This survey investigated how many chiropractors in the Canadian province of Alberta promote a theory of subluxation, which health ailments or improvements were linked to subluxation, and whether the subluxation discourse was used to promote chiropractic for particular demographics.

Using the search engine on the Canadian Chiropractic Associations’ website, the researchers made a list of all clinics in Alberta. They then used Google searches to obtain a URL for each clinic with a website, totalling 324 URLs for 369 clinics. They then searched on each website for “subluxation” and performed content analysis on the related content.

One hundred twenty-one clinics’ websites (33%) presented a theory of vertebral subluxation. The ailments and improvements discussed in relation to subluxation were wide-ranging; they included the following:

  • ADHD,
  • allergies,
  • asthma,
  • autism,
  • back pain,
  • bed wetting
  • blood pressure,
  • cold,
  • colitis,
  • constipation,
  • diarrhoea,
  • dizziness,
  • ear infection,
  • epilepsy,
  • fatigue,
  • fever,
  • flu,
  • headache,
  • heart disease,
  • hormonal imbalance,
  • inflammation,
  • learning problems,
  • menstrual cramps,
  • MS,
  • nausea,
  • pain,
  • Parkinson’s disease,
  • problems with hearing,
  • problems with vision,
  • prostate cancer,
  • respiratory disease,
  • sciatica,
  • scoliosis,
  • sleeping problems,
  • spinal decay,
  • sudden infant death syndrome,
  • and many more.

The marketing of chiropractic for children was observed on 8% of the clinic websites.

The researchers concluded that, based on the controversy surrounding vertebral subluxation, the substantial number of clinic websites aligning their practice with vertebral subluxation should cause concern for regulatory bodies.

Why do so many chiropractors cling so tightly to the long obsolete concept of subluxation? The way I see it there are at least three reasons:

  1.  If they abandoned subluxation, they would quickly become physiotherapists, only with a much reduced scope of practice.
  2. Using the subluxation myth avoids the need of the knowledge of any complicated pathophysiology.
  3.  Subluxation is ever so good for business, as it renders chiropractic manipulation a cure all.

D. D. Palmer, the magnetic healer who invented chiropractic about 120 years ago, claimed that a vital energy, which he called the “innate”, controls all body functions. In the presence of “vertebral subluxation,” it cannot work adequately, he postulated. In other words, subluxations block the flow of the innate which, in turn, is the cause of all disease. Palmer therefore developed spinal manipulations to correct such subluxations and de-block the flow of the innate. Palmer defined chiropractic as a system of healing based on the premise that the body requires unobstructed flow through the nervous system of innate intelligence. This effectively makes the adjustment of subluxation a panacea.

To put it simply: subluxation is the carte blanche required for making unlimited bogus claims, while ripping off the public.


23 Responses to Chiropractic: making bogus claims for profit

  • The study researchers “searched on each website for ‘subluxation’…”

    I wonder how many chiropractors use other terminology for the bogus chiropractic ‘subluxation’, e.g. see this very long list:

    Also, it’s worth noting that, in 1901, six years after inventing chiropractic, DD Palmer wanted to discard it:

    However, his son, BJ Palmer, a ruthless businessman, took over from him. A brief browse through this link is all you need in order to understand that BJ was a charlatan and a chancer. However, I think it’s important to know a little more about his wholly unsavoury background and character:

