History of Chiropractic Part 2

The History of Chiropractic Timeline

18th September 1895: In Davenport Iowa (or so the story goes) DD Palmer (1845-1913) adjusted the mid-back (4th thoracic segment) of a deaf janitor Harvey Lillard, an Africa-American. Lillard had lost his hearing 17 years earlier when, stooped over in a cramped position, he had felt something give way in his back and immediately had became deaf. Palmer theorised that a vertebra out of place was interfering with nerve function and was causing the hearing loss. The vertebra was “racked” back into position and Lillard’s hearing was said to be restored.

Palmer is credited as the founder of Chiropractic not because he was the first to adjust the spine. Clearly, he was not. The bone setters preceded him by hundreds of years. Nor was he the first to consider the nervous system as fundamental to human health. This was already found in magnetic healing. What Palmer did was to combined the healing theory of magnetic healing with the bone setters’ treatment of “subluxation”.

Palmer opined the body possessed an inherent healing ability, called “innate intelligence”. The nervous system was said to be the pathway through which the innate intelligence functioned. Palmer theorised that misaligned vertebrae impinged on the flow of innate intelligence and caused illness. Palmer focussed on the normalisation of nervous function as the key to health. So, DD Palmer is regarded as The Founder of Chiropractic because he was the first healer to state he was adjusting a vertebral segment by the method of using vertebrae as levers for the purpose of restoring nervous “tone”. This is the historical “bone-out-of-place” theory, later called the “segmental approach theory” or “segmentalism”.

1897: DD Palmer founded the “Chiropractic School of Cure” in Davenport, Iowa. Ironically, in view of the first Chiropractic patient being an African-American, African-Americans were not admitted to the Palmer school for over 50 years!

1898: The first five students were enrolled. The 6-month course cost $500. At the time the average medical doctor was earning $1000 to $1500p.a., so the course was incredibly expensive. The first 12 graduates from Palmer’s school were all medical doctors or osteopaths.

1903: Marked the start of fragmentation in the chiropractic profession. Three Palmer graduates (Smith, Langworthy and Paxson) were so unhappy with DD Palmer’s scientific views that they founded their own Chiropractic College: the American School of Chiropractic and Nature Cure.

1906: The first textbook on Chiropractic was published by Smith, Langworthy and Paxson, called Modernised Chiropractic. This predated BJ Palmer’s text by several weeks.

1906: DD Palmer was jailed for practicing medicine without a licence.

1906: The ownership of the Chiropractic School was transferred from DD Palmer to his son BJ Palmer (aged 24) for $2,196.79. DD. Palmer left Iowa broken-hearted and continued to denigrate his son BJ until his death. BJ Palmer had been trained by his father to be a Chiropractor. BJ Palmer renamed his father’s college as the Palmer School of Chiropractic. BJ Palmer (1882-1961) is a central and controversial figure in Chiropractic. Charismatic and “brilliant”, he liked to style himself as the “Fountainhead” and “Developer” of Chiropractic. He kept a dictatorial grip on Palmer College for over 50 years.

1906: BJ Palmer continued initially with the same model of Chiropractic as his father. BJ stated in 1906 in The Science of Chiropractic that chiropractic was: “The science of cause of disease and art of adjusting by hand all subluxations……for the purpose of freeing impinged nerves, as they emanate through the intervertebral foramina, causing abnormal functions.” One oddity of BJ Palmer’s views was a peculiar belief in the perfection of the incoming (afferent) nervous system. He believed that the incoming nervous impulses were not affected by subluxations. That is, he thought, innate intelligence always has adequate information to function perfectly; if there are any dysfunctions, they are always in the efferent or outgoing system. BJ Palmer also believed Chiropractors do not treat the diseases of their patients at all, only their subluxations. BJ always claimed his book was the first one on Chiropractic. He did not recognise Modernised Chiropractic on the basis that, as it had a different philosophy, it wasn’t about Chiropractic at all!

1906: John Howard, a Palmer graduate, objected to BJ Palmer’s “Specific, Pure and Unadulterated” chiropractic. Howard thought BJ had become “overzealous” in claiming “that all (!) disease is due to subluxations of the vertebrae and that all diseases could be eradicated by adjustment of vertebrae”. Howard was to set up his own school, the National College of Chiropractic, which was to set a higher standard of Chiropractic Education. Howard incorporated other modalities (physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and massage) into his curriculum. There was a fierce debate between “straights” of the Palmer school and those denigrated as “mixers”, such as Howard.

1910: DD Palmer publishes The Science, Art and Philosophy of Chiropractic which contains pages of vitriol against his son BJ Palmer.

Early 1910s: BJ Palmer introduced X-Rays into Chiropractic. BJ Palmer had one of the first and finest X-Ray laboratory of any healing institution. This was controversial. Joy Loban, in charge of Philosophy at Palmer College objected. Loban felt Chiropractic should be “hands only”. Loban gave a stirring oration before his philosophy class. He marched out of Palmer College along with 50 students to found the Universal College of Chiropractic, also in Davenport, Iowa.

