Why Don’t Chiropractors Remember Nerve Tracing?

Starting around 1899, D.D. Palmer taught nerve tracing. The actual phrase “trace the nerve” first shows up in an 1897 testimonial from Samuel Weed. Weed also coined the word “chiropractic,” with hands only.

In March 1905, D.D. Palmer wrote, “The fundamental principles of Chiropractic are founded on anatomy, pathology, physiology, and nerve tracing.”

In his 1906 book, D.D. Palmer wrote, “Chiropractic diagnosis is founded upon objective inspection, especially nerve tracing.”

If nerve tracing was central to D.D. Palmer’s paradigm, then why don’t most chiropractors today know what it is? After all, he wrote,

“The Chiropractor finds by nerve tracing, the occluded intervertebral foramina, which by nerve impingement, is the cause of abnormal functions. He then relieves the pressure by adjusting the displaced vertebra, by so doing, he opens the spinal foramen to its normal size.”

In 1910, D.D. wrote, “I am the originator of nerve-tracing”

What is Nerve Tracing?

D.D. explained,

“Following a sensitive, swollen nerve from the place of impingement to its peripheral ending, or vice versa, by a discriminating touch; tracing it before adjustment by its rigidity and tenseness; then finding that it has become lax and not sensitive immediately after adjustment, is important in diagnosing many morbid conditions and proof positive that the lesion has been located and removed.”

D.D. Palmer wrote that Nerve Tracing, “developed by me is the art of tracing sensitive inflamed, swollen, contracted nerves to and from the place of impingement and the organ or portion affected. This tracing, when made by an expert, is not only explanatory, but educational.”

The method developed from his old practice of magnetic healing, which he did from 1887-1896. He would find a tender spot around the symptom and lay his hands on it. Then, with Nerve Tracing, he would trace the nerve from that tender spot to the point of origin on the spine.

He also found that it was a powerful way to explain chiropractic to patients. He wrote, “There is nothing more explanatory and convincing to the prospective student or patient than nerve tracing.”

D.D. Palmer’s lecture notes from 1911 and 1912 included one lecture titled “Palpation and Nerve Tracing.” It was published posthumously in 1914 as a chapter in the book, The Chiropractor.

D.D. Palmer’s Students on Nerve Tracing

Several of D.D. Palmer’s students taught Nerve Tracing including his son B.J. Palmer, Mabel Palmer, John Howard, and Alva Gregory. Abrams even wrote about it in his 1910 book. (Abrams probably read it in D.D. Palmer’s writings.)

In his 1912 book, Spinal Treatment, Gregory wrote,

“In order that we may be enabled to do nerve tracing, the nerves of necessity must be supersensitive. That a nerve must be supersensitive, we must have some kind of impingement of that nerve; or some kind of mechanical interference affecting its cellular integrity. Such a condition of a nerve is produced ordinarily by some inflammatory process of a greater or less degree in the zone that is supplied by the nerve or by slight impingement where it make its spinal exit.”

B.J. Palmer expanded on Nerve Tracing and developed the Meric System. His 1911 book included dozens and dozens of images. These were also used in the classroom and projected from slides with the stereopticon. (Rolf Peters’ book tells the story of the various early teaching methods at the Palmer School of Chiropractic.)

B.J. Palmer’s Students on Nerve Tracing

B.J. Palmer’s students also wrote about Nerve Tracing. Their thoughts on the topic made it into several Green Books and were taught throughout the profession from Joy Loban’s Universal Chiropractic College to Jim Drain’s Texas Chiropractic College, to Lincoln Chiropractic College, which was founded by his faculty. The most prolific authors from the PSC on the topic were Jim Firth, John Craven, and Ralph Stephenson.

Loban defined it as follows; “Nerve-tracing is that branch of palpation by which the tenderness of irritated spinal nerves is discovered and their paths demonstrated.” He wrote a detailed chapter on the topic.

