Back quackery: The dishonesty and ludicrous claims of chiropractic

My back has been fucking killing me. Evolution, the blind bastard, by shoddily adapting a quadruped’s back to serve a biped, has assured that most of us will have back problems at one time or another. But man…mine has really been hurting. All the time. Doctors tell me this is due to my pelvis slipping out of alignment and that there’s not much to be done about it except regularly manipulating it back into place, stretching, and exercise. I recently figured out how to put it back in place without assistance and hit upon a combination of the three that I think may finally be doing the trick (a little more time will tell for sure), but it’s been a long, uncomfortable pain-ride, and I, like many others, have looked to chiropractic as a possible path to relief.

A couple of years ago, I made my first two (and only) visits to a chiropractor I picked from a list of local practitioners because he was nearby. I knew there was some issue taken with chiropractic by the mainstream medical community in regards to the validity of some of their claims, but I figured a good back-cracking and a massage could at least lend me some temporary relief. And it did. But the almost religious zeal with which this guy told me what chiropractic was and how it was going to help me—not just with my back, but with practically everything else that might be ailing me—was off-putting from the start. First, though I was explicit and up-front about being there for my lower back pain only, the questionnaire I was given to fill out when I first arrived asked about every single health issue I had. What the hell do my allergies have to do with getting my back cracked? My bullshit detector was sparking and belching black smoke when, after that, he explained subluxations.

Subluxations, he tells me, are basically little blockages of the nerves caused by your vertebrae being out of whack, which prevent your body’s natural healing energies (see:  Innate Intelligence) to flow freely and properly. Sort of like a regular ol’ pinched nerve, except instead of just the obvious bio-mechanical effects of numbness and pain, the symptoms can even be things like stomach aches, allergies, depression, fatigue, and asthma. Actually, he told me, just about anything wrong with me would probably benefit from spinal manipulation. Nonsense, I thought, just crack my goddamn back, would ya? But before we could get on with it, he had another bit of woo for me:  the subluxation station.

The subluxation station is a device that purportedly “finds imbalances in your nervous system by measuring differences in heat and electrical stimulus through different vertebrae in the body via thermoscan and surface EMG.  When the left side compared to the right side of the body shows a significant difference, it means that is subluxated and there is a dysfunction at that vertebral level.”  He runs a useless thingamajig up my spine, stopping and clicking at each vertebrae, tapping on computer keys, then shows me the printed results and says something like “See there?” He points to a colored line on the left side of an illustrated spine that’s longer than the colored line on its opposite side. “That’s your T4 vertebrae. You know that fatigue box you checked-off on the questionnaire? I’ll bet if we work on that T4 it’ll reduce that fatigue. You can see it’s way out of balance here…”*

By now, I’m fiercely rolling my eyes on the inside. “I really just want you to do something about the back pain,” I say.

And he did, finally and thankfully, get around to the crack-job and a massage by a fabulous, manhandling mechanical chair. It felt nice. Afterward, he came up with a plan for me:  three times a week, possibly for several months, I should return for more of the same, as well as perhaps some lifestyle counseling. Lifestyle counseling? Yeah, see, chiropractic is a holistic practice; exercise and nutrition hand-in-hand with spinal manipulation. He seemed quite certain that with all three, anybody can be pain and illness free most of the time. No matter that I was just there because my back hurt. I left with the intention of coming once or twice more simply for the manipulation, but if I wasn’t on my way to recovery after that, then fuck this charlatan knob. I returned again later the same week. A few days after, I was still hurting and I couldn’t stomach all the voodoo anyway, so I never went back.

Since that close encounter of the woo-rific kind, I thought I’d left chiropractic behind for good, but my pain persisted and I considered going to another one just to have my pelvis tweaked back into place every now and again. I went online to see if I could find one who wasn’t full of crap and who’d merely provide bio-mechanical manipulation without the wacky claims. I didn’t get through all of them in my area, but I went through about a dozen before giving up. All were subluxation based, and many made other unsupported claims as well. Some even offer the utilization of something called a ZYTO nutritional scanner:

“a computerized scan (that) can help detect which vitamins your body needs to achieve maximum health…using the body’s natural energetic field, a communication link is established between the patient and the computer via the ZYTO hand cradle. Through this connection, ZYTO sends stimuli and then records the body’s response. This conversation is called biocommunication, and it provides insights into health and wellness.”

