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The actual profession of chiropractic as a distinct form of health care dates back to 1895. However, some of the earliest healers in the history of the world understood the relationship between health and the condition of the spine. Hippocrates advised, "Get knowledge of the spine, for this is the requisite for many diseases."
Herodotus, a contemporary of Hippocrates, gained fame curing diseases by correcting spinal abnormalities through therapeutic exercise. If the patient was too weak to exercise, Herodotus would manipulate the patient's spine. The philosopher, Aristotle, was critical of Herodotus'; tonic-free approach because, "he made old men young and thus prolonged their lives too greatly."
The treatment of the spine was still crudely misunderstood until Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer discovered the specific spinal adjustment. He was also the one to develop the philosophy of chiropractic, which forms the foundation for the profession (see the 33 principles.)
D.D. Palmer was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1845 and moved to the United States when he was twenty years old. He spent the early years after the Civil War teaching school, raising bees, and selling sweet raspberries in the Iowa and Illinois river towns along the bluffs on either side of the Mississippi River.
In 1885, D.D. became familiar with the work of Paul Caster, a magnetic healer who had some success in Ottumwa, and learned the techniques of magnetic healing, a common therapy of the time. Two years later he moved from Ottumwa to Davenport, Iowa and opened the Palmer Cure and Infirmary.
On September 18, 1885, D.D. Palmer was working late in his office when a janitor, Harvey Lillard, began working nearby. A noisy fire-engine passed by outside the window and Palmer was surprised to see that Lillard did not react at all. He approached the man and tried to strike up a conversation. He soon realized that Lillard was deaf.
Patiently, Palmer managed to communicate with the man, and learned that he had normal hearing for most of his life. However, he had bent over in a cramped, stooping position, and felt something pop in his back. When he stood up he realized that he couldn't hear.
Palmer deduced that the two events, the popping in Lillard's back and the deafness, had to be connected. He ran his hand carefully down Lillard's spine and felt one of the vertebra was not in its normal position. "I reasoned that if the vertebra were replaced the man's hearing should be restored," he wrote in his notes afterward. "With this object in view, a half-hour talk persuaded Mr. Lillard to allow me to replace it." After being adjusted, Mr. Lillard's hearing was restored. At that point, D.D. Palmer thought that he had found a cure for deafness. Palmer adjusted a number of deaf patients but none of them had the dramatic improvement that Harvey Lillard did as far as their hearing is concerned. He did notice however that other symptoms and health problems improved with the patients. At the same time D.D. Palmer knew that he had found much more than a cure for deafness. He had discovered a system of health care that was separate and distinct from medicine and was based on the nerve pressure theory.