Drain also wrote a chapter on Nerve Tracing. He included it in the second edition of his book Chiropractic Thoughts. These new writings along with several of his pamphlets, essays, and letters on success were republished as Mind and My Pencil. Drain wrote, “Nerve Tracing is the fine art of following the path of tenderness from the subluxated vetebra to the suffering, or the region over it.”

Drain wrote, “By your nerve tracing, you verify abnormal conditions in existence, or the existence of abnormal conditions and prove the existence of ACTIVE NERVE PRESSURES.”

2017 Publications on Nerve Tracing


Two books were published in 2017 discussing D.D. Palmer’s Nerve Tracing, Holly Folk’s Religion of Chiropractic and Steve Walton’s The Complete Chiropractor.

Folk’s Book

In Folk’s book, she mentions “Nerve Tracing” eleven times but unfortunately, she has misunderstood the practice. Instead of capturing how D.D. Palmer defined Nerve Tracing as palpation of sensitive nerves from the symptom to the spine, Folk writes, “Nerve Tracing was the charting of a nerve from the spine to an affected bodily part.” That is not accurate. Future chiropractors may have focused on charting nerves but that was not the practice that D.D. Palmer developed. He started by tracing the nerve from the symptom. That was the clinical practice he taught. Tracing the nerves from the spine to the organs was secondary. It developed from the practice. Charting them was not part of his method. This distinction is not clear in Folk’s text. 

Furthermore, Folk implies that D.D. Palmer was “not innovating, but picking up ideas that had circulated in popular physiology for several decades.” She gives no reference for that beyond an obscure M.D. named Sherwood and some reprints of his diagrams.

Folk credits Sherwood with coining the phrase “Nerve Tracing.” However, her references for Sherwood don’t pan out. Folk cites his two books. In both books, he does have the same sentence that states “vessels and nerves” are “easily traced,” but he is referring to advanced cases of tuberculous after tissues have been destroyed by ulceration. He does mention his method of palpating for pain points at the vertebra, also in relation to tuberculosis. He didn’t name his practice Nerve Tracing. Also, what he was doing was nothing like D.D. Palmer’s work, which developed from clinical practice.

The Complete Chiropractor

Walton’s book of R.J. Watkins’ collected writings includes a chapter on Nerve Tracing. R.J. Watkins was one of the leading academics, theorists, and researchers from 20th century chiropractic. His mentor was Jim Firth, who developed his methods after teaching alongside B.J. Palmer for close to two decades.

According to Walton,

“His approach was a bit different than the classic Palmer approach. Instead of tracing from the periphery to the spine, he traced from the subluxation to the periphery. 

His tracing points were usually the belly of a muscle or the musculotendinous junction. To be a little more specific, he would trace the motor points in the belly of the muscle.These points have also been variously identified as acupuncture points and trigger points. He was tracing out segmental patterns of sensory distortion since sensory (proprioceptive) distortion is central to his subluxation theory. The pattern of points would be perceived as tender before the adjustment, and then immediately after the adjustment the tenderness would subside.”

Watkins said, “Patients are impressed when you can show them where they hurt before they even tell you.”

Perhaps it is time for chiropractors to relearn this lost art of chiropractic and research it.

Chiropractic Background

One the greatest challenges confronting the chiropractic profession is a problem with the literature, the chiropractic background. Articles in the literature dating back at least forty years need to be reassessed, critiqued, and updated. This becomes more obvious to me every time I read a new opinion paper or an overview of the profession’s crossroad or schism. 

I just started reading the new paper by a first-year chiropractic student and his mentor. It is an excellent example of this problem, which has affected a portion of the chiropractic literature today. My intent is not to be overly critical just honest. It is time we start dissecting the literature with clarity, conviction, and the facts.

I won’t dissect the whole paper for you today. It would take too long, your time is precious. Let’s just look at the first page and the use of references to begin to understand how the literature from the past affects the profession today.

First, I sincerely commend the author, Bob Strahinjevich. To take on the task of writing an overview of the chiropractic profession’s schism as a student is remarkable. It took me three years to write my first paper as a student. I understand. It has taken me another twenty years to grok the literature and so mistakes are perfectly understandable as well.

