DD Palmer was the founder of chiropractic. His legacy is the chiropractic paradigm:

The organism intelligently responds to stressors from the environment through self-organization, self-healing, and optimal function. Function may be interfered with when nerves get impinged upon especially at the spinal joints. When this happens the nervous system functions abnormally due to too much activity or decreased activity. This change in biomechanical structure leading to neural dysfunction was termed subluxation by Palmer and his early students. Vertebral subluxation leads to changes of tonicity and pathophysiology. The chiropractic adjustment normalizes the structure and the nervous system.

This chiropractic paradigm established the foundation of the chiropractic profession.

D.D. Palmer’s Early Inspiration

According to a letter he published in 1872, D.D. Palmer studied Spiritualism in the late 1860s. In 1886, he opened a practice as a magnetic healer in Burlington, Iowa, and called himself Dr. Palmer. In 1889, he claimed to have possessed the gift of Magnetic Healing for eighteen years.

One of the most misunderstood elements of chiropractic’s history of ideas is the influence of the alternative consciousness paradigm (Spiritualism) and the alternative healing paradigm (magnetic healing) on D.D. Palmer. The chiropractic literature on his early studies and practices often dismisses those paradigms. Also, few articles addressing this question utilize adequate frameworks to analyze these complex underpinnings.

It is important to use appropriate frameworks and academic disciplines to situate Palmer within the history of Western thought. 

D.D. Palmer’s letter to the editor of the Religio-Philosophical Journal from July 1872, is his earliest known published writing.  It was autobiographical. It was also a testimonial to his wife, Dr. Abba Lord Palmer, medium.

His embrace of such practices started when he witnessed Abba Lord’s abilities to correctly diagnosis diseases. This led him to believe that it wasn’t all phony.

In the letter, Palmer explains that he was originally planning to become a minister. However, after much study, deep thought, and “after spending many hours twisting my reason and the Bible and failing to make them harmonize,” he left his faith. Palmer wrote, “I then felt free and enjoyed a liberty which I never knew while fettered by the prejudices of the church and the Bible’s narrow concocted plan of the future.” To harmonize reason and spirituality would become his legacy.

After attending Spiritualist meetings for five years D.D. Palmer developed a first person experience of trance states, healing phenomenon, and the ability to help others with what we might refer to today as energy medicine.

Also in this letter, he used the term “intelligence” to refer to one’s spirit. Thirty years later, Innate Intelligence became central to his philosophy.

D.D. Palmer bound together several of his favorite books and pamphlets from this period. Many of them were advertised in the journal along with Abba Lord’s ads.

D.D. Palmer’s Traveling Library has since been abridged and published. The book captures the ideas that inspired D.D. Palmer’s principles and practices.

Some of the books are available online for free such as: Wrights’ The Moral Aphorisms and Terseological Teachings of Confucius (1870), Severance’s A Lecture on the Evolution of Life in Earth and Spirit conditions (1882), Denton’s The Deluge In The Light Of Modern Science (1882), and N.C.’s Thought-Transference with Practical Hints for Experiments (1887).

Common throughout these books were similar attempts to harmonize reason and spiritual phenomena. Miracles of the Bible such as the flood, were explained with science. Healing phenomena and altered states were described in terms of nature and energies. Also, meditative practices were described.

D.D. Palmer’s Magnetic Practice

D.D. Palmer moved to Davenport, Iowa, in 1888 and opened a magnetic healing practice. His offices were in four rooms. He took out ads and and his business grew by word of mouth. He eventually rented an entire floor. His broadsides included The Educator (no known copies) and The Magnetic Cure (1896). These short newspapers included many testimonials and several short essays on his philosophy and practices.

His earliest known ad dates to 1887. In the ad he writes, “Dis-ease is a condition of not-ease, lack of ease.” This became one of the central defining aspects of the chiropractic paradigm.

D.D. Palmer advanced the practice of magnetic healing by focusing on the affected organ, palpating for a tender spot, charging up his own energy, and then breaking up the “congestion.” The testimonials and the largeness of his practice indicate that he helped many people.