 Mmmkay. And luckily for you, their offices just happen to carry an expensive line of vitamins to take care of the deficiencies “detected”. Also, why does this remind me of the E-Meter? For readers unfamiliar and too lazy to click the link, the E-Meter is famously used by Scientology to assess the “spiritual” progress of its adherents. This thing reminds me of it because it is it. It’s the same fucking technology, and equally useless. Unsurprisingly, the E-Meter was invented by a chiropractor.

They’re not joking.

To understand chiropractic, it’s important to know its origin. It was created in 1895 by one D.D. Palmer, a guy who claimed to heal people with magnets, and thought of chiropractic as a religion (again, see:  Innate Intelligence). He also claimed that in his very first chiropractic session, he cured a deaf man, simply by manipulating his spine. His son, B.J. Palmer, also in the family business, once wrote:

“Chiropractors have found in every disease that is supposed to be contagious, a cause in the spine…There is no contagious disease… There is no infection… There is a cause internal to man that makes of his body in a certain spot, more or less a breeding ground [for microbes].”

So much for germ theory, huh?

The American Medical Association denied all this madness, of course, and fought the legitimization of chiropractic for a very long time, calling them, in 1966, an “unscientific cult”. Many chiros have since tried to distance themselves from the more crackpot elements of the practice’s founding, desperately citing any legitimate study it can that even hints at its efficacy. And in another parallel with Scientology, they’ve been successful enough with lawsuits against informed naysayers to stay in business and become more firmly ensconced as an acceptable form of treatment. However, even at this date in 2012, there is zero peer-reviewed scientific evidence to show chiropractic manipulation is any more effective than placebo and/or already existing, mainstream methods of physical therapy.

This dubious origin and the tendency of chiropractors to supplement their practice with other unscientific flapdoodle are underlined by a very basic dishonesty, which almost always accompanies magical thinking. After my failure to find that rare orchid: a chiropractor who wasn’t a snake-oil salesman or a hippy-dippy believer in all the hogwash, I did some research and in the process stumbled across this chiro in California. He has a section on his website dedicated to the question “Who are the quacks?” where he attempts, by making stuff up and distorting facts, to show that it’s mainstream medicine who are the nuts, not the chiros. He prattles on about a conspiracy by the American Medical Association to maintain a “total monopoly of the practice of medicine”, then quotes a number of physicians who appear to be pooh-poohing science and medicine and confessing to acting as though they know more than they actually do. I chose this quote at random and decided to check it for accuracy:

“Medicine is a humbug! I know it is called a science, but it it nothing like science. We are ignorant, as ignorant as men can be. I know nothing about medicine, and I don’t know anybody in the world who does know anything about it.”

Frances Megendie, M.D.

What I found immediately was that the name was wrong. Frances Megendie never existed. There did exist, however, a 19th century physiologist named Francois Magendie. This “mistake” is likely deliberate obfuscation, because when I looked to see if Francois indeed said what is attributed to him, I quickly found this volume of The National Magazine from 1856 and the truth. See, Dr. Magendie did say those things, but not in that order. Put in order and context, we learn that the quote is second hand, from a very long time ago, and that Francois was trying to communicate that, though medicine had a long way to go, it was advancing everyday. And in the next century, he predicted in this passage from the same speech, medicine would be a robust science indeed:

“True enough, we are gathering facts every day. We can produce typhus fever, for example, by injecting a certain substance into the veins of a dog; that’s something; we can alleviate diabetes, and, I see distinctly, we are fast approaching the day when phthisis [tuberculosis] can be cured as any disease. We are collecting facts in the right spirit, and I dare say in a century or so the accumulation of facts may enable our successors to form a medical science… “

And he was correct.

See? Quote mining. Clearly this sort of sneaky slight of hand wouldn’t be necessary if there were actual evidence that chiros were legit.

The bottom line is that chiropractic is a practice neck deep in horseshit. It may offer some minor relief for bio-mechanical discomforts, but none that can’t be obtained through your physician, physical therapist, masseuse, or sometimes even just a placebo. Why bother wading through all the feces?



For more on the subject:

*I have no clue what vertebrae is what and which corresponds to what ailment in subluxation theory; this is only an approximation of the actual dialogue and is essentially true.


1 Comment

Filed under Anti-theism / Skepticism, Science

One response to “Back quackery: The dishonesty and ludicrous claims of chiropractic

  1. Pingback: Weird Current Events | Living History

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