At the 2019 Fall CElebration, the Chancellor’s Plenary session included presenters who shared research and strategic direction for the future of chiropractic. The presentations also included a perspective on the history of chiropractic, which would be incomplete without including the persecution that the profession faced from the moment of its inception.

Dr. David Koch*, who has four decades experience in teaching chiropractic philosophy and history, shared a brief overview of chiropractic history. Please take a few minutes to watch the video below, or scroll down a bit further to find the transcript of Dr. Koch’s remarks.


*Correction: Please note that the video caption with Dr. Koch’s name should read David Koch, DC, DPHCS (not PhD).


 Dr. Riekeman: The first person I’m going to bring up is my good friend, Dr. David Koch. As you know, David was president at Sherman for a number of years. Prior to that he was in a much more prestigious section. He was in my philosophy class as a student at Sherman college back in the day. And then has been at Palmer with me and then came to Life, and he is what we call an academic philosopher… There are people that get up and give “a philosophy talk,” which is probably more categorized as a motivational talk. But David is an academic philosopher. He writes, he’s published a number of books relating to our philosophy, to contemporary philosophy. And, no one better to talk about the history of our profession up to 1963 and some of the biases that went along. David, you want to come up?

Dr. Koch: And I so appreciate that Stephanie has given us such a tremendous perspective on the power of chiropractic research. But the question Guy kind of posed to me is like, “Why did it take the world a hundred years to start researching the subluxation?”

I remember a story, this is a story BJ Palmer used to tell. He said he was on a train once and he was going back to Davenport. He was sitting next to a medical doctor and they got to talking and he realized that he was a medical doctor and he came from Davenport and BJ said, “Oh, you’re from Davenport. That’s where those crazy chiropractors are,” and the medical doctor says, “I know! What’s wrong with them?” BJ says, “Well, you know, they think that…if you sever someone’s head from their neck, their body will stop working.”

“Well, that’s not crazy. Of course. That’s true. Yes”

He [BJ] said…, “They also believe that if you hang a person, you drive the dens into their upper cord, their body will stop working.”

[The medical doctor] says, “Of course that’s true. That’s not crazy.”

BJ also says, “You know, they also believe that if you just misalign one of the vertebra, but just a little bit and it impedes on the cord, their body will stop working [as well]. And of course the medical doctor says, “Nah. That’s crazy. That couldn’t happen.

Chiropractic discovered a phenomenon, but the history of the unfolding of that discovery in terms of a new profession forming at the same time, has been one of the longest standing cultural jokes in America and in the world that I know of. So, DD starts out as a therapist. He’s a magnetic healer. He’s helping people by doing something that was a form of medicine at the time, but medicine was not all powerful at that time. DD gets an idea for a different procedure. It just came into his mind from the Harvey Lillard story. You all know the Harvey Lillard story. He [DD] said, maybe if I pushed on that bump, something would be different. And so he tried it and he tried it in terms of a specific therapeutic outcome. Harvey Lillard said he lost his hearing… DD Palmer pushes on a bump and his hearing comes back.

DD comes to the conclusion that anyone would come to: maybe there’s something to this. And so DD, who tries it a couple more times – the next patient he tries it on is a cardiac patient he’s treating with magnetic therapy, he does a little adjustment and the upper thoracics and, lo and behold, the heart problem seems to get better and DD makes this tremendous jump. He says, “Maybe I should look into this,” is what he says. “Maybe I should look into this.” DD Palmer characterized his next 20 years of life this way. He said this… “I don’t claim to be the first person to have manipulated the spine, but I do claim to be the first person to think of using the spinouses and the transverses as short lever arms and applying short sharp thrusts to them in order to realign the spine.

Now we call the short sharp thrust today, high velocity, low amplitude forces, and quite honestly, that is the characteristic that has distinguished chiropractic manipulation, which we call adjustment of course, from all the other types, and has produced… I went into Stephanie’s lab yesterday and delivered a short sharp thrust to a lumbar to test the forces so we could further research chiropractic adjustment.

Okay. So DD starts doing this and he was a successful magnetic healer. Guess what else he was. He was a successful chiropractor. Lots of people coming to him, but he ran into a problem… As he starts to teach it, he starts to compete with the medical doctors in the area even more dramatically. And he had a new thing, so he was very loud about it. He was telling… Everybody about this new thing, this chiropractic thing, this thing he’d named, “done by hand.”

And, he also felt really strongly about this new procedure he’d discovered. As a matter of fact, DD recounts that he had to give up his magnetic healing in order to pursue his chiropractic adjusting…the hardest thing he had to do was give up his tooth charming, the last thing he did besides just doing adjustments. But he felt that the power of this new adjustic thing that he discovered was so important that he chose to give up his other therapies. And, as he started to teach it to students, he also made it one condition that in his opinion, they should also focus entirely on this. And as he started teaching students, he had many students who were therapists of other sorts. He had DOs, he had MDs, he had naturopaths, he had other magnetic healers come in and become students.