Testimonials dating from 1887 to 1896 include: Cancer, paralysis, tumor, goiter, lupus, scrofula, nose polyps, rheumatism, dyspepsia, heart disease, facial paralysis, neuralgia, lame back, weak eyes, congested liver, consumption, La Grippe, lung fever, poor digestion, dropsy, diphtheria, malaria, toothache, and neuralgia.

Early Chiropractic

D.D. Palmer hypothesized that the actual “congestion” at the organ system had a cause that could be traced to the spine. He expanded his original approach. His new method was to palpate the sensory distortion from the tender spot over the organ to the spine. He then manually adjusted the spine. The results were incredible based on the early testimonials and accounts of early students.

By 1897, D.D. Palmer changed the title of his advertiser to The Chiropractic and opened a school to teach his methods. He taught the first students in 1898. Some were former patients like O.G. Smith. Others like A.P. Davis were trained as medical doctors and osteopaths. Palmer’s method of teaching was mostly clinical.

By 1902, the core tenets of the chiropractic paradigm were in place. Subluxation caused impinged nerves, which caused dysfunction. The adjustment of subluxation led to normal function, improved tone, and health. Thus he reasoned that chiropractic was a cure for many diseases because it went directly to the cause.

Innate Intelligence

By 1903, D.D. Palmer developed his theory of Innate Intelligence and Educated Intelligence. Innate governed the vital systems and Educated was in charge of the motor systems. Innate guided the interior processes and Educated looked out for the exterior threats. Adaptation was central. The initial examples of Innate Intelligence included bony changes to stressors such as osteophytes.

In 1905, he expanded on his theory to include Universal Intelligence and other aspects of his philosophy.



These ideas had obvious roots in his Spiritualism. However, he built upon those earlier perspectives to include his empirical observations of patients getting cured of myriad disease processes.

The Science of Chiropractic

The Palmers announced the publication of their first book in February 1906. The book was to be based mostly on D.D. Palmer’s essays. Unfortunately, D.D. Palmer went to jail in April 1906 for practicing medicine without a license. Upon his release, he and his son B.J. Palmer dissolved their partnership. D.D. Palmer then moved to Oklahoma and B.J. published the book later that fall.

The Science of Chiropractic (Vol. 1) was much bigger than D.D. had imagined. Instead of just his essays, the book included some of B.J.’s writings along with articles from other authors. In the fall of 1907, D.D. lamented in a letter to B.J., “A fine thot came to me today to add to my book, but I do not know that I shall ever see its manuscript again.”

The book expanded on D.D. Palmer’s prior theory and emphasized his subluxation model. He defined subluxation as the loss of juxtaposition of the articulating processes of two vertebrae. Thus, it was not about a bone out of place so much as it was about a joint displaced, which impinged upon a nerve.

D.D. Palmer’s Final Years

From 1908 to 1913, D.D. Palmer wrote extensively. His 1910 tome, The Science, Art, and Philosophy of Chiropractic details his latest thoughts. The book was mostly a collection of articles that he wrote over the course of two years. In the articles he challenged the chiropractic theories of his son and his other students. Many of them had opened their own schools, published textbooks, and propounded new models of chiropractic.

The subtitle was printed on the spine of the book. It read, The Chiropractor’s Adjustor. This was similar to the title of his journal at the time, The Chiropractor Adjustor. He found so many problems with the chiropractic theories of his colleagues such as Carver, Langworthy, Smith, Davis, and B.J. Palmer, that he sought to “adjust” their mistakes.

Many of his earlier theories were developed in the text. He emphasized the role of the nervous system and what he referred to as the neuroskeleton. He hypothesized that this system was a regulator of tension in the body. Too much tension or not enough tension was an indication of disease processes. Today we would refer to this as pathophysiology.

Palmer proposed that nerves, which were impinged upon had a change in their ability to vibrate. This shift in vibration led to changes in tone. Tone could be palpated for in the muscles and it could be inferred by the indications of organ function. Hyperfunction and hypo function were equally abnormal to Palmer. He pioneered the 20th-century perspectives on normal and abnormal physiology.