    In 1910, he testified that, at the age of 11, that he had been “kicked from home, forced to make a living” (State of Wisconsin vs. S.R. Jansheki, December 1910).
    He spent years as a vagrant, living largely by hustling on the streets, and slept in dry-goods boxes, hotel kitchens, pool halls, etc. He was permanently expelled from school in the 7th grade, did jail time for petty thievery, and was well-acquainted with the red-light district of town. (Magner, G. Chiropractic: The Victim’s Perspective).
    In the preface to one of BJ’s books, a dean of Palmer College wrote, “The first 20 years of this boy’s life were spent in being educated to hate people and everything they did or were connected with”. (Hender H. Preface. In Palmer BJ. The Bigness of the Fellow Within. Davenport. IA: Palmer School of Chiropractic, 1949)
    Indeed, R.C. Schafer DC, a former director of public affairs for the American Chiropractic Association, reported that as a self-proclaimed ‘keeper of the flame’ BJ was suffocating and ruthless to anyone who dared oppose him, and he remembered him as a bigot and an outlandishly vulgar person. Apparently it was common knowledge that BJ openly supported Hitler in the 1930s (Schafer RC. The imbroglio of the professional greyhound. Dynamic Chiropractic 9(17)10, 1991.) and, like his father, BJ was afflicted by megalomania.
    His book titles revealed an enormous ego and he made many sweeping pronouncements about the nature of health, disease and the human body. His ignorance and ego also combined to discover a ‘duct of Palmer connecting the spleen with the stomach’ ( .
    During his pre-chiropractic years he worked with a mesmerist and in a circus – both of which may have honed his showmanship and salesmanship. From the beginning, BJ did everything possible to distance chiropractic from medicine and osteopathy. His views came to dominate the profession and he greatly expanded chiropractic’s metaphysical basis, which constituted a major part of chiropractic education. He described chiropractic as a ‘health serve-us’ (Palmer BJ. Selling Yourself. Davenport, IA: Palmer College Press, 1921)
    BJ also claimed “I do nothing. It is Innate that does the work’ (Bach, M The Chiropractic Sotr. Austell, GA: Si-Nel Publishing & Sales Co., 1968)
    On page 424 of his book ‘Answers’ (1952), BJ refers to Innate as the ‘other fellow’, or the ‘fellow within’, and the real originator of chiropractic.
    And in his book, ‘The Bigness of the Fellow Within’ (1949), he states that “Innate…has been building and running millions of bodies for millions of years” and he exhorted all chiropractors to harness this divine power. He also states: “One spark of Innate is greater than all the education, books, and libraries of man”.

    • @BW
      Love that list of chiropractic “Subluxation Synonyms and Metaphors”. 99% are physio terms. 🙂 Priceless.
      Then you quote 1910, 1066, 1949, 1952,1968…..
      Time to read the research and get up to date Blue. Especially the last 5 years.
      Your as out of date as the subluxationists and just as resistant to changing your beliefs/dogma.

      • Critical_Chiro wrote: “@ BW Love that list of chiropractic ‘Subluxation Synonyms and Metaphors’. 99% are physio terms. Priceless.”

        @ Critical_Chiro

        What is it you don’t understand about the chiropractic bait and switch? The bait – claims that chiropractors are medical practitioners with expertise in the musculoskeletal system. The switch – practitioners of discredited pseudosciences that have nothing to do with the musculoskeletal system.

        Here’s the problem in full:

        “Chiropractic is perhaps the most common and egregious example of the bait and switch in medicine. The deception begins with the name itself – “chiropractic” fails the basic test of transparency because it is not unambiguously defined. There are in fact numerous professions doing very different things and employing mutually exclusive philosophies under the banner of “chiropractic.”
        Therefore someone may go to see a chiropractor and think they will be seeing a medical professional who will treat their musculoskeletal symptoms, but in reality they will see the practitioner of a cult philosophy of energy healing. So-called “straight” chiropractors (who make up an estimated 30% of all chiropractors) still adhere to the original philosophy of chiropractic invented by “magnetic healer” D.D. Palmer, which is based upon the claim that an undetected life energy called “innate intelligence” flows through the spinal cord and nerves and is responsible for health. Such chiropractors will treat any disease or ailment with spinal manipulation.
        Most other so called “mixer” chiropractors reject the notion of innate intelligence either partially or entirely, but still incorporate other pseudosciences into their practice. Chiropractors are the primary practitioners of homeopathy, applied kinesiology, and iridology in the US. The bait – claims that chiropractors are medical practitioners with expertise in the musculoskeletal system. The switch – practitioners of discredited pseudosciences that have nothing to do with the musculoskeletal system.
        A more subtle form of the bait and switch among chiropractors is the treatment of musculoskeletal symptoms with standard physical therapy or sports medicine practices under the name of chiropractic manipulation. Ironically, the more honest and scientific practitioners among chiropractors are most likely to commit this subtle deception. The problem comes not from the treatment itself but the claim that such treatments are “chiropractic.”
        Using techniques like massage, range of motion exercises, strength-building exercises, and mobilization of joints are all legitimate science-based techniques used by physical therapists and physicians with specialties in physiatry, orthopedics, and sports medicine. Some chiropractors also use similar techniques -and with good results. But by doing so and calling it “chiropractic” it legitimizes the pseudoscientific practices that are very common within the profession – like treating non-existent “subluxations” in order to free up the flow of innate intelligence.”


