Improper Claims on Chiropractic College Web Sites

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Two chiropractic college professors who surveyed North American chiropractic school Web sites in July 2001 have concluded that more than half of them make unsubstantiated claims for clinical theories or methods. In a strongly worded article they warned that "this behavior likely reflects what is taught in the schools" and that "chiropractors' quest for greater legitimacy and cultural authority is retarded by the tendency." The authors also concluded that "antiscientific attitudes are still encouraged within chiropractic education on this continent." [1] During the same year, the professors noted similar problems with brochures published by eight major state and national chiropractic organizations [2].

In March 2003, I revisited the school sites and found that almost all of the criticized statements were still there. I also found a few that were not reported by the processors. Of the 18 sites I visited, 15 made unsubstantiated claims. The table below contains representative quotes and my reasons for objecting to them. Another school (New York Chiropractic College) linked to a series of American Chiropractic Association "Health Tips," one of which includes unsubstantiated claims that chiropractic care is effective against attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). [3]

School and Statement

Objection(s)

Cleveland Chiropractic College (2 schools):
The movable bones of the spine offer protection to vulnerable communication pathways of the nervous system, specifically the spinal cord and the delicate nerve roots and spinal nerves that exit between the vertebral segments of the spinal column. A loss of normal motion or position of the spinal segments can irritate or impair nerve function, resulting in malfunction of the tissues and organs throughout the body. Doctors of chiropractic refer to this altered spinal function and its potential effect on the nervous system as the Vertebral Subluxation Complex.
The "Vertebral Subluxation Complex" has not been established as a meaningful clinical entity. Furthermore, there is no rational reason to believe that loss of spinal motion influences tissues and organs throughout the body.

Life College West:
Since an individual's health is either directly or indirectly controlled by the nervous system, interference within this system impairs normal function and lowers resistance to disease.

Through chiropractic adjustments, nervous system interference due to abnormalities in the musculoskeletal relationships of the vertebrae (called subluxations) can be corrected. This allows the nervous system to function properly, enabling the body to self-regulate and self-heal through its own natural recuperative powers.

The nervous system does not control general health and resistance to disease.

Life College West:
Q: What can chiropractic care do for me?
A: Help you achieve and maintain good health, naturally. Chiropractic is based on two facts:

  • The nervous system controls all body functions.
  • The bony spine, although designed to protect the delicate nervous tissue within, can become displaced and put abnormal pressure on the nerves; this interferes with nerve communications throughout the body. The displaced vertebra is called a SUBLUXATION.

Q: How does chiropractic work?
A: Gentle, controlled and directed pressure, known as a chiropractic adjustment, returns the spinal vertebrae to their proper position. By maintaining a healthy spine, a chiropractor enhances the body's own inborn healing ability, without drugs or surgery. . . . .

Once it is diagnosed, the chiropractor performs specific vertebral adjustments to reduce the subluxation and return the vertebrae to a more normal juxtaposition. This process removes neurological distress allowing the body to return to a balanced state of physiological functioning.

The nervous system does not control all bodily functions.

Spinal adjustments do not "enhance healing ability."

Chiropractic care has not been shown to enhance "inborn healing."

"Balanced state of physiologic functioning" is not something that can be measured.

Life University
A vertebral subluxation is a complex of functional and/or pathological articular changes that compromises neural integrity and influences organ system function and general health.

The vertebral subluxation includes any alteration of the biomechanics and physiological dynamics of the contiguous spinal structures. These alterations cause neuronal, vascular, biochemical, and osseous disturbances. Vertebral subluxations may occur in the human body as a result of physical or emotional trauma, or from chemical toxicity.

Even the most uneventful natural childbirth may prove traumatic to the newborn infant causing vertebral subluxations. Adolescents and adults are often plagued with chronic vertebral subluxations, which result in disturbances of the nervous system, as well as, degenerative changes in spinal structures. Many senior citizens suffer from chronic spinal degeneration associated with vertebral subluxations.

. . . . lifestyle factors help to prevent the occurrence of vertebral subluxations and reduce reoccurrence.

There is no evidence that emotional trauma can cause alteration of spinal structure or function.

There is no scientific evidence that "even the most uneventful natural childbirth" will be "traumatic and lead to vertebral subluxations."

