More chiropractic shenanigans

March 5, 2017 • 1:15 pm

I don’t think I’ve ever been so besieged by newbie commenters as I have by chiropractors and their acolytes over the last several days. After I posted a few times on that form of quackery (here, here, here, and here), I’ve had chiropractors, students in chiropractic school, and even chiropactors’ wives try to comment on this site showing me how badly wrong I’ve gone. Chiropractic, they say, effects “miracle” cures. I’ve posted a few of their beefs, but they’re getting repetitive and tiresome, and they’re easily refuted. Here are a few of the common responses, which I’ll let readers deal with since they’re no-brainers (I can’t resist a few parenthetical comments):

  • Chiropractic is perfectly safe, and the cases of damage are overrated.
  • Scientific medicine is much more dangerous, with a higher number of deaths resulting after medical treatment (but the quacks don’t distinguish proper treatment that doesn’t work from medical malpractice).
  • Along those lines, one commenter said, “More people die from medical Drs. And from prescribed medicine than from a Chiropractor.” Probably true, but there are two good reasons, both obvious.
  • Malpractice insurance is higher for chiropractors than for real doctors (Duhhh!)
  • Chiropractic can cure bad lower backs (The evidence is weak at best, and it’s cheaper and better to see a physical therapist. And of course chiropractors usually claim to cure far more than bad backs, not to mention that they usually make you sign up for a long expensive course of treatment, which wouldn’t happen with a physical therapist.)
  • Doctors get people addicted to medications like pain medicine. (Ummmm. . .  is it the doctors’ fault? And many people get pain meds illegally.)
  • Chiropractors can be a good “first responder”. AS one chiro had the temerity to write, “We are primary care providers, which means we have to be able to differentially diagnose and recognize when things are life threatening and when patients need to be referred and where to.” Pro-tip: NEVER use a chiropractor as your primary care “provider”. Use a real doctor, an M.D.!

But enough; I’m tiring of these people and their refuted claims. The fact that I’m suddenly inundated by would-be commenters suggest that they’re communicating with each other, saying, “Go after that Coyne guy.” But as one of my friends said when I called chiropractors “quacks”, “That is an insult to ducks!” (Besides, ducks never present inflated bills. I’ll be here all week, folks.)

Oh, one more comment before I get to the comic at hand: I haven’t heard back from the Cincinnati Zoo after I wrote them (twice) asking for an explanation of why they used a chiropractor trained on humans to adjust the cervical vertebrae of a baby tiger. I doubt they’ll ever respond.

And the comic: over at Daryl Cunningham Investigates, you can see a comic-strip version about the history and practice of chiropractic “medicine”. The strip is pretty, but the story isn’t; I’ll give just a few panels from the long but engaging strip:

6058346125_d7930e02dc_z 6058893840_cd60ed864a_zand (remember that many chiros are anti-vaxxers):
6058891364_7cf79baee9_z 6058343415_7b005aa66a_z

Now I’m going to be even more inundated with outraged chiropractors, their wives, and their students. To which I say, “Come at me, bro!” but don’t expect that I’m going to publicize quackery on this site. You’ll see me do that when I start saying that creationists are right, for the scientific basis of chiropractic is about as sound as that of creationism.

65 thoughts on “More chiropractic shenanigans

  1. I had a good friend who swore by her chiropractor. A few years ago she kept having back pain, and went to the chiro a couple of times a week. Finally her daughter talked her into going to a real doc, who did tests, including imaging, and my friend was found to have end-stage lung cancer. She died two weeks later. But hey, her chiropractor got rich, so who cares?

    1. Because there’s a connection between chiropractic and lung cancer? Talk about weak connections..

      1. Because if she’d gone to a medical doctor first, rather than wasting time with a chiropractor who apparently wasn’t relieving her back pain, her cancer might have been diagnosed at a more treatable stage.

      2. No, because if my friend had gone to a *real* doctor, she might have been correctly diagnosed and possibly would have lived longer. Sheesh.

