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Phillip Ebrall
Gary Bovine


History of Medicine, Spine, Subluxation


Introduction: To present an historical narrative reporting the different interpretations over time of the concept of subluxation, an idea extant in chiropractic from the time of its founding by DD Palmer in 1895 and which forms chiropractic’s professional identity globally.

Methods: Our starting point was the idea that ‘small, repairable lesions in the spine that affect wellbeing’ first appeared in the medical writings of the Egyptians, while it also emerged in Greek medical writings and then in Latin, where the idea was semantically codified as ‘subluxation.’ We each followed the standard practices of historians to identify textbooks and journal papers to the end of the 19th Century that we felt contributed to the narrative. Through a process of heuristics we extracted relevant phrases and here cite them verbatim and with comment. The reader will note a variety of spellings and expressions uncommon today as we have reproduced the exact spelling and phrases as variously published.

Results: This report shows that the idea of subluxation has been well documented within ancient writings, absent for a time and then resurfacing in medical writings from the 14th Century. We present summary notes of its many clinical descriptions up to the time that medicine narrowed its definition, about the end of the 19th Century to that of ‘spinal irritation,’ which lost its meaning by the 20th Century. The idea was revived as ‘subluxation’ by DD Palmer.

Conclusion: The idea of subluxation is as old as the medical literature and we establish a strong presence in the medical literature for the idea expressed in terms of neurological change associated with functional derangement. Palmer maintained medicine’s metaphysical understanding of subluxation primarily as the effects from subluxed vertebrae and this paper traces both the physical and metaphysical meanings attributed by practitioners who were prominent in their time as evidenced by their writings.


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