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Guest Post by John Mac Ghlionn

The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate recently reintroduced legislation to increase access to Medicare-covered services provided by chiropractors. Last year, the US chiropractic market size was worth $13.13 Billion. By the end of the decade, it will be worth over $18 billion. Each year, a whopping 35 million Americans seek chiropractic care.

But why? It’s a questionable science full of questionable characters.

Last year, a Georgia woman was left paralyzed and unable to speak after receiving a neck adjustment from a chiropractor. She’s not the first person to have had her life utterly ruined by a chiropractor, and chances are she won’t be the last. Many patients who visit chiropractors suffer severe side-effects; some lose their lives.

Chiropractic care was the original holistic medicine. As Dr. Steven Novella has noted, what used to be fraud is now known as holistic medicine (more on fraud in a minute). Dr. Edzard Ernst, a retired British-German physician and researcher, has expertly demonstrated the many ways in which chiropractic treatments are rooted not in science, but in mystical concepts.

Chiropractic medicine was founded by Daniel David Palmer, a known fraudster who performed the first chiropractic adjustment in 1895. Born in Ontario, Canada, Palmer moved to Iowa at the age of 20. Upon arrival, he started practicing magnetic healing, a pseudoscientific practice that involves placing magnets on various body parts for the purpose of pain relief. A devoted spiritualist, Palmer insisted that the core tenets of chiropractic treatment were “passed along” to him by the spirit of Jim Atkinson, a doctor who died 50 years earlier. In other words, Palmer “learned” about spinal adjustments from a paranormal entity.

Fast forward to 2023, and the world has 103,000 chiropractors. Close to 68,000 of them are based in the US.

Those in the profession are trained to relieve musculoskeletal problems, like back and neck pain, for example. Spinal adjustments, also known as “subluxations,” are also common. A dangerous practice that has been heavily criticized, spinal manipulations are associated with a number of adverse effects, including the risk of stroke. As Dr. Ernst has noted, the cost-effectiveness of this particular treatment “has not been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt.”

Not content with spinal and neck manipulations, some chiropractors offer to treat other conditions — like diabetes, for example. They are not trained to treat diabetes. Other chiropractors appear to take joy in torturing infants. In August of 2018, a chiropractor made headlines for all the wrong reasons when a video emerged showing him hanging a two-week-old newborn upside down by the ankles.

The Australian chiropractor then proceeded to lay the baby on a table and apply a number of spinal and neck manipulations. The baby, crying in pain, desperately tried to wriggle away. The video was — and still is — truly shocking.

Obviously disturbed by what he witnessed, the science writer Kevin Senapathy wrote a stinging piece criticizing the Melbourne-based professional, asking why he repeatedly delivered “pulses of pressure to the baby’s tailbone and neck,” and then continued “to push and prod various parts of the infant’s body.”

Shortly after the video emerged, Dr. Harry Nespolon, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, demanded chiropractors stop treating infants. In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Dr. Nespolon said the desire to manipulate the baby’s back wasn’t just unnecessary, it was “horrifying.”

Finally, as I alluded to earlier, the chiropractic community is full of fraudsters. In 2019, in the US, 15 chiropractors were charged in an insurance fraud and illegal kickback operation. More recently, in February of this year, a New York federal judge sentenced Patrick Khaziran to 30 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to being part of a widespread scheme that defrauded the NBA out of at least $5 million. In recent times, the chiropractic community has come under scrutiny for abusive care and illegal billing practices. When it comes to instances of healthcare fraud, chiropractic medicine is unrivaled.

None of this should come as a surprise. After all, the entire chiropractic community was constructed on a foundation of lies.

As the aforementioned Dr. Ernst told me, we should be skeptical of what chiropractors are offering, largely because the whole practice was founded “by a deluded charlatan, who insisted that all human diseases are due to subluxations of the spine.”

“Today, he added, “we know that chiropractic subluxations are mere figments of Palmer’s imagination. Yet, the chiropractic profession is unable to separate itself from the myth. It is easy to see why: without it, they would at best become poorly trained physiotherapists without any raison d’etre.”

Strong words.

Dr. William T. Jarvis famously referred to chiropractic as “the most significant nonscientific health-care delivery system in the United States.” Comparing the chiropractic community to a cult, Dr. Jarvis wondered, somewhat incredulously, why chiropractors are licensed to practice in all 50 US states. The entire profession, he warned, “should be viewed as a societal problem, not simply as a competitor of regular health-care.”

Americans have always had a weird obsession with pseudoscience. This, perhaps, explains why the vast majority of chiropractors are based in the U.S.

John Mac Ghlionn is a psychosocial researcher and essayist. His work has been published by the New York Post, The Sun, The Sydney Morning Herald, Newsweek, Unherd, and The Spectator US, among others. Follow him on Twitter, @ghlionn.