18 September 2020

Celebrating 125 years of Chiropractic

By Dr Adam Smith

We the chiropractors of today, stand tall on the accomplishments of those unrelenting men and women who served before us. Today marks the 125th anniversary of the first reported chiropractic adjustment, conceived and given by Daniel David Palmer, in Davenport, Iowa, 18 September 1895.

Through the decades since, so much has changed, but the intent of chiropractic remains as strong as ever. This profession now positively impacts the lives of those people needing our care, in all parts of the world.

That is why 125 years of chiropractic adjustments needs to be celebrated!

Please, take a moment to envision a world that never benefited from chiropractic care. The millions of lives who, but for their visit to a chiropractor, would have been worse in some way, large or small.

Much has been written about the ‘first chiropractic adjustment’, where D.D. Palmer reportedly ‘cured the deafness’ of Harvey Lillard. Mr Lillard was an elevator operator and custodian of the building where D.D. Palmer had an office. Having been ‘mostly deaf’ for 17 years, it was obviously amazing to both men when Mr Lillard’s hearing began to improve after DD. Palmer ‘adjusted’ his spine.

By 1897-98 D.D. Palmer had developed the experience of that day into the theory that displaced spinal vertebra could have a negative effect on health. He started holding classes at ‘The Palmer School and Cure’ which later became The Palmer School of Chiropractic which is still in operation today in Davenport, and now also in Florida and California.

Over the years, the Palmers further developed chiropractic including D.D. Palmer’s son B.J. Palmer, his wife Mabel Heath Palmer, and their son David Daniel Palmer. It was during this time that chiropractors became resilient through necessity and developed their strength of character and commitment to a cause.

Chiropractors, including D.D. Palmer himself have been jailed for ‘practicing medicine without a licence’. It was precisely this adversity, via the opposition of other professions that drove the development of the distinct art, science and philosophy that underpins chiropractic. Through the developing years of chiropractic, we relied upon our unique language, and the unique way in which we worked with our patients, to remain distinct and separate from other professions such as medicine and osteopathy.

Of course, much has changed over 125 years. We have a more sophisticated and scientific understanding of the human body, health and the principles of chiropractic. Today we are a respected and valued profession, integrated into mainstream healthcare.  Much of these advancements have come about following the dedicated commitment of our chiropractic pioneers.

The work of so many, carved out a place for chiropractic in societies around the world. That work is certainly not over, as we are all too familiar with the challenges that seem to continually arise from both inside and outside of chiropractic.

There have been seemingly insurmountable challenges in the past. Volumes of work have already been written on these, so for the purposes of looking forward let’s see what lessons we can take from our history, and those who have shaped it here in Australia.

It is likely that Barbara Blake was the first chiropractor in Australia arriving in Melbourne around 1907-1908. She was a short-course diplomate of the Palmer School of Chiropractic, trained by B.J. Palmer and D.D. Palmer directly.

Formal teaching of chiropractic in Australia began in private, freestanding institutions in the 1930’s in Victoria, then in New South Wales in 1959 and South Australia in 1963.

The Chiropractic and Osteopathic College of Australasia (Melbourne and Sydney), founded in 1959, graduated about 200 practitioners before transferring its course the International College of Chiropractic (now RMIT University) in 1979.

The Sydney College of Osteopathy, which was later to become the Sydney College of Chiropractic in 1959, graduated its first student in 1964. That student was Dr Arthur Wright, who eventually retired from practice in 1998, and now resides on the Gold Coast, QLD.

Chiropractic education continued to evolve until the Sydney College of Chiropractic course, staff and assets were transferred and merged with Macquarie University in 1990. This was the first chiropractic course taught at a publicly funded university anywhere in the world.

Now Chiropractic programs are being taught in five different states of Australia. The development of the ACCE/CCEA accreditation process has resulted in a very high standard of education for chiropractors in Australia, and reciprocal rights to practice in New Zealand for all those who train here. Australian trained chiropractors are in demand all around the world!

In 1964 the push for recognition of chiropractic under the law began with statutory registration laws in Western Australia, but there was strong opposition at the time in other states. It wasn’t until 1978 that Victoria and New South Wales became the next jurisdictions to create statutory registration for chiropractors. Then came Queensland in 1979, the ACT in 1983, South Australia in 1991 and Tasmania in 1997.

It wasn’t until 2008 that the Council of Australian Governments decided to establish a single National Registration and accreditation scheme for all health professionals, and this saw the development of the Chiropractic Board of Australia and Ahpra, and the passage of Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act of 2009.

As any profession progresses through the natural evolution that comes with the passage of time it is important to be able to discern what to retain from the past, and what is to be embraced moving forward.

Our purpose as a profession is paramount. If the challenges of the past have taught us anything it should be that when faced with adversity, it is those with a strong purpose that survive and thrive. This also must be celebrated.

With national registration comes the responsibility of interaction with the other registered professions on all levels. We do not need to agree on all aspects of healthcare policy, but we do need to communicate. The current language of progress lies at least in part with quality research into what we do, the wonderful results we get, and the mechanisms of achieving those results.

The research base of the profession is growing all the time thanks to the diligent work of so many in the universities, colleges, and affiliated groups both in Australia and around the world.

“Knowledge is knowing a fact; wisdom is knowing what to do with that fact.”

From the very first adjustment until this present day, the chiropractic profession has developed a concept, tested through practitioner experience, patient preference and indeed structured trials too. Chiropractic research is largely ‘self-funded’ and this too should be celebrated.

We stand now on the hill of progress. This year has been rocky like no other for everyone. Our profession can choose to step forward with purpose built from our past, guided by new knowledge, for the benefit of our global community.

In 2145, when the 250th anniversary of the first chiropractic adjustment comes around, what will be the story written then? You do not have to agree with all the teachings of the Palmers, just as you do not have to embrace everything new as a part of chiropractic. Let us look to our purpose in order to make the next generation’s chiropractors proud of what this profession, our profession, has become.

I leave the last word to Dr BJ Palmer, please remember – “We never know how far reaching something we may think, say or do today will affect the lives of millions tomorrow.”

EDIT — While I have taken as much care as possible and consulted as widely as I could, some of the information in this article may not be as accurate was I would like. It is difficult to find truly accurate and unbiased information on the history of chiropractic in Australia, and many of the first hand accounts I received vary in detail based on personal memory. Thanks go to all those who helped with information for this article including Drs John Cice, Ari Diskin, John Hinwood, Philip Ebrall, Tracy Kennedy-Shanks, Phil Deveraux, and Matthew Doyle.