  2. Fools and their money are soon parted. Shame it’s given to odious people like (most) chiropractors.

  3. The grain of truth in some of those comments is that *manipulative therapy* has been shown to be effective for some types of low back pain. Chiropractic is one form of manipulative therapy, but not the only one. The danger of chiropractic is the sheer volume of anti-scientific views that come bundled with narrowly defined evidence-based part.

    In 40 years of following the subject of health-fraud and quackery, I have learned to expect to find chiropractors on the wrong side of any issue. I routinely hear from my dental patients that their chiros have given them pseudoscientific advice on amalgam, flouride, materials, TMJ, x-rays, etc., etc., ad nauseam.

    The root of the problem is that chiropractic is, for all practical purposes, unregulated. Despite the window-dressing of regulatory boards, there is no clear definition of the boundaries of the profession that is based in evidence-based science, and in practice, chiros market themselves far beyond any actual training or competence.

    As modern medicine evolved into and through the 20th century, chiropractic was faced with the option of entering the science-based world and likely disappearing into the fields of physical and occupational therapy, or engaging in a turf-based, politically achieved retreat into pseudoscience. They chose the latter.

      1. Not sure exactly what you’re asking, but I’ll offer “Temporomandibular Joint” and hope I’m not insulting your intelligence… 😀

        1. Temporo-mandibular joint? This? [Points just anterior of exterior ear hole ; waggles jaw]
          How could someone be deranged enough to believe that manipulating that joint between two solid lumps of bone could influence … something somewhere else.
          Quoth Marvin : “it gives me a headache to think down to that level”.
          Oh, hang on – it’s got multiple polysyllabic words, concatenated. So I an see why it might give some people a second or two of pause while they parse it. Where are my headache pills?
          Some yeas ago, I built a life-size human skeleton from a cardboard cut-fold-glue kit. A good fun couple of days out of the pub, and occasionally I’d take “Hermann” to the pub with me and my flat mates. Good fun, but the guy didn’t have a stomach for the beer. Then I moved the length of the country, and needed to transport Hermann. So he got strapped into the seat behind my driver seat, with a few additions of carefully strung fishing line (doubles for sewing wetsuits back together). and sure enough, cruising down the motorway, there’s a cop car in my blind spot and they notice Hermannn … point, laugh, ha ha, very funny. Then Hermannnn turned his head to them, rolled his bloodshot ping-pong ball eyeballs, and waggled his jaw at them. Blue lights. Slapped wrist. Wont.Do.It.Agin.Ossifer.
          If only this hadn’t been before the availability of dash-cams.
          Hermannnnn died an honourable death on the field of educating the nephews and nieces. Vale Hermannnnnn!

            1. Oh, they had a sense of humour. but they still had to give me a bollocking. On examination, they were content that I’d rigged up the fishing line so that it didn’t interfere with my driving, wasn’t going to come loose in a problematical way, and commended me for doing a stupid job carefully and well. Then told me to tear it down an don’t do it again without a passenger to operate the “puppet”.

    1. As modern medicine evolved into and through the 20th century, chiropractic was faced with the option of entering the science-based world and likely disappearing into the fields of physical and occupational therapy, or engaging in a turf-based, politically achieved retreat into pseudoscience. They chose the latter.


      From the comments I’d read and the few experiences I’d heard, I’d concluded that chiropractors weren’t total quacks. That is, they did seem to glean some useful knowledge about how the muscular-skeletal system works from chiropractor school, or wherever they learn their trade.

      But that left me wondering where useful chiropractic left off and and physical therapy began. I mean, at bottom, aren’t they addressing the same issues? Imbalances and cricks in the sinews/muscles/vertebrates of the torso? The fact that chiropractic arose as a separate discipline in the 19th century and would have “likely disappear[ed] into the fields of physical and occupational therapy” is quite illuminating. But then that invites another question: why don’t people interested in the integrity of the spine just become physical therapists?