Logan College of Chiropractic
Chiropractic works by restoring your own inborn ability to be healthy. The chiropractic approach is to locate and help remove interference to your natural state of being healthy. . . . Improved spinal function often equals improved nervous system function.
There is no scientific evidence that chiropractic care restores some general ability to be healthy.
National University of the Health Sciences
Chiropractic practice embodies: . . . The use of other conservative means in the promotion of optimal health including, but not limited to, nutritional counseling, physiologic therapeutics, meridian therapy/acupuncture, trigger point therapy, exercise, life-style counseling, botanical medicine, homeopathic remedies, emotional support, and stress management.
Although some of the listed items contribute to optimal health, others (such as meridian therapy and homeopathic remedies) do not. Nor do most chiropractors have sufficient training to render emotional support or appropriate advice about nutrition, botanical (herbal) products, or stress management.
National University of the Health Sciences
Chiropractic physicians are more than just "back doctors," and should use whatever chiropractic methods are deemed appropriate to assist the body's ability to self-regulate and self-heal. In addition to training our students in spinal manipulation, we also teach them how to use additional therapies, when indicated, such as nutritional advice, therapeutic exercise, physical therapy, rehabilitation, lifestyle modification, postural retraining, meridian therapy (acupuncture), and homeopathic or botanical remedies.
The statement is another vague, double-talking overgeneralization. Although some of the listed items contribute to "self-healing," others (spinal manipulation and homeopathic remedies) certainly do not, and , meridian therapy is based on a delusional view of how the body works.

Northwestern College of Chiropractic
Doctors of chiropractic will provide care that may have a direct influence on problems or conditions (subluxations, injuries, postural problems, headaches, neck pain, lower back pain, etc. —see Research, below); care that is supportive of other problems or treatments (collaborative care with other health care professionals) or care based on optimizing wellness and function based on objective findings, but when pain may not be present as a symptom. . . .

Conditions or problems doctors of chiropractic may treat include:

  • Pediatric conditions. Research and clinical experience support chiropractic care for common pediatric conditions such as colic, recurrent otitis media, bedwetting, birth trauma, and common childhood injuries.
  • Postural problems. Chiropractic care can assist in correcting postural faults, including scoliosis.
  • Injuries and Pain. Chiropractic care can help restore normal function after injuries, and help decrease pain when it results from abnormal function and compensation.
  • Geriatric problems. Chiropractic can be very effective with gentle and careful care for common sources of pain and dysfunction in older adults.

 Chiropractic care has not been demonstrated to optimize wellness.

Chiropractic research has not been proven effective against common pediatric conditions and cannot modify a scoliotic curve.

Chiropractic care may alleviate some common painful musculoskeletal conditions in adults, but most dysfunctional conditions are outside of its scope.

Northwestern College of Chiropractic
What conditions or problems are treated by homeopathy?
Almost all ailments or conditions are viewed within the profession as being amenable to homeopathic treatment. Homeopathy is best known, however, for its ability to treat chronic ailments. Skin diseases, chronic gastric and intestinal disorders, chronic fatigue syndromes, migraines, asthma, allergic disorders, menstrual complaints, other hormonal disorders, arthritis, psychological disorders, and so on are viewed as being potentially improved by the application of Homeopathy. Gross structural and pathological changes are not viewed as being strongly influenced by Homeopathy.
Homeopathic treatment has not been proven effective against any health or structural problem.
Northwestern College of Chiropractic
Chiropractic philosophic principles learned and applied by Northwestern graduates, include an appreciation for the natural, innate self-regulating and healing capacities of the human body, which are coordinated by the nervous system. Normalcy of body structure, especially the spine, is imperative to normal nervous system function and body system regulation. The Northwestern curriculum emphasizes the important relationships between optimal health and both structural-neural integrity and healthful living.
Chiropractic care has not been demonstrated to promote "optimal health."
Southern California College University of Health Sciences
Simply stated, oriental medicine is based on balancing the body's positive energy. The science is made up of a myriad of therapies, including acupuncture, herbal and nutritional therapy, Tui-Na/massage, acupressure, meditation and physical exercise. Acupuncture is utilized to keep the normal flow of the body's energy, between its surface and internal organs, unblocked—thereby restoring physical and mental health.
The "positive energy" described in this quote has not been scientifically demonstrated. Nor has acupuncture been demonstrated to influence any "flow of body energy."

Palmer Chiropractic University (3 schools)
Science has found that the nerve system controls all other organs and tissues of the body, so a nerve system functioning at its best facilitates the body's ability to cope with disability and disease. Because of its potential to enable patients to live healthier, more fulfilling lives, chiropractic has been called "The Big Idea."

The chiropractic approach to health care is holistic, stressing the patient's overall well being. It recognizes that many factors affect health, including exercise, diet, rest, environment and heredity. Chiropractic focuses on maintaining optimal health naturally so that the body is better able to resist disease, rather than simply treating the symptoms of disease. Chiropractors use natural, drugless, non-surgical health care and rely on the body's inherent recuperative abilities.

The nervous system does not control all the organs and tissues of the body. Nor has chiropractic care been shown to maintain optimal health or enable the body to resist disease.

The passage also falsely implies that medical care merely "treats symptoms," which is not correct.

Palmer Chiropractic University (3 schools)
. . . the science of chiropractic emphasizes the relationship between structure and function, primarily that between the spinal column and the nervous system. Implicit within this statement is the significance of the nervous system to health and the effect of the subluxation complex upon the nervous system and, therefore, the body.
"Subluxation complex" has not been meaningfully defined.