He also had people who had no therapeutic background. They just learned his procedure and that was their therapeutic experience. DD said, if you’re going to do what I do, I want you to do it straight. Unmixed. Don’t combine it with something else. I, as a chiropractor, understand why DD said that, when I take in a patient, I want to give them the adjustment and nothing else because I want that patient to know that it was the adjustment of their spine that made the changes, that they themselves can perceive and understand. And DD didn’t want anything else. He just wanted proper attribution that the adjustment was the thing of value that he gave to the patient. And of course BJ, his son. Follows in and does that even more. And from then on forward, we’ve had this issue about whether chiropractic should be practiced as an exclusive procedure so that it can be properly attributed and do the amount of good it does, or whether you can mix it with other things and let the patient sort it out. Which is best? But the chiropractic profession has wrestled with that distinction its entire history.

BJ and DD also started developing chiropractic at a time when panacea was a big concept. The silver bullet, …the one cure for all things. And quite honestly, their results were so amazing, were so multi therapeutic – one adjustment, this gets better, another adjustment, that gets better – that BJ actually started out pretty panaceic, “chiropractic cures all diseases.” That’s a direct quote off of a BJ Palmer 1904 advertising poster. But that also started to change over time because of how the medical profession responded to chiropractic. I’m going to tell you now about a case of condemnation without investigation. BJ was brought to trial in 1906 for practicing medicine without a license.

He was flamboyant, outrageous. Here’s BJ Palmer grand standing at his trial and saying, “I have discovered the cure for everything.” And the medical society of Iowa’s is saying, “Well, you’re… Practicing medicine… You can’t do that. You don’t have a medical license.” And by the way, y’you all know, DD was convicted of practicing medicine without a license in 1906. He was found guilty of it, served a couple of days in jail, and finally paid his fine, and got out.

But that was really the beginning of it because in doing so, DD basically challenged the prevailing medical profession at the time. This went on as more and more chiropractors came out of Davenport. BJ takes over the school in 1902 and starts producing chiropractors. DD goes out and goes to various other places and starts other colleges, all of them focused on the spinal adjustment, the spinal manipulative therapeutic procedure. And it comes to the point where chiropractors are starting to be arrested and jailed for practicing medicine without a license.

At one point, BJ knew he had to solve this problem, so he goes to a case in Wisconsim. Shegetaro Morekobu, and he makes the case that this chiropractor can’t be accused of practicing medicine without a license because he’s not practicing medicine, because what he’s doing is adjusting the spine and that’s not the practice of medicine and Morekobu gets off. He gets found not guilty of practicing medicine without a license. So that really is what made the distinction between chiropractic and medicine workable. But it centered on the fact that he’s doing something different than diagnosing and treating diseases.

In 1910, the Flexner report came out and the Flexner report literally was a look at medical programs in the United States. And it shut down half the medical programs in the United States. It shut down all of the naturopathic programs in the United States, all of the homeopathic programs in the United States. But it didn’t manage to shut down the DC or the DO programs because they were not being accredited by the CME, the Council on Medical Education. But what that did, was that split the healing arts into medicine, particularly orthodox medicine, because the Flexner report really allowed orthodox medicine, which means drugs and surgery medicine, to pretty much take over and assert its entire political power onto the healthcare profession. And all of the others, in the United States, all of the others were considered peripheral – osteopathy, chiropractic, homeopathy, natureopathy – still existed but were considered peripheral.

So, it led to this huge division, and it was so pervasive that there’s just a couple more factsI have time to tell you. And that is, as a result of that, the AMA, starting in 1924 with a gentleman named Morris Fishbein, decides to characterize chiropractic and osteopathy as quacks and puts out an injunction that says, if you are willing to research with chiropractors, we will exclude you from researching with medicine. They basically put chiropractic into a research quarantine and BJ Palmer did all his research and the research center without the ability to publish it anywhere but self-published, and without any support from the research community. That’s the situation in which chiropractic did its research and chiropractic research didn’t start with Stephanie Sullivan. I love your research. It started with DD Palmer and BJ Palmer and it researched the subluxation and it continued with technique researchers. If I put up the names of the researchers, you know them. It [the research] continued with Gonstead, Logan, Thompson, Grostic, with activator, orthospinal, on and on and on. This was chiropractic research, researching the procedure, researching the subluxation.

This went on until something happened in 1963 that I’m not going to talk about because I think the next person that comes up is…going to talk about it. But I want to tell you that Morris Fishbein’s 1924 attempt to put chiropractic out of business by making it unethical and illegal to participate with chiropractors, came to a head in 1963. And I’m going to leave it right there and we’re going to go on.

Dr. Riekeman: You know, David, I heard you one time mention that, maybe I read somewhere…if you look at decades, from 10 to 20 to 30 to 40, there was one decade where there were 15,000 arrests of chiropractors, but there were only 12,000 chiropractors.

Dr. Koch: This was a systematic attempt to disenfranchise chiropractic science and research by just simply putting us in jail.

Dr. Riekeman: Yup.

Dr. Koch: Cause all we were saying was, “Hey, subluxation can hurt you. Let us correct it.”

Dr. Riekeman: Yup.