      P.S. The best “preventative maintenance” for one’s spinal (and overall physical) integrity was developed in India long ago. It’s called yoga. Like all practices, though, it is not without its quackery.

  4. Insult to ducks, very good. I would also say, if it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, looks like a Chiropractor, it’s probably a quack.

  5. Chiropractic treatments are like prayer. A few “successful” episodes, and people can become devoted, despite the evidence. And confronting the belief in chiropractors is like confronting all religion.
    Once I was in a shopping center, and a chiropractic office there had several “whole spine x rays out to impress passers by. One, obviously a small, older woman’s, had a large Ghon’s complex, which can indicate active TB. It made me wonder if the poor dear’s back pain wasn’t something more sinister.

  6. I’ve spent decades as an MB,BS (sorry, Jerry, no MD here) telling people to avoid wasting their money on chiropractors. I did send a few with lower back pain to chiropractors, but the results didn’t justify the referrals and I stopped doing it. My wife (another MB,BS, and an FRCP(C)) felt she benefited from a chiropractor, but even she would agree that her sciatic pain didn’t go away until another FRCP(C) operated on her prolapsed disk.
    There is no way that manipulating a supposed spinal imperfection will cure an ingrowing toenail or an enlarged spleen. Surely anyone with the brains to read and write can see that? Frankly, chiropractors are passé in terms of money wasted; the big issue now is that just about anyone with the ability to make a website can claim to be a “nutritionist” and make impossible claims for dispensing the most ludicrous and dangerous dietary advice. Living as a retired physician in a rural community it is rather hard to refrain from punching these idiots when I park next to them and their colourfully-decaled Honda Civics when I go to buy groceries. I’ll expect all commenters here to provide character references if I ever fail to maintain my non-violent stance.

  7. One update to this, actually mentioned in the comic: Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.’s) are also legitimate, evidence-based, health care providers, and appropriate as primary care physicians. The two degrees (M.D. and D.O.) are today essentially interchangeable, and treated as legally equivalent in most (?all) states.

    Both osteopathic medicine and chiropractic have their roots in 19th century alternative therapies, but within osteopathic medicine there was a reform movement, and it succeeded, so that, as the comic puts it “the profession has long shed its own mystical roots.” There is a reform movement in chiropractic, but it has not succeeded.

    I have no particular connection to D.O.’s, but learned about their history (and chiropractic) in preparing my course on “Science and Pseudoscience”, which has long included a segment on chiropractic.

    Later addition: In light of comments below, I should add that I am referring to the situation in the United States; I was unaware of the difference in usage of the word between Britain and America.

  8. I am not standing up for chiropractors and other forms of treatment that aren’t performed by medical doctors.

    But, some people have turned to such treatments after terrible experiences with members of the medical profession. Not all doctors graduate at the top of their class. Many are incompetent. Many won’t listen to their patients because, obviously, they know better. And, there are numerous diseases that seem hard, if not impossible, to diagnose like Lyme disease (and treatment for long-term bouts of Lyme disease, if discovered, is an insufficient amount of antibiotics.)Some people with Lyme disease go 10, 20, 30 years without proper diagnosis and treatment. Some never receive it.

    Others endanger their patients and have their hands slapped by the medical profession, but are allowed to continue to practice. (I read about this happening in California.) I have been very fortunate in the quality of doctors I’ve had, but my daughter has experienced a great deal of trauma and ongoing health issues at the hands of Navy doctors. Not once, but numerous times. A gall bladder removed when the gallstone wasn’t in the gall bladder. Lousy suturing after an episiotomy (sp?)causing long term misery. Removal of half a thyroid as a preventative measure re goiter. And on and on.

    1. Hi Rowena — Seems to me you’re opening a can of worms with the Lyme disease example — Do you subscribe to the “chronic Lyme syndrome”, which is surely a crank magnet? Narrowly, the fact that it takes skill [and luck?] to treat borellia diseases is correct, but “Lyme literate” docs? Woo-woo, I’m afraid.

