Facehugger plushResearchers studying members of an extant animal species with a link to the distant past, specifically a chordate subphylum consisting of organisms with a complex nervous system but lacking spinal bones, may have uncovered a new clue to the early development of the subluxation and solved one of the greatest mysteries in chiropractic science.

“One of the toughest challenges we face in the field of chiropractic developmental neurobiology is the origin of the subluxation from an evolutionary perspective,” Chet Masterson, a chiropractic evolutionary biologist and Chief of Veterinary Neurobiology in the Cleveland Clinic’s Integrative Animal Wellness department, explained. “Are we alone in the universe? What is consciousness? How does a thermos keep hot things hot and cold things cold? When and how the subluxation evolved is right up there with these questions.”

The most widely accepted hypothesis, which started with Daniel David Palmer in 1895, is that the development of the chiropractic subluxation was fully dependent on the evolution of a bony vertebral column and its accompanying musculature. In other words, if the subluxation is the egg, and the spine is the chicken, the man who discovered chiropractic believed that the chicken came first. And the vast majority of the men and women who have followed in his footsteps would agree.

But like Galileo, Semmelweis, and Boyardee, some chiropractors believe that the accepted consensus on the origin of the subluxation is wrong. Some practitioners, like Invertebrate Chiropractors Association (ICA) President Frank Grimes, believe that the subluxation existed as a standalone entity prior to the evolution of the spine in vertebrate species. “I don’t care if it’s a ventral nerve cord or a nerve net, if there is a series of interconnected neurons transferring information from one end of an organism to the other, then that organism is at risk of developing a subluxation.”

Invertebrate chiropractors like Grimes claim that the stiff segmented column and mobile intersegmental joints observed in many vertebrates, a classification of animals which experts now believe includes thousands of distinct species, such as the South American maned wolf and the flying dugong, evolved as a protective mechanism. The development of this internal biological armor, one made of bone and tough connective tissue, improved survival and increased procreative success by reducing the incidence of subluxations in the vulnerable dorsal nerve cord. This allowed vertebrates, in particular humans and to a lesser extent the river dolphin, to achieve dominion over all the Earth.

Subluxations, according to over a century of direct observation and a few years’ worth of case reports in the medical literature, have been pragmatically linked to the entire spectrum of human pathology as well as decreased energy in Shetland ponies. But Grimes, who has a diverse practice that includes nematodes and arthropods, as well as a variety of traditional vertebrate species such as humans and blue whales, believes that subluxations can also lead to health problems in invertebrates. “Just last week I treated a jellyfish with a severe tentacle length discrepancy that just kept swimming in circles.”

Grimes and other invertebrate chiropractors believe that the subluxation existed prior to the spine, that the egg came before the chicken. In order to put this hypothesis to the test, researchers near the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego attempted to locate subluxations in hagfish. Hagfish, also known as slippery devils, are members of a subdivision of the chordate phylum that are the only vertebrates to have a brain, skull, and spinal cord without a vertebral column.

Modern hagfish are believed to have changed little over the past 300 million years and likely represent an evolutionary stage just prior to the development of spinal bones. Discovery of subluxations in the hagfish spinal cord would be solid evidence that subluxations predated the spine. But extraordinary claims require some pretty good evidence.

“Our goal was to determine if subluxations were truly present in the hagfish using techniques that reduced the risk of false positive findings,” lead researcher Amanda Giggelman, who rents a house just a few miles from Scripps and had room for tanks in her basement, revealed. “We couldn’t just palpate the hagfish to detect subluxations because they don’t have a spine. So we developed a new diagnostic modality based on ancient wisdom and existing NASA technology that is both simple and cutting edge.”

Once a method of accurately locating subluxations in the hagfish spinal cord was implemented, the research team began to see results. What started as a slow trickle of subluxations soon became a maelstrom, and the study actually had to be ended early when it became clear that randomizing additional subjects into the control group would no longer be ethical. The evidence was compelling and, spine or no spine, the animal kingdom in its entirety deserved to know the truth.

The vast majority of animal species on this planet, with some estimates as high as 97%, are invertebrates. We now have strong evidence that they not only share a common ancestor with humans and other vertebrates, but that they share a similar weakness. So the next time you look at a mosquito or a roundworm, a lobster or a sea squirt, instead of focusing on all the things that make us different, focus on our shared evolutionary history. And while you’re at it, recommend a good chiropractor.


Posted by Clay Jones

Clay Jones, M.D. is a pediatrician and a regular contributor to the Science-Based Medicine blog. He primarily cares for healthy newborns and hospitalized children, and devotes his full time to educating pediatric residents and medical students. Dr. Jones first became aware of and interested in the incursion of pseudoscience into his chosen profession while completing his pediatric residency at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital a decade ago. He has since focused his efforts on teaching the application of critical thinking and scientific skepticism to the practice of pediatric medicine. Dr. Jones has no conflicts of interest to disclose and no ties to the pharmaceutical industry. He can be found on Twitter as @SBMPediatrics and is the co-host of The Prism Podcast with fellow SBM contributor Grant Ritchey. The comments expressed by Dr. Jones are his own and do not represent the views or opinions of Newton-Wellesley Hospital or its administration.