The Schism in Chiropractic Through the Eyes of a 1st Year Chiropractic Student was coauthored by Dr. Keith Simpson. I have written about one of Simpson’s papers before. It had its own challenges.

I write this out of respect for the chiropractors that came before us and even greater respect for those that will graduate in the future. It is to them that we owe a body of literature that rests on a comprehensive accounting of the profession, not on singular viewpoints based on flawed literature.

Let’s Focus on the Background

On the first page, the authors rely on twenty references to establish the background. The mark of a good paper is its use of references and more importantly what references it neglects. I will focus on the most obvious problems and steer away from the nitty-gritty details. After all, so few of their references have been critically analyzed in the literature.

The first two paragraphs just cite the internal divergence within the profession. However, we should take note of their use of quotation marks around the word discovered. They write, “since chiropractic was ‘discovered’ in 1895.” Perhaps this just harks back to Simpson’s 2012 paper, which does the same thing. This approach mainly says to the reader that D.D. Palmer didn’t really discover chiropractic. This is an old trope dating back to Palmer’s earliest detractors such as Smith, Langworthy, Gregory, Davis, and Forster. There is no basis in fact for positioning the invention of chiropractic like this but that is the stuff of another post.

In paragraph three they reference some literature offering solutions to the profession’s schism. However, their references for solutions only includes three sociologists (if you include Simpson) and Walker’s incredibly biased opinion paper. It would be a much stronger paper if they included a wider spectrum of the literature offering solutions. 

The Straw Man Fallacy

The remaining sections of the Background include a surface analysis of the “ideological gulf” in the profession. They rely on Phillips’ flawed paper from two decades ago positioning chiropractors as either believers or questioners. This argument does not reflect how actual chiropractors engage with chiropractic theories about Innate Intelligence and vertebral subluxation, especially since Phillips’ only references were Will Durant, B.J. Palmer, R.W. Stephenson, and a Los Angeles Chiropractic College position paper.

Then they utilize Phillips’ incorrect assessment about chiropractor’s perspectives as fact and cite Keating’s biography of B.J. Palmer to suggest “entrenched ideologies, based on misunderstanding of science and marinated in the fear of losing a ‘separate and distinct’ (from all things medical) identity have prevented chiropractic from fully unifying and moving forward.” This is by definition a straw man argument

A note about Keating’s unfortunate book: It is filled with facts that support a deep bias against B.J. Palmer. (I challenge anyone to read the book and determine whether you feel that biographer actually read B.J. Palmer’s 39 volumes. Isn’t it expected that a biographer read the books authored by their subject?)

So, the Background is a straw man argument based in part on dated and biased literature.

A Deeper View

I would love to direct your attention to a few articles in the literature that do not get cited in this paper. I point this out because many of the issues have been explored in other papers. To write a paper on the schism in chiropractic and ignore a good portion of the recent literature on the topic is considered poor scholarship. You don’t have to agree with the other literature but you do at least have to review it and explain why you disagree. That would be considered good scholarship if your arguments are sound.

I published an article in 2001 in The Journal of Integral Studies. In that article, I talked about the general consensus in the profession around the concept that the body is self-healing and self-organizing. We could easily build upon that to create bridges. The article also applies cultural and psychological perspectives to viewing the historical concepts of Innate Intelligence and Universal Intelligence. But the journal was obscure so I am not surprised many have missed it.

More recent articles bridge the gaps these authors intuit but go far deeper down the rabbit hole that is the schism in the profession. The complexity of worldviews and perspectives that has always been at conflict within chiropractic cannot be simplified around a fictitious “entrenched ideology,” nor can it be simplified to those who seek “evidence” and those who don’t. Any papers you may read that imply those types of dichotomies are just creating new myths.

