Chiropractic medicine is founded on the hypothesis that many human diseases and disorders stem from deviations or subluxations of the spine, which impinge on the spinal nerves, causing pain or disfunction of the affected organs. Treatment consists of determining which of the vertebrae have shifted and then realigning them properly. This may be accomplished in a single treatment or may require a series of treatments over time.
Chiropractic, derived from the Greek words for "practice by the hands," was developed by a Canadian-born Iowa grocer, Daniel David Palmer (1845–1913), in 1895. Palmer believed that the source of illness was the misalignment, or subluxation, of the spinal column in such a way that the vertebrae impinged upon the spinal nerves that passed from the spinal cord, between the vertebrae, to the various organs and muscles of the body. This constriction of the spinal nerve prevented the neural impulses from flowing properly, thus making it impossible for the brain to regulate body functions and leaving tissues susceptible to diseases. Correcting the subluxation would, therefore, restore the neural impulses and strengthen the body.
In 1898, Palmer established the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. In 1910 he published a textbook on chiropractic, which outlined his theories. Since then, the number of chiropractic schools has increased to 16 with a total enrollment of approximately 10,000. To practice as a doctor of chiropractic (D.C.) an individual must complete the four years of chiropractic school and pass a licensing test. Some states specify that entry into a chiropractic college requires only a high school diploma and others require two years of college prior to entry.
Chiropractors themselves differ in the definition of their specialty—this has led to the formation of two separate professional organizations. The International Chiropractors Association advocates chiropractic therapy limited to spinal manipulation only, while members of the American Chiropractors Association endorse a wider range of therapeutics including physical therapy, diathermy (heating of body tissues with electromagnetic radiation, electric current, and ultrasonic waves), and dietary counseling in addition to the basic spinal manipulation.
Chiropractors do not prescribe medication or perform surgery. Only with great reluctance did the American Medical Association recognize chiropractic as a legitimate specialty. The practice is still approached with skepticism by many in the mainstream medical community because no chiropractic school is recognized by any accrediting body and because the practice itself is based on unsound, unscientific principles. Still, many physicians refer patients with back pain to chiropractors who are more skilled at manipulating misaligned vertebrae.
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