Research: How much is enough?

The biggest criticism leveled against chiropractic is that it is unscientific. Or, in the words of the now infamous Newsweek article on “Treating Back Pain” (April 26, 2004), it suffers from a “dearth of good research to prove efficacy.”

The statement is particularly surprising since the article dealt with chiropractic for back pain. Nearly all the research done to date on chiropractic has involved back pain and there are an impressive number of scientific research studies to validate our effectiveness in this area. Yet, still, we are considered unscientific.

Is it any wonder, then, that insurance companies consider chiropractic for children “experimental,” or that few people ever think of chiropractic for problems other than back pain?

When it comes to research, we have to ask ourselves, “How much is enough?” How many studies will we have to conduct in order to, once and for all, be considered scientifically based, to change the perception of chiropractic and to silence our critics?

Obviously, it won’t be enough to produce one or two studies on chiropractic’s broader applications. We already know, from our personal practice experience, that chiropractic has long-term benefits on health. But, to prove that to the wide audience, we’ll need to conduct research of “shock and awe” proportions. We’ll have to compile data from a huge number of people from vastly different geographic areas. And, since chiropractic, itself, is so diverse, our research will have to include nearly all techniques, rather than focus on one or two specific areas.

Even then, we won’t be able to stop. You’d think that once you conducted research showing that chiropractic can boost the immune system, for instance, we could move on to other matters. But that’s not the case. We have to keep “proving” the same thing over and over again.

Such research redundancy is the norm in medicine. How many research studies have been conducted to prove that obesity is a contributing factor in hypertension? A quick search of PubMed, the National Library of Medicine’s online index of research journals, came up with 11,269 citations between 2002 and 2005.

No matter what subject you choose, you’ll find hundreds of research articles in scientific journals, many duplicating previous ones or verifying hypotheses that are already considered proven “facts”. That’s what we have to do—produce an overwhelming amount of research on every aspect of chiropractic.

It’s exhausting just thinking about all this research. In the pharmaceutical and medical industries, research has become an incredibly large—and lucrative—business, in itself. Billions of dollars are pumped into research efforts and grants from drug companies, and government agencies are major sources of income for most medical schools. Chiropractic, unfortunately, doesn’t have that research infrastructure or income. We have to look for other incentives.

Actually, we don’t have to look far, since research has many very real and immediate benefits. As George McClelland, D.C., recently noted in the Foundation for Chiropractic Education and Research publication, Advance, “Many D.C.’s may not see the immediate relevance of chiropractic research on their practices; however, they should understand that chiropractic related research and research projects have played an invaluable role in promoting the expansion of chiropractic services in federal and private programs, as well as in public support and acceptance of chiropractic care. The overall impact is PRICELESS.”

Back in the 1970’s, women used to say, “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good.” Well, the same is true for chiropractic. Whatever D.C.’s do, they must do twice as well as M.D.’s to be thought half as good. It’s not fair, but that’s the way things are—at least for now. In the future, the tide will turn and we’ll see other disciplines trying to catch up to chiropractic.

Dr. David A. Jackson is chief executive officer of Research and Clinical Science (RCS), a private sector research program exploring issues of subluxation correction and chiropractic care as they relate to health and wellness. Previously, he served as president of the Chiropractic Leadership Alliance and Creating Wellness Alliance and was owner/operator of several private practice offices in California and Idaho that specialized in high volume, family wellness based care. For a no-obligation information packet about chiropractic research and the work of RCS, call 800-909-1354 or 480-303-1694, or visit the RCS website at

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