. Palmer’s magnetic healing office was located. In 1895, he became Palmer’s very first chiropractic patient and thus entered the history books. The very foundations of chiropractic are based on this story.

[Testimony of Harvey Lillard regarding the events surrounding the first chiropractic adjustment, printed in the January 1897 issue of the Chiropractor]

To call the ‘Chiropractor’ a reliable source would probably be stretching it a bit, and there are various versions of the event, even one where BJ Palmer, DD’s son, changed significant details of the story. Nevertheless, it’s a nice story, if there ever was one. But, like many nice stories, it’s just that: a tall tale, a story that might be not based on reality. In this case, the reality getting in the way of a good story is human anatomy.

The nerve supply of the inner ear, the bit that enables us to hear, does not, like most other nerves of our body, run through the spine; it comes directly from the brain: the acoustic nerve is one of the 12 cranial nerves.

But chiropractors never let the facts get in the way of a good story! Thus they still tell it and presumably even believe it. Take this website, for instance, as an example of hundreds of similar sources:

… the very first chiropractic patient in history was named William Harvey Lillard, who experienced difficulty hearing due to compression of the nerves leading to his ears. He was treated by “the founder of chiropractic care,” David. D. Palmer, who gave Lillard spinal adjustments in order to reduce destructive nerve compressions and restore his hearing. After doing extensive research about physiology, Palmer believed that Lillard’s hearing loss was due to a misalignment that blocked the spinal nerves that controlled the inner ear (an example of vertebral subluxation). Palmer went on to successfully treat other patients and eventually trained other practitioners how to do the same.

How often have we been told that chiropractors receive a medical training that is at least as thorough as that of proper doctors? But that’s just another tall story, I guess.

20 Responses to Palmer’s first chiropractic cure must have been a case of miraculous healing

  • it reminds me of Digmund Freud’s case study of “Dora” or of Moshe Feldenkrais “The case of Nora”

  • Or in the spirit of the season, Jesus getting fixed up after some back, arm, & leg injuries.

    (Chiropractors were/ are associated with all kinds of nutty libertarian/fundamentalist Xtian/KKK American beliefs, as I understand, based on this book:

    Folk, H. (2017). The Religion of Chiropractic: Populist Healing from the American Heartland. UNC Press Books.

  • Interestingly, DD Palmer’s version of the restored hearing event has always been disputed by Lillard’s daughter, Valdeenia Lillard Simons:

    “She says 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”. [2]
    Chiropractic’s true origin appears to have been of a more mystical nature than the Lillard tale denotes. Palmer was an active spiritualist and apparently believed that the idea of “replacing displaced vertebrae for the relief of human ills” came in a spiritualist séance through communication with the spirit of Dr. Jim Atkinson, a physician who had died 50 years earlier in Davenport [3]. As a young man, Palmer regularly walked the six or seven miles to the estate of his spiritualist mentor, William Drury [4]. It was one of Drury’s followers who told him of her vision of a door with a sign on it reading ‘Dr. Palmer’. She said that he one day would lecture in a large hall telling an audience about a new “revolutionary” method of healing the sick [5]. Predisposed to magnetic healing by his belief in spiritualism, Palmer was drawn to the practice by seeing the financial success of illiterate ‘Dr.’ Paul Caster of Ottumwa… Individual chiropractors sometimes deny that they believe in Palmer’s biotheological ‘Innate Intelligence’, but when pressed as to their basis for practice, they must face the physiological facts described in a scientific brief on chiropractic: If there is partial blockage of impulses in a nerve fibre . . . the impulse is transmitted more slowly in a zone of partial blockage, and resumes all its characteristics as soon as it reaches normal tissue. Thus, it is impossible for a partial blockage of nerve impulses in a particular zone to affect the flow, since the impulses would resume their normal flow [9].”


    DD Palmer certainly seemed to be inconsistent. For example, in his 1910 textbook, ‘The Chiropractor’s Adjuster’, he wrote:

    “Harvey Lillard, a janitor, in the Ryan Block, where I had my office, had been *so deaf* for 17 years that he could not hear the racket of a wagon on the street or the ticking of a watch… I made inquiry as to the cause of his deafness and was informed that when he was exerting himself in a cramped, stooping position, he felt something give way in his back and immediately became deaf. An examination showed a vertebra racked form its normal position. I reasoned that if that vertebra was replaced, the man’s hearing should be restored. With the object in view, *a half-hour’s talk* persuaded Mr Lillard to allow me to replace it.”