Parker College of Chiropractic
The College recognizes that structural and spinal subluxation syndrome has a significant relationship to somato-somatic, somatic-visceral and viscero-somatic functions of the body, . . .

The wholistic health model, not the allopathic disease model, will be the main thrust. All corrective intervention will be directed toward freeing the body from nerve irritation, treating the whole patient who has a disease, not the part of the patient that is diseased, and teaching the patient how to give food to the whole body, instead of food only directed at parts of the body. Students will be taught the foundations of chiropractic as given by our founder, D. D. Palmer, that disease is caused by trauma, poison, auto suggestion as interference is identified and corrected primarily from the nervous system. The subtle bio-energies of the body may then be reestablished by various techniques as taught throughout the curriculum.

No "structural and spinal subluxation syndrome" has been scientifically demonstrated.

Most diseases are not caused by 'trauma, poison, and auto suggestion." Nor can chiropractic treatment "reestablish subtle energies."

Parker College of Chiropractic
Chiropractic restores health, relieves pain and restores life with drugless, knifeless, natural, holistic methods. And much of the public, fortunately, is turning away from dangerous drugs and unnecessary surgery, to natural healing. . . .

And since the nervous system controls the human body by providing the "life force," the whole body may benefit; and, therefore, chiropractic care may benefit the body with almost any health conditions.

Chiropractic care has not been scientifically demonstrated to restore health. Nor has the existence of a "life force" been demonstrated. Nor has it been shown that chiropractic can treat "almost any health condition."

Parker College of Chiropractic
The Science of chiropractic is based on the innate normal function of life energy, primarily through the nervous system, which is the master system, both motor and sensory. It controls and regulates all other systems (Gray's Anatomy), and normally functions 100% quantitatively and qualitatively both motor and sensory. Even though the body is basically chemical, life itself is electrical and controls chemical. It is homogeneous, balanced and present from birth to burial. Therefore, the chiropractic Science is a PRINCIPLE. An uninterrupted PRINCIPLE always works. . . .

The principles of the Science and Philosophy have been growing by research, and are being accepted by the scientific community. Hundreds of well-researched studies, books, papers and abstracts have been conducted and published extolling what is now called, among other terms, Energy Medicine. It is all based on the body's innate intelligent energy, with the nervous system being supreme. Energy not matter, electricity not chemistry, the whole not the part will undoubtedly be a leading healing paradigm of the future. But, that is where chiropractic has been for over a century, and where it better remain. Freeing energy will probably be proclaimed as the 21st century's new, and often superior, scientific paradigm for relieving pain, restoring health and prolonging life. Who practices those principles will be the issue.

"Life energy" has not been scientifically demonstrated. Nor has "energy medicine" been scientifically substantiated.
Sherman College of Straight Chiropractic
Today, chiropractic has evolved into a highly developed science and art which deals not with disease, but with vertebral subluxation and its effect on the body's natural striving toward health. Chiropractic, as a primary health care profession, recognizes and respects the body's innate striving to maintain its own health and has developed sophisticated techniques for correcting vertebral subluxation, a major interference to that striving. Chiropractic views health as more than the absence of disease. It is optimum life expression on every level.
It has not been scientifically demonstrated that "vertebral subluxation" interferes with the body's "striving for health" or that chiropractic care can reverse any such problem.
Western States Chiropractic College
The WSCC philosophy of chiropractic is based on the concept that the human body has recuperative, self-healing capabilities, and that there is a correlation between skeletal structure and optimum bodily function. The interdependence of structure and function, and the relationship between the nervous system—particularly the spine—and the rest of the body is the core element of WSCC's approach to healing and wellness. This indicates that the first line of intervention for conservative care is to assure biomechanical integrity, with pharmaceutical and/or more invasive care (e.g., surgery) being utilized only after conservative options have been employed.
"There is no reason to believe that chiropractic care can promote optimum body function by assuring biomechanical integrity."
Western States Chiropractic College
Some chiropractors are trained in a special intervention called Endonasal Technique. This technique can relieve pressure from the middle ear and facilitate drainage. Your chiropractic physician can instruct you on some things you can do to ease the symptoms and to prevent recurrence. In addition, any spinal or muscular problems,, which may be related to your symptoms, can also be treated. [From WSCC otitis media brochure posted on distributor's Web site linked from WSCC site]
Chiropractic treatment has not been proven effective for ear infections. In fact, most chiropractic schools do not train chiropractors to perform ear examinations or diagnose or manage ear infections.

References

  1. Sikorski DM, Grod JP. The unsubstantiated Web site claims of chiropractic colleges in Canada and the United States. Journal of Chiropractic Education 17:113-119, 2003.
  2. Barrett S. Educators blast mainstream chiropractic brochures. Chirobase March 8, 2002.
  3. Chiropractors offer hope and help to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). American Chiropractic Association Web site, accessed March 6 2004.

This article was posted on May 21, 2004.