Dynamic Chiropractic – September 14, 2006, Vol. 24, Issue 19

Subluxation Issues: The Genesis of the "Curse of Chiropractic"

By David Seaman, DC, MS, DABCN
Editor's note: This is the second of two articles by Dr. Seaman on the "Curse of Chiropractic." The first article appeared in the Sept.
1, 2006 issue.

Last issue, I outlined the curse of chiropractic according to R.W. Stephenson.1 For those who did not have a chance to read that article, a brief summary follows. Many DCs believe that mental impulses from innate intelligence are blocked in the IVF due to a spinal subluxation.1-2 Many attribute this notion to the writing of R.W. Stephenson in his 1927 text; however, just the opposite is true. That is, Stephenson describes this view of subluxation as the curse of chiropractic:3

"Nerve cells are tissue cells having a body, nucleus, protoplasm, etc., as any other tissue cell. They are living organisms having adaptability; requiring mental impulses and nutrition as any other cell. The writer [Stephenson describes himself as the writer] is emphasizing these points, for it is the curse of Chiropractic, one of the things that corrupt the science, that students of Chiropractic will persistently forget that the nerve cell is a living thing, very sensitive and delicate, and mental impulses are immaterial messages and not a material something which can be dammed back in the nerve by an interference, as by the gate."

The above quote should make us wonder how it is possible so many so-called subluxation-based DCs have managed to misinterpret Stephenson's work and promoted the curse of chiropractic for the past 80-plus years, and done it in such a vitriolic manner. A little more information from Stephenson's text will help to unravel this seemingly paradoxical situation.

The Stephenson Paradox, or Superficial Subluxation Thinking?

On page two of Stephenson's text, he explains it is possible for subluxations to alter the size of the intervertebral foramina and lead to the interference with the transmission of Innate forces; which seems on the surface to contradict his description of the curse of chiropractic. Further down on the page, Stephenson defines subluxation in the following manner:

"A subluxation is the condition of a vertebra that has lost its proper juxtaposition with the one above or below, or both; to an extent less than a luxation; which impinges nerves and interferes with the transmission of mental impulses."

This description provides the foundation for the genesis of the MOPI model of subluxation: misalignments (M) lead to occlusion (O) of the IVF, which places pressure (P) on spinal nerves, which cause intereference (I) to the transmission of mental impulses. Readers might be wondering how on page two, Stephenson seems to say that subluxations block mental impulses and Innate Intelligence, and then on page 275, he explains that it is the curse of chiropractic to suggest immaterial mental impulses can be blocked by the material subluxation. Stephenson clears this up on page 275 in the sentence that follows his description of the curse of chiropractic:

"The nerve cell's function is to convey mental forces by the''wriggling' of its protoplasm. It 'wriggles' or 'squirms' obediently at Innate's bidding, responding to its Adaptability (see signs of Life) and by its behavior, informs Tissue Cell what Innate's demands are."

The MOPI model of subluxation is useful here to understand Stephenson's position. It seems Stephenson is saying the misaligned (M) vertebra occludes (O) the IVF, which places pressure (P) on individual nerve cells or neurons, and this interferes (I) with axoplasmic activity. In other words, the axoplasm is "wriggling" and "squirming" according to Innate's demands and this is all apparently working fine from the brain, down the spinal cord, and out the ventral root and all of a sudden, neuronal axoplasmic "wriggling" is blocked at the area of the mixed spinal nerve by a misaligned vertebra that occludes the IVF. Thus, Stephenson clearly is advocating the notion that subluxations misalign to such a significant level that it is possible to compress neurons of the spinal nerve within the IVF; - the neurocompressive model of subluxation.

Based on the above, we might conclude that modern promoters of the curse of chiropractic stopped reading about subluxation on page two of Stephenson's text and never bothered reading page 275. Had they gotten to page 275, they would have discovered they were advancing the curse of chiropractic by stating that the immaterial is blocked by the material. This is the likely reason for the ongoing promotion of the curse of chiropractic.

And if the post-Stephenson chiropractors, particularly those of the modern day, had read page 275, they would have encountered another problem with the MOPI model of subluxation: There is no evidence that the neurons "wriggle" or "squirm," as described by Stephenson, or that spinal misalignments block their supposed "wriggling" in any way.

The Double Curse That Plagues Chiropractic

We can certainly thank Stephenson for alerting us to the curse of chiropractic, and we can conclude that modern promoters of the curse, who link their subluxation-based thinking to the curse, would be considered anti-chiropractic by Stephenson himself. This is really quite a paradox, particularly for the extremist subluxation-based chiropractors - one of their most treasured resources [Stephenson] is their biggest critic, and has been criticizing their promotion of the curse of chiropractic for the past 80 years.

Also promoted today by those who advance the curse of chiropractic is Stephenson's MOPI model of subluxation. We certainly cannot not blame Stephenson for his elementary view of vertebral and nervous system dysfunction; he was operating with limited data in 1927. If Stephenson and the Palmers were around today, they likely would embrace modern neurophysiology principles and chastise those who held to 1925 theories. In fact, if Stephenson were around today, he might suggest that the secondary curse of chiropractic is advancing the MOPI "nerve-wriggling interference" model of subluxation.

We now know that subtle misalignments in the spine have no clinical consequences. We also know that they are not corrected after adjustments, even though symptomatic and diagnostic indicators improve.4-5 We know that the neurocompressive model described by Stephenson is a rare or nonexistent clinical entity, and chiropractic authorities have ask that it be abandoned so as to allow the profession to move into the future (see review by Leach6). And, we have numerous more tenable models of subluxation to investigate which more accurately account for the pain and visceral symptoms that reduce after an adjustment.7-9

Seeing Both Sides?

Readers should realize there are not two sides to this argument that should be considered. The curse of chiropractic is not a side that exists and has merit - it is a false reality; it is a fairy tale, like "The Emperor's New Clothes."

Hasn't the double-edged curse of chiropractic plagued us long enough? We need to eliminate the curse and should only consider theories of subluxation that are based in reality; these currently are found in several texts such as The Chiropractic Theories6 and Foundations of Chiropractic: Subluxation.8


  1. Seaman DR. Subluxation issues: the "curse of chiropractic" according to R.W. Stephenson. Dynamic Chiropractic, Sept. 1, 2006. www.chiroweb.com/archives/24/18/16.html.
  2. Practice Guidelines for Straight Chiropractic. Chandler, AZ: WCA; 1993, p. 29.
  3. Stephenson RW. Chiropractic Text Book. Davenport, IA: PSC; 1927, p. 275.
  4. Hart JF. Persistence of vertebral misalignments detected on radiographs of the cervical spine during chiropractic care: a case study. JVSR 1997;1(4):1-5.
  5. Tullberg T, Blomberg S, Branth B, Johnsson R. Manipulation does not alter the position of the sacroiliac joint: a roentgen stereophotogrammetric analysis. Spine 1998;23:1124-1128.
  6. Leach RA. "Neuropathology Hypothesis." In Leach RA, editor. The Chiropractic Theories: A Textbook of Chiropractic Research. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2004, p. 251-267.
  7. Nansel D, Szlazak M. Somatic dysfunction and the phenomenon of visceral disease simulation: a probable explanation for the apparent effectiveness of somatic therapy in patients presumed to be suffering from true visceral disease. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 1995;18:379-97.
  8. Gatterman MI, editor. Foundations of Chiropractic: Subluxation, 2nd ed. St. Louis: Elsevier/Mosby; 2005.

Click here for more information about David Seaman, DC, MS, DABCN.


To report inappropriate ads, click here.