1910-20: BJ Palmer instructed his students to restrict their adjustments to 5 or 6 vertebrae.

c.1910: BJ Palmer and James Wishart developed the “Meric” System where segmental (vertebral) subluxations are understood to affect the autonomic nervous system and hence, visceral function. This led to the adjusting of vertebra neurologically related to diseased viscus (internal organ e.g.heart, liver, intestine).

1913: DD Palmer, the Founder of Chiropractic, dies in Los Angeles struck by a car driven by his son BJ. Given the animosity between DD & BJ, patricide has been suspected.

1921: Willard Carver, who took a biomechanistic view, published Carver’s Chiropractic Analysis. He founded various Chiropractic schools and published 18 books.

1922: C.S. Cleveland, a Palmer graduate, founded Cleveland Chiropractic College in Kansas City. Cleveland followed the view segmental subluxations affect visceral function, the Meric Technique approach. He used a “full spine recoil adjustive technique” applying the toggle-recoil adjustive procedure to the full spine on a prone patient, rather than limited to the atlas. At Cleveland College, Meric Technique is called Full-Spine Specific Technique (FSS). Cooperstein and Glezberzon (2004) write FSS “more closely resembles the technique of the Palmers (prior to BJ Palmer’s adoption of Upper Cervical technique in 1930) than any other technique…….The recoil adjustment used in FSS directly descends from the original mechanical style of the Palmer’s and Stephenson. (p.156) “…at the current time they [FSS graduates] use [patient] history and palpatory findings as their main tools, followed by X-Rays to confirm the findings.” FSS adjusts with a high velocity, low amplitude thrust (HVLA) “virtually always on prone patients”. “The thrust is applied perpendicular to the spine. The segmental contact point is either the spinous process or lamina…The patient’s face is turned towards the side of laterality of the subluxation, if there is a lateral  component…..and kept neutral if there is not.” (p.157)

1924: Dossa Evins invented a thermographic device, the neurocalometer (NCM). This was demonstrated to BJ Palmer who became enamoured by it. The NCM began to be used at Palmer college before and after adjustments to show that nerve pressure had been eliminated. In 1924, BJ Palmer announced that Chiropractors must use an NCM to determine the location of nerve interference, even though he had previously warned against instrumentation of any kind. In BJ’s words: “no chiropractor can practice chiropractic without an NCM….no chiropractor can render an efficient, competent or honest service without the NCM”. BJ insisted Chiropractors use the NCM or effectively be excommunicated. BJ owned the patent to the NCM and would not sell the device but would only lease it for $5 per month. Most Chiropractors were outraged and there was a massive wave of defections. BJ Palmer was to lose the leadership over the profession he had enjoyed from 1906-1924. From now on he was a diminishing figure.

1926: in disgust at the NCM, many Palmer College faculty members left. In particular, the “Big Four” of Firth, Vedder, Burich and Hendricks left to found Lincoln College. Here, a “diversity” of adjustment techniques was promoted – the start of “Diversified Technique”, which has become the most widely practiced technique system in Chiropractic.

Spring 1930: The last major shift in BJ Palmer’s thinking occurred. This was the evolution of the Upper Cervical concept. BJ turned his back on “Segmentalism” to focus on the upper cervical region and introduced this to colleagues in spring 1930. He felt that it was only in the upper cervical region that there could be interference with the neurological connection between the brain and the rest of the body. BJ came to the stark conclusion “no Chiropractor has ever or will ever adjust a vertebral segment below the axis….no person has ever gotten well because of any Chiropractor ever having adjusted a subluxation below the atlas”. BJ theorised that the subluxation of the atlas or axis led to disease, resulting from superior brain congestion, inferior body starvation, or a combination of the two. In his words: “The brain would become energy clogged and the body energy-empty. From this it followed that “every case you and I ever got well through adjustment was an accident”. The upper cervical area was to be adjusted by means of the toggle-recoil approach which formerly was used for full-spine adjusting. This approach was adapted by BJ for atlas adjusting, known as the “Hole-In-One”. In the Hole-In-One, a reinforced pisiform is applied to the atlas and a rapid thrust is delivered with torque followed by a quick release of contact. The quick release is understood to create a recoil effect. If one follows this line of reasoning, then DD Palmer’s original chiropractic adjustment to a thoracic vertebra in 1895 couldn’t have been effective. BJ Palmer became dogmatic about his theory that ALL disease results from atlas subluxation. Palmer College removed all information from its curriculum which did not fit this idea.

1936: Willard Carver’s history of Chiropractic decried the establishment of multiple proprietary methods of Chiropractic and helped to produce the mind-set which made possible the further development of a broad scope, non-proprietary Diversified Technique. Carver was a “structuralist” (bio-mechanist) who took a much broader approach than BJ Palmer’s strictly subluxation based approach. This was a key battleground in the development of the profession: biomechanics or subluxations? Needless to say, BJ labelled Carver a “mixer”. Carver had been battling with BJ Palmer for the leadership of the profession since the death of DD Palmer.

