DD Palmer, the founder of chiropractic, famously claimed that 95% of all diseases are caused by subluxations of the spine and the rest by subluxations of other joints. He said and stated this theory in different forms not once but dozens of times, and it thus quickly became the mantra of chiropractic. When it was noted that subluxation, as imagined by Palmer and his son BJ, did not exist, chiropractors found themselves with a considerable amount of egg on their faces.
Ever since, they have tried to cover up the blemish, some by repeatedly re-defining subluxation, others by claiming that they do not believe in Palmer’s theory anyway. The issue was and is fiercely fought over even threatened to break up the profession. At present, we are being told incessantly that large chunks of the profession are reformed, have come to terms with their profession’s foundation in a fictional concept, and have now abandoned subluxation altogether.
Critics, in turn, are quick to point out that, if that is so, chiropractors lack a ‘raison d’être’. The best chiropractors of this persuasion could do, they say, is to re-train as physiotherapists who also use spinal manipulation but without the nonsensical chiropractic ‘philosophy’.
While this debate is ongoing and shows no sign of subsiding, it is relevant, of course, to ask what proportions of the chiropractic profession belongs to which persuasion. This paper evaluated the issue of the professional identity within the profession of chiropractic based on the literature from 2000 to 2019. Initially 562 articles were sourced, of which 24 met the criteria for review.
The review confirmed three previously stated professional identity subgroups:
- a vitalistic approach pro subluxation,
- a approach contra subluxation,
- a centrist or mixed view.
Whilst these three main chiropractic identity sub-types exist, the terminology used to describe them differs. Research aimed at categorising the chiropractic profession identity into exclusive sub-types found that at least 20% of chiropractors have an exclusive vertebral subluxation focus. However, deeper exploration of the literature shows that vertebral subluxation is an important practice consideration for up to 70% of chiropractors.
The review also found that practising chiropractors consider themselves to be primary care or primary contact practitioners with a broad scope of practice across a number of patient groups not limited to musculoskeletal management.
So, if I understand these findings correctly, they confirm that chiropractors like to see themselves as physicians who are able to treat most conditions that present themselves in primary care. At the same time, their majority considers that vertebral subluxation is an important practice consideration. This clearly suggests they are likely to treat most conditions by adjusting spinal subluxations. In turn, this implies that DD Palmer’s dictum, ‘95% of all conditions are caused by subluxations of the spine’, is still adhered to by about 70% of all chiropractors.
If this is so, the best advice I can give to the general public is this: if you have a health problem, the last person you should consult is a chiropractor.