        As far as I can see, it’s a minority of chiropractors who are evidence-based, unless you have any better data than this:

        • Tut tut, Blue Wode: there are other names for the bait. In my area the local chiro has changed the name of his practice to “spinal health”. I vaguely recall some time ago that C_C reckoned chiropractors might call themselves “spinologists” or something similar. (Apologies to C_C if I’m very wrong. Memory not as good as it used to be.)

          It seems to me that, when they come under pressure, practitioners of pseudo-medicine resort constantly to nomenclature and semantics as a substitute for robust evidence supporting their claims. “Spinal health” is a good one — it suggests positive medical benefit without making any specific kind of claim. You probably need to be a knowledgeable skeptic to see those words and react by thinking “Ah: there goes another chiro obfuscating what they actually do to people.”

          • ‘spinal wealth’ would better describe the chiro business sense

          • spinologists

            Like the ones Tony Blair used to employ?

            Though I do wonder about all the ologists we get these days. When I first heard the word myxologist (well… that was how I heard it) I thought it meant somebody who studied mucus.

          • @FO
            For years we have been telling the vitalists to follow Reggie Gold, realize the profession has moved on and calling themselves spinologists. Inside joke that really annoys the vitalists.
            In agreement with you in regards to the vitalist’s “bait and switch”. We also refer it to scare care.
            Blogs are not data Blue. They are echo chambers that feed your bias.
            In the McGregor paper you massage the terms/categories to fit your bias. The recent flawed paper by Tim Caufield that does the same.

  • Hello

    Are the claims presented in this research simply lacking proof or are they actually disproved?

    Because if it is the former, your conclusions that “chiropractic makes bogus claims could equally be labelled “bogus claims” according to your logic.

    Just saying…

    ” a comprehensive meta-study conducted by the Cochrane collaboration, which noted that the few adequate trials to have taken place were poorly reported or too small to draw conclusions from, and concluded that “there is insufficient evidence to support or refute the use of manual therapy for patients with asthma.”

    Sounds like lack of proof to me. But absence of proof does not constitute a false claim. It just illustrates the lack of a conclusive study on the question.

    This seems to be a recurrent issue on this blog!

    • @alexandre

      A recurring issue on this blog is having to explain to people that there is no way of ‘disproving’ something that does not exist. Take the claim that adjusting a subluxation can improve or alleviate allergy, for example.
      How would you ‘disprove’ such a claim, alexandre?

    • But absence of proof does not constitute a false claim

      In the field of medicine it does. You can’t justify treatment by saying “nobody has shown it doesn’t work” when nobody has shown that it does, either. The only place for unproven treatment is a clinical trial. If you use it as the basis for managing a patient that is a recipe for disaster. This applies just as much to chiropractic as it does to surgeons who seem to think that if a procedure is used in an arm of a trial then it is OK to offer it to their private patients.

      If you claim that spinal manipulation is effective treatment for asthma but can’t provide the evidence for it, that is a false claim, even if supporting evidence is found in the future. If I claim that it will snow on my birthday next year, that, too, is a bogus claim, regardless of how the weather turns out, because I can’t justify it on the basis of what we know now.

      My main reason for posting to this blog is in the hope that it will prevent someone from coming to harm. I have watched a man in his early twenties die from asthma, and I have also lost a friend to asthma at a similar age. I shudder when I think of all the practitioners who think they are experts when they have no idea at all what they are really dealing with.

    • “Sounds like lack of proof to me. But absence of proof does not constitute a false claim. It just illustrates the lack of a conclusive study on the question.
      This seems to be a recurrent issue on this blog!”

