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Dynamic Chiropractic – September 1, 2006, Vol. 24, Issue 18

Subluxation Issues: The "Curse of Chiropractic" According to R.W. Stephenson

By David Seaman, DC, MS, DABCN

In the chiropractic principles classes taught at New York College of Chiropractic in the 1980s, we used Dr. Frank D'Giacomo's book, Chiropractic: Man's Greatest Gift to Man. We may have heard about Stephenson's 1927 text, Chiropractic Textbook, but it is not a text most of us would remember, since we didn't use it.

I did not become aware of Stephenson's text until after graduation. At some point, I purchased Chiropractic Textbook at Sherman College in Spartanburg, S.C. My main reason for buying the book was that I wanted to understand what all the fuss was about regarding the ridiculous straight-mixer battle that seemed to rage on to various degrees within the profession. I read that Stephenson's text was a key straight book, so I bought it and looked for some answers.

For those who have not read Stephenson, it is not of much use today, so do not feel pressed to get a copy. It represents a history lesson, as it contains not a single reference and essentially functions as a theory text. Many incorrectly refer to it as a philosophy text, which it is not. There are some good descriptions of anatomy and physiology as it was understood in that day, and so clearly could not function as a philosophy text.

Stephenson divided his text into four parts: the freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior texts, as he called them. The introduction includes the 33 Principles, which students at certain schools, even to this day, are required to memorize. From what I can tell from the little that has been written about so-called chiropractic philosophy, much of the focus centers on the 33 Principles, which is a list of various theories, propositions and axioms for the 1920s chiropractor to embrace. Another significant focus of straight chiropractic is the view that subluxations block mental impulses from being transmitted from the brain to tissue cell, which according to Stephenson, represents the curse of chiropractic.

The "Curse" of Chiropractic

Most readers have never heard of the curse of chiropractic, and neither did I until I happened upon it on page 275 of Stephenson's text a few years ago. It is a particularly poignant term, and essentially nullifies nearly all the ridiculous notions put forth by the dogmatic sector of the chiropractic profession. On page 275 of Stephenson's 1927 text, he states:1

"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 refers to 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."

As you can plainly see, almost 80 years ago, Stephenson himself stated that it was impossible for a material something (subluxation) to block the transmission of immaterial messages known as mental impulses, and that advancing this notion equates with advancing the curse of chiropractic. We can further elucidate the nature of the "curse" when we realize it is impossible for subluxations to block innate intelligence, the source of the mental impulse.

Although not stated clearly in Stephenson's text, at least in an easily identifiable location, it is believed that the mental impulse is the expression of innate intelligence. Consider Koch's description of the nature of the mental impulse:

"The term 'mental impulse' gives adaptive and healing significance to the informational content of the nerve impulse. It denotes that the source of the information carried within a nerve impulse is the innate intelligence of life existing in, and acting from, the 'mental realm' or immaterial plane of reality. ... Of course, innate intelligence, being an assumed, immaterial phenomenon, cannot be demonstrated empirically."

Chiropractors, young and old, and in the past and present, may banter on and "philosophize" about the supposed nature of the universe and the impact subluxations supposedly have on tissue health and "optimal wellness." However, when we get down to the facts, the historical position regarding subluxation and mental impulses/innate intelligence is quite clear. Stephenson stated long ago that mental impulses are not blocked or interfered with by spinal subluxation; and advancing this erroneous notion is, in fact, the curse of chiropractic.

Modern Promoters of the Curse of Chiropractic

Surprisingly, there is a strong contingency of chiropractors who dogmatically advance and assert the curse of chiropractic. The boldest example of this can be found in Practice Guidelines for Straight Chiropractic, published by the World Chiropractic Alliance. Some of the more well-known guidelines developers who participated in advancing the curse of chiropractic include Drs. Terry Rondberg, Christopher Kent, Ralph Davis, David Koch, Peter Kevorkian, Ralph Boone, Thomas Gelardi and Joseph Strauss. Despite what Stephenson said about the impossibility of blocking mental impulse by a material something like subluxation, this group advanced the following definition of subluxation, which represents the curse of chiropractic: 3

A misalignment of one or more articulations of the spinal column or its immediate weight-bearing articulations, to a degree less than a luxation, which by inference causes, alteration of nerve function and interference to the transmission of mental impulses, resulting in a lessening of the body's innate ability to express its maximum health potential."

Not a single reference was cited to support this contention, and not even the slightest of literature reviews was performed. For those of you who have struggled nationally or in your respective states with chiropractors who advance the "curse," you now have powerful ammunition to stop those who advance the notion of chiropractic philosophy, but really advance the curse of chiropractic. These individuals and groups need to be taken to task.

And we should remember that it was B.J. Palmer himself who gave Stephenson's text the seal of approval (p.vii-viii). Clearly, many of the so-called subluxation-based chiropractors of today are unknowingly in opposition to the views of the Palmers and Stephensons, not to mention the research in recent years. This anti-chiropractic activity must be stopped for the benefit and future of our profession.


  1. Stephenson RW. Chiropractic Textbook. Davenport: PSC; 1927.
  2. Koch D. The redefinition of vertebral subluxation. J Straight Chiro 1995;1(1):17-23.
  3. Practice Guidelines for Straight Chiropractic. Chandler AZ: WCA; 1993, p. 29.

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

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