Chiropractic hucksters

Time for a vacation blog. I’m on vacation this week, and I can’t help noticing all the ads in the local paper for various scams. Are pseudoscience and hoaxes are a necessary part of our tourism industry? People seem to enjoy being taken on ghost tours and trying out various sham treatments at resort spas, and buying whatever bogus “lucky” artifacts the locals are selling. But today’s post is prompted by a recurring back injury that I aggravated this week. It’s slowly getting better, aided by ibuprofen, but there are plenty of hucksters here who would love to give me a spinal “adjustment” to cure my pain – or so they claim in the local newspaper.

No thanks, I’ll stick with ibuprofen and rest. Chiropractic is, in the words of a recent book, “the greatest hoax of the century.” (See the book by L.A. Chotkowski at

Perhaps I should be amazed that chiropractic still flourishes after over a century in which not a single study has shown it to be effective. One reason is that chiropracters are numerous and well-organized – the reviews of Chotkowski's book on are mostly negative, and many are likely written by chiropracters. (If any of them read this blog, I’m sure I’ll get some similar comments.) Chiropracters call themselves doctors and use “Dr.” in front of their name, but they do not have medical training and are not M.D.’s. They have their own schools, with woefully low standards, and some of their beliefs are so strange that they would be laughable, except for the fact that these people actually inflict treatments on unsuspecting patients. The “profession” thrives despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare concluded 40 years ago that chiropractic education is inadequate and that chiropractic theory was not based upon any valid science.

(You want to know one of their wacko beliefs? Well, chiropractic teaches that correcting “vertebral “subluxations” will cure infections, by “boosting the immune system.” I have to put that last phrase in quotes because the very notion of boosting the immune system is questionable – listen to Mark Crislip’s excellent QuackCast for more on that topic. Even more crazy – and harmful – is their opposition to vaccines. A former president of the International Chiropractic Association said in 1993 that he was “a firm opponent of artificial immunization and the antiquated germ theory on which it is based.” Apparently the ICA doesn't believe that bacteria and viruses cause disease. Eventually, Darwinian selection will weed these crazies out of the population, but that will take too long for me.)

The evidence against chiropractice is voluminous, and I won’t try to summarize it here, but Chirobase has a long list of links, including comments on how chiropracters lure people in, on the various scientific studies – all negative – testing the effectiveness of chiropractic, and on the harm that chiropractic can cause. One of the scariest is the risk of stroke from their neck manipulations. Chiropracters claim (of course) that the risk is small, but why take any risk for a treatment that has never been shown to be effective? The risk is great enough that a Chiropractic Stroke Awareness Group has been formed to try to educate the public.

I’ll stick with ibuprofen and rest. Meanwhile, perhaps the local spa can offer me some aromatherapy. Hey, at least there’s no risk of stroke – and it smells nice.


  1. What I'm amazed is how chiropractics has basically become mainstream in the way other quack treatments haven't. Even people (including some of my relatives) who have no mystic "New Age" tendencies visit chiropractors and openly admit it -- I couldn't imagine them doing the same for acupuncture, faith healers or the like.

  2. As an academic, I am embarrassed to admit that I thought chiropractics was somewhat legitimate until recently (when Steve set me straight).

    BTW, this blog would have been much more useful for me 25 years ago when shark oil was rubbed on my chest to cure my asthma.

  3. Steven,
    Although I share your general cynicism towards chiropracters and I'm no 'new age mystic', I have enjoyed considerable success managing various joint issues, including lumbar disk stuff, with a particular chiropracter (Ken Fish in Gaithersburg) as a part of my medical team. He is an oddball, trained initially as an osteopath, then as a chiropracter, and even having done a radiology residency. My mother 'discovered' him, after struggling for years with some neuropathy issues, and seeking help from all of the traditional sources (including extensive time seeing the big guns at Hopkins), it was the lowly chiropracter who sent her for an MRI, and diagnosed her symptoms as resulting from pressure on a nerve due to disk issues (alas, I've inherited those genes). He successfully treated her and she has returned to active living after 5 years of being nearly housebound. The big advantage of chiropracters is that they can't prescribe drugs or cut. Given the choice of being manipulated or using the muscle relaxants that the orthopods are fond of, I'll put my $ on the manipulation. You have to compare the effectiveness of chiropractic with what medicine has to offer -- over-prescribed treatments, surgery and prescription medication.

    Good luck with your back issues. Once you are feeling better, work on your core-strength.


  4. Steven, I have used chiropractors for over 20 years. They have helped me align my back, hips and neck sucessfully without any damage to me. I have been in several car accidents{whiplash) where their treatments have corrected the damage. I had 1 bad experience 5 years ago, when a lady ran a red light and hit my town car on the passenger fender, totaling my car and knocking my head into the drivers door area.The chiropractor said I had whiplash. I complaned about numbness in my hands and fingers. She gave me 40 treatments(electronic stimulation, neck and spine ajustments and used her metal hand held actavator to ajust my hands)but my numbness didn't go away, she dischaged me. Soon after that my hands went completly numb and I was in extreme pain. I went to an orthopedic surgeon who did a MRI on me and said I had 2 herneated discs (c3,4). He did spinal fusion on me(titanium plate with 6 screws and bone material from the bone bank to build disc up). The surgury was a complete success , having no numbness or pain since. Her treatments were billed to insurance co. at $150 , where my regular non accident visits were $20. She didn't hurt me but , she didn't help. I never went back to her. I only go when my back is really out of place and hurting. Going 2-3 times a week is too expensive and not necessary for me at least , even though my chiro. recomends it. As for curing diseases , I think it doesn't work. A hot shower or jacuzzi can be very helpful for your sore back. Your blog and your brother Alan's blog are very interesting. Take care, Adam. 602-451-9198 Please call or contact me anytime.

  5. Adam,
    Your experience is not unlike many others - back pain is poorly understood, and chiropracters take great advantage of this. Back pain waxes and wanes, and when it gets particularly bad, many people decide they have to get treatment. Of course, the natural wax/wane cycle means that if you get treatment when the pain is at its worst, the pain will get better on its own - regardless of whether you get treatment or not. Chiropracters can take advantage of this by claiming that their manipulations caused the improvement, and many of their patients are completely convinced.

    I'm glad you spinal fusion surgery was a success - unfortunately, recent scientific trials indicate that even that is over-used (by orthopaedic surgeons) in recent years, but in some cases it does appear to be justified.

  6. It's amazing how so many people are making comments, but nobody really knows what they are talking about. Just do yourselves a favor and Google how many people died from receiving the "correct medications" both over the counter and perscription last year, and how many people have had a stoke from a chiropractic manipulation in its entire history. You want to talk dangerous, how about all of the people out there who take medications....yes, I'm talking to you Steve, and have no earthly idea what it is doing. I'm talking about the chemical and physiologocal effects it has on the body. The majority of you don't know, but you still choose to take it, even if you are un-educated about it. That sounds really "scientific". You saw a commercial, and now you believe it. Go ahead and take your life into your hands and have fun treating your symptoms. Next time bring your facts from both sides of the story, not just your uneducated opinion


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