In one article I explored eight different ways the profession could engage around constructing theory and philosophy. In another article, I explored the historical schism in chiropractic by demonstrating that at least five verifiable perspectives exist in the profession as developmental trajectories. Most of these perspectives will always clash no matter what profession embodies them. One key to unity is to understand what they are, develop an accurate history of how they clashed in the past, and then develop ways to dialogue across them. 

The chiropractic profession is fractured. It has been since 1902 according to Faulkner’s book on O.G. Smith. The solutions to the profession’s problems are not in publishing more articles that reference the same flawed arguments from the last forty years. The solution is in viewing the profession through new lenses from other disciplines, correcting the literature of the past, and honestly confronting it through science and good scholarship.

Please watch for future dissections of the literature and quite possibly a chirowiki that highlights the literature.

Chiropractic Legacy

Birthdays come and birthdays go. Some hold more significance than others. Today I am 47 and it feels like one of those big ones.

Seven years ago on this day, I taught a 12-hour keynote at the K.R. Jones Philosophy Symposium. I hired a videographer and turned it into an 8-hour online program for chiropractors to earn their Continuing Education credits. Those talks summed up a new approach I developed to understand the chiropractic profession from eight parallel perspectives. It was the start of my online education program for chiropractors.

Today I launch TIC 2.0. I am calling it that because this new website is totally redesigned. I have integrated most of my other sites and developed dozens of new pages. I’ve been working on the launch of this updated site for several months it just happens to be ready today. Welcome to The Institute Chiropractic!

Also today we go live with the first TIC Masterclass. This is a sixteen-week online program to teach chiropractors a core set of fundamental facts about the history of ideas in chiropractic. The pioneer class consists of more than 50 chiropractors from Australia. The course will be amazing.

The Institute Chiropractic may achieve our next goal of 200 members this week. (Maybe today!)

So, it feels like a big birthday. Especially when we think in terms of chiropractic history.

TIC History

Last year I started posting a series of infographics on Facebook called This Day in TIC History. Each TIC History covers a different fact gleaned from my archives of historical data. Many of the histories celebrate pivotal events including birthdays and memorial days to chiropractors who shaped the profession. The plan was to develop a simple format to share the fascinating moments from chiropractic’s past.

The TIC History gallery is now live. New TIC Histories will be posted as time allows. These are great introductions to chiropractic.

Some Background

I could have done anything with my life. So many chiropractors gave so much to me and my family. I chose to become a chiropractor so that I could give back.

I went to chiropractic college soon after I completed a Bachelors degree in history and a Masters degree in philosophy. I realized that my academic skills could be used to help the profession. That was after I fell in love with the history of ideas in chiropractic.

I had to teach myself the history of ideas in chiropractic because there is no systematic way to learn it. The curriculum in most colleges follows a standard model. A limited view of the history of ideas is taught based on each school’s perspective and guided by what students will need to know on National Board exams. The irony is the Board questions are crafted by the faculty at the schools. This circular approach to teaching a profession is short-sighted.

And so I read everything I could get my hands on for about twenty years.

The Crucibles of Teaching and Writing

I graduated in 1999 and immediately started publishing and teaching. I forced myself to continually refine and develop my ideas by submitting papers to peer-review and teaching in the classroom and in post-graduate programs. This allowed me to develop several new approaches to understanding the history of ideas in chiropractic.

First I focused on establishing a context for the development of the profession. Where did the ideas come from in history? How could we use Integral Frameworks to best explore this territory? Most of those approaches were included in that twelve hour class I taught seven years ago.

I came to realize how alone I was in my knowledge of the profession. So few chiropractors have a comprehensive grasp of how we got to where we are today. This is why I developed the Gen/Wave model, which is the central organizing principle of TIC, this site, and the lectures offered for Members and for CE credits.

TIC 2.0

This website is a developing hub. It will continue to evolve as I learn more and as I have time to add content. It is the place to learn and to develop certainty about chiropractic. The pages are introductions to the many ideas taught to TIC Members. Here are a few of the new highlights:

Gens: Since D.D. Palmer’s death in 1913, there have been three full generations of chiropractors (33 years = 1 generation). The first generation (1913-1946) was the foundation of the profession. Every core principle, theory, and practice in today’s profession could be traced to this generation. The second generation (1947-1980) paved the way for integrating the chiropractic paradigm with more current models of neurophysiology and philosophy. The third generation (1981-2014) continues to develop and refine the profession. This generational approach is one way to start getting a grip on the complexity that is chiropractic’s history of ideas.

