I began private practice as a chiropractor in 1957. My Book Bonesetting, Chiropractic and Cultism, published 1963 abandoned the theory of spinal subluxation, defining the practice of chiropractic as primary care capable of restoring and maintaining health simply by manipulating (“adjusting”) the spine to remove neural interference. My colleagues labeled me a “traitor” and I was denied membership in the American Chiropractic Association. I continued to write articles for journals and magazines recommending that the chiropractic profession abandon the scientifically indefensible subluxation theory and seek out a subspecialty that provides conservative care for neck and back pain that is not yet filled in physical medicine.
In the years that followed, I was inundated with hostile letters from subluxation-based chiropractors who threatened to revoke my chiropractic license. Although the chiropractic response to my published articles was largely negative, the support I received from science-based health professionals provided the inspiration I needed to continue writing. My Book Inside Chiropractic published by Prometheus Books in 1999.
In 2019, researchers studying the effects of spinal manipulation reported at the Global Summit that they found no evidence of an effect of spinal manipulation therapy for the management of non-musculoskeletal disorders, verifying what I have been saying since 1963. It is now clear that the universal theory of spinal subluxation formulated by a magnetic healer in 1895 is a trivial belief that must be abandoned by the chiropractic profession. The asymptomatic chiropractic “spinal subluxation complex” believed to be the cause of the disease has never been proven to exist, unlike true orthopedic subluxation, which causes musculoskeletal symptoms but has never been associated with organic disease. Spinal nerves are known to supply the skin and musculoskeletal structures, while the body’s organs are supplied by a separate autonomic nervous system located outside the spinal column.
Properly prescribed and limited chiropractic care can fill the niche of primary health care by offering the appropriate use of general spinal manipulation in conjunction with rehabilitation and physical therapy modalities, as I have done in my 41 years of practice. Unfortunately, the chiropractic profession continues to define chiropractic as a form of alternative medicine that covers a wide range of health problems, rather than specializing in back pain care, despite the fact that back pain and neck pain continue to be the #1 and #1 : 2 causes of disability worldwide.
When I was nominated for the John Maddox Award in 2023 for my stand as a science whistleblower who endured ostracism and isolation as a “chiropractic heretic,” I was honored. The nomination was a timely and comforting recognition at the end of my career as a struggling chiropractor dedicated to protecting public health by advocating for reform of the chiropractic profession.
I didn’t win the John Maddox Award, but the nomination alone is a precious footnote that cements my legacy as a “chiropractic heretic,” adding a positive note to the last page of my autobiography. Sam’s story. Final chapter.
Excerpts from Letters to a Chiropractic Heretic, 2012
The consequence Bonesetting, Chiropractic and Cultism
Given the lack of any extensive history of chiropractic, this book has a place in medical collections and reference libraries. –Eric Meyerhoff, Director, New York Medical Library Center, New York, Library Journal, February 1, 1964.
Regarding your recent application for membership with the American Chiropractic Association and insurance with the National Chiropractic Insurance Company, please be advised that the ACA Membership Committee has denied your application. -HW Pruitt, DC, Executive Secretary, American Chiropractic Association, May 17, 1965.
I bought your book a few months ago Bonesetting, Chiropractic and Cultism. I have found it to be a most interesting and enlightening publication which has been of value to me in some of my studies of medical anthropology. James G.
I was more impressed by your critiques of chiropractic than by any other writer because you are a practicing chiropractor. I think every chiropractic college candidate should read your book, or at least every student in their first year. –Walter Wardwell, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, University of Connecticut, August 26, 1976.
Thank you for your book Bonesetting, Chiropractic and Cultism. I found it well written and most interesting. I have read quite a bit of material on the chiropractic controversy from authors on all sides of the issue. I rank your book among the best. -William Jarvis, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Loma Linda University, October 22, 1976.
I just reread your chiropractic book and enjoyed it even more than I did five years ago. Your reasoning and predictions hold up amazingly. -Stephen Barrett, MD, Lehigh Valley Committee Against Health Fraud, July 28, 1979.
Unfortunately, unknown to most chiropractors and unavailable in most, if not all, chiropractic college libraries, Bonesetting, Chiropractic and Cultism a must read for chiropractic historians….Perhaps the profession will finally seek out this seer before his most dire predictions come true. -Joseph Keating, Ph.D., Professor, Palmer College Chiropractic-West, Dynamic Chiropractic, January 3, 1990
Fifty years ago you already expressed some things that few people dare to write today. If chiropractic had more people like you early on, it would be a respected profession today. -Edzard Ernst, PhD, Professor, Peninsula Medical School, England, January 12, 2010.
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