      1. Do you have a good link to that syndrome, loren? I’m not doubting you, just curious. I know one Lyme sufferer who went undiagnosed for many years and is now significantly disabled.

  9. Agree totally on chiropractors. My comments related to the term “osteopath”. This has a completely different meaning in the UK – as per the comic – and the US. Osteopathic physicians in the US (O.D) are fully accredited and licensed to practice, essentially, medicine. They work side by side MDs in clinics and hospitals. Osteopaths in the UK are similar to physical therapists in the US.

    (No connection to the profession – just wanted to clarify since I’ve been treated – and operated on by some very good ODs.

    1. There is only one kind of medicine and that is evidence based medicine. Osteopaths may be licensed in the US, but that is the result of politics and not evidence. If they want to be recognized as physicians, then they should go to medical school and not some “alternative medical” training.

  10. I would ask the one person exactly what training does a chiropractor have as a “first responder?” As a former EMT, I would wonder how learning to manipulate imaginary spinal problems would give you the ability to deal with life threatening problems like heart attacks, sucking chest wounds, bullet/knife wounds, strokes, etc. etc. EMTs and paramedics are often better trained as first responders than many MDs.

  11. My friend injured her back just by washing her face. Can’t imagine how doing such a simple thing could have her in terrible pain. She went to her Chiro and helped a little not much.

    1. All it takes is a wrong move. I once hurt my back by grabbing the shower head from my upper right while standing bent forward above the bathtub to wash my hair.

      Another everyday move said to be dangerous is the typical “office twist” sitting at your desk, turning only your upper body to the side, and then lifting something heavy like a folder.

  12. I went to a major quack once. He’d make you hold out a vial of stuff and then push on your arm and if your arm moved, you had to be adjusted in that area. Jesus! He also told me I shouldn’t have gotten a root canal because it would mess up your chi.

    I finally stopped going there when he got divorced and was really bitter. He told me women exaggerated being abused. As a formally abused woman, I just didn’t want to hear that. I know….it took that for me not to go but back then I tried a lot of stuff to fix my neck and it took me forever to realize my neck was the cause of migraines and not the other way around.

    I went to another chiropractor who was really more a physio (I hated my physio because he treated too many people at once and didn’t wipe down his benches so I caught a bunch of colds). He never adjusted my neck and did mostly active release stretches. He hated all those other chiropractors….he was a smart guy so I hope he just goes into physio since that’s what he really does anyway.

    1. He also told me I shouldn’t have gotten a root canal because it would mess up your chi.

      That’s when you maced him/ her/ it/ them?
      Seems a proportionate response to an immediate threat.

      1. I wondered how many people he influenced that died of sepsis. He also had homeopathic vaccines and allergy treatments. The allergy treatments got my friend to stop going to him when she found out giving them to her kid did nothing.

  13. Apart from the deregulated chiropractors, why is the potentially deadly X-rays so unregulated? The place where I live is not very classy but still you cannot get a X-ray without a document from a medical doctor or a dentist.

  14. I’m with you all the way on chiropractic, but your concluding slap at creationism seems a bit gratuitous. Chiropractic, as the name suggests, is a practice, one that can inflict real harm on other people. Creationism is a belief, one that is either right or wrong. Both are unsupported by scientific evidence, but that hardly seems grounds for comparison in the context of your complaints about chiropractic—namely, that it is a harmful practice, not simply a mistaken idea. Granted, ignorance is harmful in itself, and doubly so if spread. Still, as a pantheist—and therefore a creationist of sorts myself—I’d like to think that my world view, even if wrong, is not doing anyone harm.

    1. So, you believe everything was created by a committee of God’s? Sounds worse than your common or garden variety of creationism!

    2. @Mirandaga

      By definition ALL believers in the Judaeo-Christian god are creationists. There’s also Hindu creationists & many other varieties of creationist. Most creationists are not actively anti-intellectual nor politically active – they just have some silly, thoughtless beliefs that don’t intersect with reality or evidence! These people can believe two opposite things at once – because they don’t reason about some things.