Waves: The waves of ideas in chiropractic are a more nuanced way to understand and explore the chiropractic theories and practices. Eight distinct waves can be defined based on the publications during each era. Waves are basically defined by the ways in which the literature from one wave references the previous wave. These dates are arbitrary but do provide a powerful way to learn how the profession’s ideas developed.

The new site includes all previous blog posts from the old site (philosophyofchiropractic.com) including some further descriptions of the Gen/Wave model, the TIC VLOG series, as well as critiques of the literature.

One of the highlights of the site is D.D. Palmer Studies. This is a new approach to understanding how the chiropractic paradigm developed by D.D. Palmer more than a hundred years ago, is still impacting the profession today.

A Call for Archives

The Institute Chiropractic has a central mission to preserve chiropractic’s history of ideas and forward the profession. There are several ways in which this is happening such as dialogues and interviews, the publication of classic texts and posters, new books, articles, blog posts and the lecture series.

If you have suggestions for updates please send them. Also if you have audio, video, or documents and memorabilia that should be preserved please contact me today and we will do whatever we can to make it happen.

TIC Dialogue: Thom Gelardi and Simon Senzon

In this TIC Dialogue, Thom Gelardi and Simon Senzon discuss several chiropractic topics over the course of three hours.  The topics ranged from Thom’s only meeting with B.J. Palmer in the 1950s, his private practice, his mentor, Lyle Sherman, as well as other events of history and politics. The most distinct element of the dialogue is Thom’s unwavering philosophical viewpoint that professions are defined by their mission.

This short clip from the discussion is about the different paradigm, or what Gelardi refers to as missions. The chiropractic mission is distinct. The medical mission too is distinct. Over the course of chiropractic history, there was once a clash between “straights” and “mixers.” Starting in the 1970s, that paradigm clash focused on the role of diagnosis and analysis in chiropractic practice.

To listen to the full dialogue, please become a member of The Institute Chiropractic.

TICVLOG Episode 9: Stress and Subluxation

Chiropractic subluxation theory has integrated stress theory since the 1950s. In TICVLOG Episode 9: Stress and Subluxation, I go into a short history of stress and subluxation. Many of the leading subluxation theories from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, included subluxation theory. Some subluxation theorists even included linkages between Speranksy and other Russian neurophysiologists with Selye.


  • D.D. Palmer’s first theories on Innate included how the bones respond to the stressors from the environment.
  • R.O. Muller was the first chiropractor to introduce Selye’s stress syndrome into subluxation theory in 1955.
  • Verner integrated Selye, Speransky, and the reflex subluxation models in the 1950s.
  • Homewood proposed that chiropractors focused on the anatomy of stress (while Selye focused on the physiology of stress).
  • Ward’s Stressology was the most comprehensive integration of stress theory with subluxation theory.
  • Other subluxation models such as Toftness and Epstein integrated stress in important ways.

Resources for this Episode:


* Music written, arranged, and performed by Dan Mills, Mark Goodell, Adam Podd

TICVLOG Episode 8: DD Palmer BJ Palmer and the Chiropractic Profession

The relationship between D.D. Palmer, B.J. Palmer, and the chiropractic profession is fascinating. In TICVLOG Episode 8: Father and Son, I go into detail about their interactions and the impact it had. One of the most fascinating things I discovered was that the back and forth between D.D. Palmer and B.J. Palmer during the years 1908 to 1910, led to new breakthroughs in chiropractic philosophy, theory, and practice.


