Is There a Scientific Basis to Chiropractic Care?

Since it was founded in 1895, there have been many questions about how and why chiropractic treatment works, and if its results are simply a placebo effect. Many of these questions revolve around chiropractic’s concept of the existence of subluxations in the vertebrae - that is, the misalignments of the spinal bones causing interference with nerve function and how that affects health. Those who support the concept of vertebral subluxation focus their research efforts on answering questions like how these misalignments are measured and how they affect the body.

Many chiropractors pursue a vitalistic health care model with five basic tenets: 1. The body is a self-regulating and self-maintaining organism; 2. The nervous system controls and coordinates all functions of the body; 3. The spine and vertebrae house and protect the nervous system; 4. Vertebral subluxations can occur which interfere with nervous system function; 5. Reducing and/or correcting vertebral subluxation allows better function of the nervous system which leads to a better expression of life. 

Chiropractors believe that vertebral subluxations are the result of an overload of stress, be it physical, emotional, or chemical. These subluxations are further complicated by poor health behaviors like bad food choices, lack of exercise or activity, stressful lifestyle, and a polluted environment. The combination of these factors cause a cascade of health problems, overloading the nervous system and its effect on the immune and endocrine systems.

Past research efforts have focused on how to care for headaches, neck and back pain, and musculoskeletal disorders, but not often on the positive health benefits of an optimally functioning nervous system. These questions, examining the founding principles and tenets of the chiropractic profession, have led to the development of the Vertebral Subluxation Research Agenda. The Research Agenda’s purpose is to study vertebral subluxation in order to understand the symptoms its presents, clinical manifestations, and the proper patient care. Dr. Matthew McCoy, DC, MPH of Life University, College of Chiropractic in Marietta, Georgia and Dr. Christopher Kent, DC, JD, president of the Foundation for Vertebral Subluxation, have jointly published Vertebral Subluxation Research: An Agenda to Explore the Epidemiology of Vertebral Subluxation and the Clinical Outcomes Related to Management. The two doctors are calling for a definition of the current state of the science, art, and literature base of chiropractic to determine what is and what is not known about five areas of research of vertebral subluxation: 1. operational models, 2. measurement, 3. epidemiology, 4. clinical strategies, and 5. health outcomes.

This ambitious research project has five research objectives:

  1. What evidence is there that vertebral subluxations exist?
  2. What evidence is there that vertebral subluxations can be reliably measured?
  3. What evidence is there that vertebral subluxations lead to adverse health outcomes?
  4. What evidence is there that vertebral subluxations can be reduced and/or corrected?
  5. What evidence is there that reducing and/or correcting vertebral subluxations allows the nervous system to better function and thus allow for a fuller expression of life?

Over the next twenty years, the research agenda has three goals. First, to identify, develop, train, and support the next generation of subluxation-centered chiropractic researchers. Second, to interpret the nature of vertebral subluxation. And third, to increase the utilization of subluxation screening and management. The Vertebral Subluxation Research Agenda seeks to validate the benefits of chiropractic treatment and thus position the practice as a vitalistic, scientific, and evidence-informed clinical treatment option. 


Always consult your chiropractor or primary care physician for all your health related advice.