      The lack of a conclusive study is a recurring theme of SBM. They rely of smoke of mirror studies to
      pass of their therapies as SBM.
      The real recurrent theme is that it is a regular practice of the pharma industry to create drug studies that they are fairly sure will meet the designed endpoints, so they will be sure to market the drug.
      Whatta SCAM.

    • The notion of subluxation is a bogus idea, given everything else we know how the body works. Moreover, you’re twisting the burden of proof. It’s on the chiropractors to proof i) that sublaxation exists and it is vital concept in the human body as claimed;ii) that chiropractic works and iii) chiropractic really treats sublaxation.

  • There are some issues with this study. I wonder why Ernst didn’t mention them?

    • there are issues with most ‘studies’; this one confirms several other surveys and is thus credible, in my view.

      • Their inclusion criteria doesn’t even fit the definition of subluxation they elected to reference.

        Heck, even one reference ( Kaptchuk) stated that “low back pain” was OK as a subluxation theory yet the above authors included pain as an inclusion as being unscientific.

        Another reference they used (Keating) stated, “There is nothing inherently dogmatic or anti-scientific in the notion that an articular lesion may have health consequences, or that correction of joint dysfunction may relieve symptoms and/or improve health.”

        And they wrote it was beyond the scope of the paper to quantify? That’s just silly. It could have easily been done in one small chart (but it would have most likely significantly dropped the “unscientific” percentage based upon their original definition of subluxation).

        The survey authors went fishing with dynamite.

        Strange that it even got published. Strange that Ernst thinks the paper is credible.

        • are you deaf?
          I am saying the paper confirms what has been shown over and over again: chiros make false claims for profit.
          I know you like red herrings – but you can keep them.

          • The paper doesn’t confirm that.

            Its not a red herring to critique a paper.

          • RED HERRING: a clue or piece of information which is or is intended to be distracting.
            distracting from the main message: CHIROS MAKE FALSE CLAIME FOR PROFIT

          • The paper didn’t even deal with the motivation of “claims” therefore you claiming it is for profit is pure speculation and ignores the “philosophical” motivation and historical backing of those who are apt to make such claims….as has been found in other papers.

            It’s a poorly done paper. Your comments are not backed by evidence. You seem to be ignorant on the topic and how to critically evaluate related research.

        • @DC

          Fire-hosing. Do you know what that is? It is when people throw out distractions (often founded on lies and distortions) not in an effort to convince but to sow doubt. Russia did it to the people of that country, Trump is doing it to America, Big Tobacco did it to all of us, antivaxxers are doing it and so are charlatans in the alt-med space.

          The Association of Rumours and Speculative Education called. They said your membership fees are late. You better get on that.

          • Actually, it’s called doing a critical analysis of a paper. I could point more issues with the paper but the above should suffice to question if it’s a credible paper…it’s not.

  • “sudden infant death syndrome”

    Ummmmm… how does chiropractic treat this? Or is it to prevent SIDS in a child born to parents who had a previous baby die from SIDS?

  • Frank Odds wrote: “Tut tut, Blue Wode: there are other names for the bait. In my area the local chiro has changed the name of his practice to ‘spinal health’…It seems to me that, when they come under pressure, practitioners of pseudo-medicine resort constantly to nomenclature and semantics as a substitute for robust evidence supporting their claims. ‘Spinal health’ is a good one — it suggests positive medical benefit without making any specific kind of claim.”

    Indeed. It has similarities to the World Federation of Chiropractic’s consensus on its identity: “…spinal health care experts in the health care system…with emphasis on the relationship between the spine and the nervous system…”

    Veteran, skeptical chiropractor, Samuel Homola, said of it: “This definition fails to place proper limitations on chiropractors who use spinal adjustments to treat general health problems, plunging the profession deeper into pseudo-science and away from establishing an identity for chiropractors as back-pain specialists.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new blog posts by email.

Recent Comments

Note that comments can be edited for up to five minutes after they are first submitted but you must tick the box: “Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.”

The most recent comments from all posts can be seen here.