  • In private letters between D.D. Palmer and B.J. Palmer we learn how and why their relationship fell apart.
  • The year of 1906-1906 was a very difficult one for D.D. Palmer. It had its tragedies, blessings, and new horizons.
  • When D.D. Palmer got to Oregon in 1908, he started reading B.J. Palmer’s new books Vol 2 and Vol 3.
  • D.D.’s criticisms of B.J.’s new chiropractic ideas led to a refinement of theories for both of them.
  • The theories that emerged from that period became the foundation of the chiropractic profession.
  • D.D. Palmer’s final lectures were gathered by his wife after his death and published as a book in 1914.

Resources for this Episode:

  • D.D. Palmer’s 1914 book, The Chiropractor is available online.
  • Volume 1 was a compilation of D.D.’s articles, B.J.’s new articles, and several other authors.
  • More resources on D.D. Palmer may be found here: D.D. Palmer.
  • More resources about B.J. Palmer may be found here: B.J. Palmer.



* Music written, arranged, and performed by Dan Mills, Mark Goodell, Adam Podd

The Legacy of Reggie Gold with Irene Gold and Simon Senzon

In this TIC Dialogue, Simon Senzon and Irene Gold explore the life and impact of Reggie. It is difficult to estimate the Impact that Reggie and Irene had on the chiropractic profession and world. It is profound.

This preview of the full TIC Dialogue is posted below. To listen to the rest of the hour-long interview please join as a member and click on Dialogues.


  • Reggie Gold lectures all over the world for decades.
  • Reggie’s unique contribution to the philosophy of chiropractic included several refinements.
  • Reggie and Irene were instrumental in the early days of Sherman College and the founding of Penn Straight.
  • Reggie started Spinology but discontinued it in the states.
  • Understanding the life of Reggie Gold is an important way to understand modern chiropractic.
  • The first talk on The Valley of the Blind was given at Palmer’s Lyceum in the new auditorium.

Resources for this Episode:



This first episode of DAILY TIC was totally spontaneous. DAILYTIC documents thoughts about chiropractic in the life of a chiropractic historian, theorist, lecturer, and author. It is also a living historical document. This moment in chiropractic history will be remembered. The launch and evolution of The Institute Chiropractic is the central focus of the DAILYTIC series.


DAILY TIC Episode 2 touches on the days ahead. Preparing for a TIC DIALOGUE with Irene Gold. Reggie and Irene have impacted the chiropractic profession more than any other couple. The Institute Chiropractic is developing relationships with several chiropractic programs worldwide.

Join TIC. Today

Being a member is where it’s at!

TICVLOG Episode 7 Frequency and History

In TIC VLOG Episode 7, I answer a question about the history of adjustment frequency.

Understanding the original protocols of the chiropractic pioneers gives modern chiropractic practice a new perspective.

This is especially relevant because of the literature. Several recent articles have used a 1902 ad from B.J. Palmer, to try and discredit modern practices. In this TIC VLOG, I explain why that approach is deeply flawed.

Chiropractors need to understand the evolution of theories from D.D. Palmer’s earliest approaches to B.J. Palmer’s final theories and practices. We also need to integrate key moments in the history of chiropractic practice such as Drain’s and Craven’s contributions to chronic and acute care. Frequency models continually evolved between the 1930s and the 1990s.

These foundational historical facts and ideas give us a common basis through which we might dialogue.


  • D.D. Palmer proposed yearly chiropractic analysis in 1897.
  • B.J. Palmer’s models of care frequency evolved from 1902 into the 1950s. Any use of his ideas should include those facts.
  • Several articles in the literature use a B.J. Palmer ad from 1902, out of context from the rest of his life, to make a point about modern practice.
  • J.R. Drain pioneered acute and chronic adjusting protocols.
  • The 3-2-1 frequency model probably emerged from the Parker Seminars in the 1980s.
  • Epstein’s frequency model from the late 1990s was based on the findings from two qualitative studies (retrospective and longitudinal).

Resources for this Episode:



* Music written, arranged, and performed by Dan Mills, Mark Goodell, Adam Podd

© 2018 The Institute Chiropractic - Senzon Learning, Inc.