Hippocrates Was a Chiropractor? A Brief Look at the History of Spinal Manipulation and Chiropractic’s Metaphysical Beginnings

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, may have had more in common with the chiropractor of today than today’s medical doctors (1). Spinal manipulation, arguably the most well-known tool in a chiropractor’s tool box, has been in use by healers for over two thousand years, independently around the world (1). Hippocrates is credited with many medical discoveries including being the first western physician to succinctly describe, publish and use spinal manipulation techniques, including traction and the use of a special table to adjust the spine (1). Spinal manipulation and other techniques currently used by practitioners of complementary medicine were highly recommended and used well into the mid 1800’s (1). Orthodox medical physicians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries became weary of the spinal manipulation, frequently recommending against it on the basis of perceiving spinal manipulative therapy as dangerous (1). Ironically, while condemning many manual therapy techniques the same physicians were promoting the use of bloodletting, purging and heavy calomel dosing, which are recognized today as highly dangerous treatments with no medical benefits (1). While it is interesting to compare methodologies and treatments of our health care ancestors, it is important to acknowledge that both holistic and allopathic health care has evolved from sometimes disparate, experimental medicine into largely evidence informed care (2).

            Chiropractic as a profession, since its inception by D.D Palmer in 1985, has experienced an evolution from metaphysical origins to largely evidence informed, collaborative care (2). The metaphysical philosophy of early chiropractors, and a philosophy still upheld by a small subset of chiropractors today, revolves around Innate Intelligence, the idea that health and healing does not come from putting something into the body, be it medication or an act of god, but rather all health and healing resides within the body itself (2). This innate intelligence flows throughout the body via the highway that is the spinal column and thus any interruption, or subluxation of the spinal column may cause a disease and further prevent the body’s innate intelligence from correcting the disease (2). While the metaphysical chiropractic philosophy is largely unscientific and not supported by the majority of today’s health care practitioners, the basic philosophy that the body has the ability to heal itself is quite sound and scientifically proven, such as the mechanism of bone healing following fracture. Dr. Brown, Secretary-General of the World Federation of Chiropractic, argues that chiropractic as a profession must agree on a core set of values and beliefs in order to establish a coherent professional identity, before the public assigns one, either realistic or flawed (2). While certain chiropractors may run practices based on extremity or pediatric care and have alternate definitions, the public generally views chiropractors as “being inextricably linked to the care of the spine”, an identity Dr. Brown believes chiropractic should embrace (2).

Throughout chiropractic’s pockmarked history, the profession has failed to develop a cogent professional identity due largely to infighting between the “straights” and “mixers” (2). It would seem that it is the professions metaphysical philosophy may be largely responsible for the stunted growth of chiropractic. Hippocrates is both the father of modern allopathic medicine and chiropractic care (1). Perhaps the recognition of a shared origin, between chiropractic mixers, straights and medical physicians, and the acknowledgment of a common goal, beneficial care of the patient, is the stepping stone that will allow chiropractic to assume it’s place in health care and finally adopt the elusive professional identity it so desires.


1. Haldeman S. Principles and Practice of Chiropractic. 3rd ed. McGraw-Hill; 2005.

2. Brown R. Spinal Health: The Backbone of Chiropractic’s Identity. Journal of Chiropractic Humanities. 2016;23(1):22-28.


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