      People who believe that some agency lit the blue touch paper that got our universe started are also creationist – re an agency with no interest in us, that doesn’t interact with our world today.

      But, when Jerry speaks of creationism he’s generally referring to [mainly] Young Earth Creationists of the fundamentalist Christian stripe & the ‘neo-creationist’ Christians who have rebranded their religious belief as ‘Intelligent Design’ [a manoeuvre to get ID into schools/college courses

      These people are very harmful!

      If you think the Earth is 6,000 years old then you aren’t going to accept the science of global warming

      If you think your God put the Earth here for your benefit to use as you will, then perhaps you’re not going to worry about the ecosystem

      If you think there’s going to be the era soon of Jesus returning to Earth, followed by the Final Days & the apocalypse then why worry about stewardship of the Earth? Perhaps you will view troubles in the Middle East as something to be encouraged because it feeds into the narrative of the Final Days. Perhaps you should stir up trouble in the ME to fulfil prophecy

      There’s a wacky American [Clyde Lott] trying to breed the perfect Red Heifer to export to Israel – because some Fundamentalist Christians believe that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ cannot occur until the Third Temple is constructed in Jerusalem, which requires the appearance of a red heifer born in Israel.

      These people are bloody dangerous!

      I’m not going to bring up education & anti-science because this post is too long already

        1. Diane G. Thnx! P.S. I saw your “I got your back” comment in one of the chiro threads

          LOL 🙂

      1. “If you think your God put the Earth here for your benefit to use as you will, then perhaps you’re not going to worry about the ecosystem.”

        This attitude toward the Earth is rooted as much in science as it is in religion. Francis Bacon (1561-1626), pretty much the father of the scientific method, sounded the battle cry of the “New Science” based on “the power and dominion of the human race over the universe.” As he proclaimed: “We must put nature to the rack, and compel her to answer our questions.” Well, science has had nature on the rack ever since and she’s answered some very important questions, but she isn’t looking all that good.

        By contrast, a pantheist believes that the totality of nature, including humans, IS God (Emerson’s “Oversoul”), a belief that would dictate a gentler and more respectful attitude toward the ecosystem than either the Judaeo-Christian tradition or scientific materialism.

        That said, thanks for the important distinctions. Pantheism, happily, is not in the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

    3. It depends. What impact would you say has your pantheism on your everyday life and on your positions to uncomfortable scientific findings?

      The potential harm of a faith is strongly correlated to what extend the believer derives real world consequences from it. A deist will be less dangerous than a theist in that respect.

      1. The main impact pantheism has on my everyday life is that I try to spend as much time outside in the natural world as possible. There’s increasing scientific evidence that this is beneficial—not that that’s why I do it.

        Any skepticism I have about “uncomfortable scientific findings,” especially those with political ramifications, stems from my having worked for 20 years as a scientific research editor. I learned from this experience that such findings can and sometimes are manipulated, suppressed, or cherry-picked to serve purposes other than transparency or truth. But this has nothing to do with my pantheism.

  15. An oldie, but a goodie;
    Why does one never see chiropractors feeding the ducks in the park?
    They can’t stand the constant insults.

  16. Oh, one more comment before I get to the comic at hand: I haven’t heard back from the Cincinnati Zoo after I wrote them (twice) asking for an explanation of why they used a chiropractor trained on humans to adjust the cervical vertebrae of a baby tiger. I doubt they’ll ever respond.

    Do you think that the tactic of asking who signed the cheque for the back-buggerer would have better progress. Does this zoo receive public funding?
    Once you’ve got a name for the one responsible for paying out, then the sleeve obscuring responsibility for the decision is likely to unravel pretty quickly.

  17. Along those lines, one commenter said, “More people die from medical Drs. And from prescribed medicine than from a Chiropractor.”

    The often used fallacy of absolute numbers without a reference frame. (Is there a proper name for this fallacy?)

    In that respect, heterosexuals would be way more prone to crime than homosexuals, because way more heterosexuals commit crimes than homosexuals.

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