    You have to wonder how Mr Lillard could have heard what DD Palmer said to him in that half-hour conversation when he was, apparently, at least 90% deaf. See:

    It’s also interesting to note that, six years after inventing chiropractic, DD Palmer discarded it only for it to be resurrected by his (ruthless) businessman son, BJ Palmer.

    • So your point is that there are conflicting accounts of something that supposedly happened around 1895? Uh, OK.

      • I think his point is that chiropractic was tainted with lies from its very beginning

        • How does one determine who was telling the lie?

          Having discussed this topic many times over the years, we have concluded…we don’t know based upon current available evidence.

          • these can only have been one course of events;
            yet there are many different stories;
            none of them tally with the anatomical truth.
            even you should be able to conclude that most or all of these tales are simple lies.

          • i agree that there are different accounts of the event. I cannot tell from the current evidence who was telling a lie, if anyone.

            of course for it to be a lie, it would have been told with the intent to deceive.

  • Yet it’s interesting that around 10% of whiplash victims will report otological symptoms such as tinnitus, deafness and vertigo (J Forensic Leg Med. 2009 Feb;16(2):53-5) and hearing loss is reported in other whiplash cases as well (ex Acta Otolaryngol Suppl. 1995;520 Pt 1:53-6).

  • Palmers’ story is reminiscent of the fellows having seen ‘ol Lazarus wondering around. No other possible explanation besides rising-from-the-dead. Couldn’t be misinterpretiion of events….or lying. Nope.

  • In his biography, DD Palmer wrote that he ”adjusted” a thoracic vertebra….. Of course, most chiropractors won’t say that! How could they explain the relationship between the thoracic spine and deafness…

    • Perhaps there is at least a pathway?

      Seventy percent of the stellate-ganglion-block-treated patients achieved substantial hearing improvement. Only 15% to 20% of the non-stellate-ganglion-block-treated patients achieved substantial hearing improvement in discrimination or pure-tone levels.

      Stellate ganglion blocks for idiopathic sensorineural hearing loss.
      Haug O, et al. Arch Otolaryngol. 1976.

      • @DC on Thursday 11 April 2019 at 13:26

        lol, another chiro who pretends to provide a reference, but is really lying. This is what a search provides;

        To the Editor.—I wish to call attention to an important alternative conclusion about stellate ganglion blocks in the treatment of idiopathic sudden hearing loss (SHL). In their paper recommending this treatment, Haug et al have merely succeeded in demonstrating once again that the earlier the diagnosis is established, the better the prognosis.1 The authors did not take into account that a high percentage of patients with SHL will recover spontaneously, treatment or no treatment. In fact, 43% can expect a return to normal hearing if the diagnosis is established within the first week, if one excludes all patients whose loss remained undiagnosed for more than one month (as was done in the previous study).2 I strongly suspect that SHL is much more common than generally believed, that many people recover spontaneously without seeing a physician, and that others recover while under the care of their family physician.

        Lies, lies and more lies from the masters of lying, chiros.

        • Show me where I lied.

          “The results of this study may explain the therapeutic benefits of SGB for some diseases such as sensorineural hearing loss and ischemic optic neuropathy. Firat et al. 33 demonstrated that hearing, especially at higher frequencies, responded to increased cochlear blood flow after SGB and that patients with cochlear hearing disorders, particularly in sudden sensorineural hearing loss, responded to SGB treatment. The increase in signal intensity we observed for the ECA, STA, and maxillary artery (and potentially its branches, such as the anterior tympanic artery, which supplies blood to the adjacent areas of the cochlea and inner ear) may explain some of the benefits observed by others for SGB for hearing loss of unknown etiology.5,11,34,35”

          Pain Medicine. October 2010. Effect of Stellate Ganglion Block on the Cerebrovascular System: Magnetic Resonance Angiography Study.

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