His writings during these years also included philosophy and morality. His final lectures on all things chiropractic were captured in a set of lecture notes preserved in the Palmer archives. The notes were probably developed for his courses delivered at the Ratledge Chiropractic College in Los Angeles in 1912. He also took them on the road and gave a series of lectures in Davenport in 1913. After his death in October 1913, his widow took the notes and published them as a book titled The Chiropractor.

More to Read on D.D. Palmer

D.D. Palmer Translated into Spanish

Some Recent Articles on D.D. Palmer

Joseph Foley, Timothy Faulkner, and Stephen Zins. Abba Lord: D.D. Palmer’s First Wife and Powerful Influence on his Future. ChiroHist (2017)

Joseph Foley. D.D. Palmer’s Second Book: The Chiropractor 1914 – Revealed. ChiroHist (2016)

Joaquin Valdivia Tor and Joseph Foley. T4 vs. C2: Examining the conflicting Statements of D.D. Palmer and B.J. Palmer Regarding the Harvey Lillard Adjustment. ChiroHist (2015)

Joseph Foley. The Science, Art & Philosophy of Chiropractic by D.D. Palmer: Identification and Rarity of Editions in Print with a Survey of Original Copies. ChiroHist (2015)

Simon Senzon. Chiropractic and Systems Science. Chiropractic Dialogues (2015)

Gary Bovine. D.D. Palmer’s Adjustive Technique for the Posterior Apical Prominence: “Hit the High Places.” ChiroHist (2014)

Simon Senzon. Constructing a philosophy of chiropractic: premodern roots. J Chiro Hum (2011)

Simon Senzon. Constructing a philosophy of chiropractic: modern foundation. J Chiro Hum (2011)

Simon Senzon. Constructing a philosophy of chiropractic: modern foundation. J Chiro Hum (2011)

Simon Senzon. Chiropractic and energy medicine. J Chiro Hum (2008)

Some Classic Articles on D.D. Palmer

Pierre-Louis Gaucher-Peslherbe, Glenda Wiese, and Joseph Donahue. Daniel David Palmer’s medical library: The founder was “Into the literature.” ChiroHist (1995)

John F. Hart. Did D.D. Palmer visit A.T.Still in Kirksville? ChiroHist (1997)

Joseph Donahue. D.D. Palmer and the metaphysical movement of the 19th Century. ChiroHist (1987)

Zarbuck, M. A profession for ‘Bohemian Chiropractic’: Oakley Smith and the Evolution of Naprapathy.
Chiropractic History, 1986. 6: p. 77-82.*

Zarbuck, MV. Chiropractic Parallax: Part 1.
Illinois Prairie State Chiropractors Association Journal of Chiropractic, 1988. January.

Zarbuck, MV. Chiropractic Parallax: Part 2.
Illinois Prairie State Chiropractors Association Journal of Chiropractic, 1988.

Zarbuck, MV. Chiropractic Parallax: Part 3.
Illinois Prairie State Chiropractors Association Journal of Chiropractic, 1988. July.

Zarbuck, MV. Chiropractic Parallax: Part 4.
Illinois Prairie State Chiropractors Association Journal of Chiropractic, 1988. October.

Zarbuck, MV. Chiropractic Parallax: Part 5.
Illinois Prairie State Chiropractors Association Journal of Chiropractic, 1989. January.

Zarbuck, MV. Chiropractic Parallax: Part 6.
Illinois Prairie State Chiropractors Association Journal of Chiropractic, 1989. October.

Zarbuck, M. and M. Hayes. Following D.D. Palmer to the West Coast: The Pasadena Connection, 1902. Chiropractic History, 1990. 10(2): p. 17-19.*

Zarbuck MV. Innate Intelligence (Part 1).
Illinois Prairie State Chiropractic Association Journal of Chiropractic
1987 (Oct): 8(4):12-3

Zarbuck MV. Innate Intelligence (Part 2).
Illinois Prairie State Chiropractic Association Journal of Chiropractic
1988a (Jan): 9(1):11, 16


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