In 1895, the itinerant healer Daniel David Palmer encountered a deaf man from Iowa named Harvey Lillard. Noticing that Lillard’s spine was abnormally positioned, Palmer famously performed the first recorded spinal manipulation, not only realigning Lillard’s spine, but also restoring his hearing. Soon, Palmer cured another patient of heart trouble by adjusting his displaced vertebra. The experiences led Palmer to believe that spinal misalignment was an underlying cause of disease. In 1897, he founded the first American chiropractic school in Davenport, Iowa.

Though chiropractors have come a long way since “magnetic healers” like Palmer, spinal manipulation is still one of the most commonly used techniques. They also employ much gentler treatments: soft-tissue therapies, stretching and exercise-based rehabilitation techniques, and nutritional, ergonomic, and lifestyle recommendations for back and neck pain, headaches, joint problems, and whiplash disorders. 


Profiles in Treatment: Judith Boothby 

For 15 years, carpenter Nat Lemke suffered severe, chronic pain caused by a car accident at 16. “It would shift throughout my body,” he says. “My right foot was twisted way out. I had this feeling of ripping open in my waist. My whole body had this larger feeling of being messed up.” 

With visions of becoming wheelchair-bound, he sought treatment from Judith Boothby. A 26-year practitioner of chiropractic medicine, Boothby also employs “functional neurology,” gentle breathing exercises and neurological tricks that encourage a mind-heart-body connection. “I used to be a mechanical engineer,” she says, “so I think structurally.”  

Boothby began with simple exercises to bring Lemke’s body and brain back into conversation—eye movements, humming, and tapping the areas of his body, like his ribs, that felt dormant. She also did adjustments—not bone-pops, but sudden, “vigorous movements”—while he hummed. 

Seeing Boothby weekly (and, early on, more often) was no picnic—Lemke describes this period of his life as “very intense and challenging.” He would leave each session with a page of notes on exercises he should do at home. But all the work paid off. “These exercises may sound corny or strange, but as far as I could tell, they helped my neurological system repair itself,” Lemke says.  

Boothby’s colleague Laurie Morton teaches their patients qi gong and yoga to complement their treatment. She introduced Lemke to qi gong, a Chinese martial art that balances your qi, or intrinsic life energy. “It awakens my body more fully,” Lemke says. “Dr. Boothby helped me pick myself up, and qi gong is going to take me the rest of the way.”