1947: Joe Janse DC published “Chiropractic Principles and Technic”, the first textbook of Diversified Technique. Janse was anti-fundamentalist: “To say that subluxation is the one and only cause of disease is wrong” and he described a wide range of Chiropractic clinical protocols. The hallmark of Diversified Technique has become the high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust accompanied by an audible release or cavitation. To Janse, Chiropractic is no longer an alternative to medical science but rather a complement to it. This is essentially the modern position with Chiropractic not trying to replace medico-scientific knowledge but instead accepting scientific knowledge and bolting practical Chiropractic knowledge of adjustment and manipulation on top. Chiropractors now increasingly had the possibility to explain their treatment rationales in terms that could be understood and accepted by the other health professions.

1950: John McTimoney is qualified as a Chiropractor by Mary Walker DC, who trained at Palmer college in the 1930s.

1951: John McTimoney starts his practice at Banbury.

1954: John McTimoney develops his method of Chiropractic for treating animals.

1961: BJ Palmer dies.

1972: John McTimoney opens his Oxfordshire School of Chiropractic, now called the McTimoney College of Chiropractic, based in Abingdon. According to Andrews (1999) (p25) McTimoney’s method was subluxation and palpation based. She writes: “McTimoney began to refine and develop the adjustment known as the toggle-recoil, still taught at the Anglo-European Chiropractic College (but only to adjust the atlas, the bone supporting the skull)……The toggle-torque-recoil adjustment developed by McTimoney consists of an extremely light and fast movement…..this adjustment is carried out with the hands on a specific part of the bone, usually the transverse process of a vertebra….Based on this principle, McTimoney developed a range of further “sprung” adjustments which could be applied to all joints of the body, as well as a range of direct, subtle cranial (skull) manipulations. This whole-body method of treatment (which he originally called the Palmer-McTimoney Technique) became known as the McTimoney Technique.”

This still leaves things a little unclear. If you look above under the comments for 1922 for CS Cleveland, you can see: From 1922 Cleveland College was teaching a “full spine recoil adjustive technique” applying the toggle-recoil adjustive procedure to the full spine on a prone patient, rather than limiting to the atlas….which closely resembles the technique of the Palmers…..the thrust is applied perpendicular to the spine. The segmental contact point is either the spinous process or lamina…The patient’s face is turned towards the side of laterality of the subluxation, if there is a lateral component…..and kept neutral if there is not. Also, there is footage of BJ Palmer adjusting available on YouTube. These adjustments appear quick but could not be described as gentle or low-force.

So, the differences between the Cleveland Method and the McTimoney method are:-

1). The Cleveland Method mentions “toggle-recoil” whereas the McTimoney method mentions “toggle-torque-recoil”. With the writer never having observed a Cleveland Method adjustment, it is difficult to comment further on this difference.

2). The Cleveland “toggle-recoil” is applied in prone adjusting to the spinous process whereas in the McTimoney, the “toggle-torque-recoil” is applied in prone adjusting to the transverse process. This appears to be a clear difference.

3). The original Cleveland Method is overwhelming a prone adjusting style. In the McTimoney Method, the spine (less the neck) is adjusted prone. The neck is adjusted side-lying. But there are also many supine and seated adjustments in the McTimoney method as well.

4). In the Cleveland Method, the patient’s head may turn to face the adjuster. This does not happen in the prone position in the McTimoney Method of adjusting.

5). The Cleveland method uses patient history and palpation, as confirmed by X-Ray. The McTimoney Method eschews X-Ray, X-Ray being only relevant in the case of suspected contra indication to Chiropractic treatment.

6). Andrews mentions the McTimoney method as being extremely light and fast. We know from the extant footage of BJ Palmer, his adjustments were quick. So, the final difference seems to be in the “lightness”. Cooperstein and Gleberzon in their chapter on Full-Spine Specific (FSS) Technique as taught at Cleveland College say (p155) they could have merged their chapter on FSS in with their chapter on Diversified Technique. That is, FSS is a high-velocity, low amplitude (HVLA) method. Such methods routinely produce “cavitation” or an audible sound on adjustment. The McTimoney Method is a low-force “springing” method and does not intentionally produce cavitation, though it may occur very infrequently. So, it appears the final difference between the Cleveland and the McTimoney methods is in the degree of force applied in the adjustment.

Andrew Hunter DC graduated from the McTimoney Chiropractic College in 2002 and has been in practice in London ever since in Canary Wharf, The City (near Moorgate) and in Blackheath (SE3). He also has training in the McTimoney-Corley method of Chiropractic and can be contacted for appointments on 07855 916 602.


This article very heavily relies on the excellent and highly recommended “Technique Systems in Chiropractic” by R. Cooperstein & B. Gleberzon 2004, pub by Churchill Livingstone

Principles & Practice of Chiropractic 2nd Edition, Edited by Scot Haldeman, 1980 & 1992, pub by Appleton & Lange.

The Essentials of McTimoney Chiropractic – The Gentle Art of Whole Body Alignment by Elizabeth Andrews and Anthea Courtney 1999 Pub by Thorsons. Elizabeth Andrews is a 1987 graduate of the McTimoney College. She has a two page biography in Stan Harding’s McTimoney Chiropractic – The First Twenty-Five Years, 1997, published by The McTimoney Chiropractic College.