Dr. Marc Bittan D.V.M. performs veterinary chiropractic treatments for pets at our office.
Definition of Chiropractic
Chiropractic comes from the Greek words, cheir, which means hand, and praxis, which means practic or done by hand. A drugless form of therapy, chiropractic is based on manual spinal manipulation. Modern definitions of chiropractic include the following:
“…that science and art which uses the inherent recuperative powers of the body and deals with the relationship between the nervous system and the spinal column, including its immediate articulations, and the role of this relationship in the restoration and maintenance of health.” (Homewood, 1962).
Chiropractors focus on the interactions between neurologic mechanisms and the biomechanics of the spine, basing theories of disease manifestations on these interactions. Therapy is directed at the vertebral column to alter the progression of the disease process.
History of Chiropractic for Animals
Spinal manipulation has been practiced on humans for centuries in many cultures. The Chinese were practicing spinal manipulation as early as 2700 BC.
Hippocrates used spinal manipulation, and his maxim, Look well to the spine for the cause of disease is often quoted by chiropractors. The earliest English text on bonesetting, an early form of chiropractic, was published in 1656 (Wardwell, 1992).
Although chiropractic is one of the most frequently used forms of alternative therapy for humans in the United States, the application to animals has been haphazard and sporadic. The use of chiropractic on animals was attempted as a curiosity by early chiropractors. The developer of chiropractic, BJ. Palmer, claimed to have run a veterinary clinic as part of his chiropractic school and research facility. He made the following observation:
“In the early days of chiropractic we maintained a veterinarian [sic] hospital where we adjusted the vertebral subluxations of sick cows, horses, cats, and dogs, etc. We did this to prove to ourselves that the chiropractic principle and practice did apply.” (Palmer, 1944).
Few records of this activity have survived. The profession of chiropractic was fighting for survival against the medical establishment, and veterinary chiropractic was frowned on by mainstream chiropractic practitioners. Dr. Palmer explained the situation as follows:
“Many doctors of chiropractic think that we should soft-pedal this animal application of Chiropractic. They fear the public might call them horse-doctors” (Wardwell, 1992).
Many chiropractic publications carried articles describing chiropractic success on animals. In 1923 The Fountain Head News, a Palmer School publication, published a letter entitled “Pigs have backbones with Sublitxations that Adjustments Work On.” This article describes the apparently successful treatment of two paretic pigs (Fountain Head News, 1923). Although chiropractors have probably been adjusting animals for decades, the development of veterinary chiropractic has been impeded by the lack of a distinct historical foundation.
In recent years the beginning of a veterinary chiropractic profession is evident in the organization of courses designed to teach veterinary chiropractic techniques and in the elementary clinical research into these techniques.
Most of the work in veterinary chiropractic is extrapolated from the human chiropractic profession, both in technique and in functional theories to explain the clinical results. Applications in clinical practice over the last decade have demonstrated the potential benefits of veterinary chiropractic. Unfortunately, clinical results are often considered anecdotal and discounted by established professionals.
Until recent years the veterinary profession has ignored the possibilities of chiropractic care for animal patients, preferring to take a position similar to that of other medical physicians. As recently as 1963 the American Medical Association relegated chiropractic practices to the Committee on Quackery, whose mission was to be the “containment and, ultimately, the elimination of chiropractic” (Wardwell, 1992). The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has only recently (1995) chosen to take a serious look at chiropractic care for animals.
Chiropractors have created a terminology that is unique to their profession. The vertebral lesions described by early chiropractors were called subluxations to designate contiguous vertebrae that displayed an abnormal positional relationship. The early use of the word subluxation was consistent with that of the medical author Hieronymous, whose definition of a subluxation in 1746 was characterized by “…lessened motion of the joints, by slight change in the position of the articulating facets” (Leach, 1986).
Currently a subluxation is defined by chiropractic as a “dis-relationship of a vertebral segment in association with contiguous vertebrae resulting in a disturbance of normal biomechanical and neurological function” (Homewood, 1962). Modern chiropractic theorists have substituted the phrases “vertebral subluxation complex (VSC)” or “segmental dysfunction (SDF)” to describe the neurologic and biomechanic manifestations of these vertebral lesions” (Leach, 1986).
The term subluxation is commonly used by chiropractors and veterinarians, but each profession defines it differently. Veterinarians define subluxation as being a partial dislocation less than a luxation,” and most view this “subluxation” as nearer to a dislocation than to “a slight change in articular surfaces.” Similar misunderstandings have hampered scientific inquiry into the science of chiropractic.