Were Chiropractic 100 Years Ahead of Its Time?
The interstitium is the space between cells that contains fluid and provides nourishment to the body ... and the neurological control of this system was described by chiropractors as far back as 1900! A recent paper (March 2018) in Scientific Reports discusses the possible discovery of a “new organ” that may be the largest in the human body!
Even though this “organ” has been known to anatomists for years, modern medicine is just starting to understand how important it is in human health. … But what if I told you that this “organ” was described in chiropractic books over 100 years ago?!
The Chiropractic Green Books in the Cabinet
When you visit our office, you may have noticed a cabinet in the corner with our critter, Matatopa … And at the bottom of the cabinet are a stack of old green books. The Green Books are a collection of the original textbooks written and used at the original chiropractic school in the world through 1906-1960. There are a few interesting things worth pointing out:
- There is a textbook called The Science and Art of Nerve Tracing (Vol 6). The book contains a number of odd pictures where the early chiropractors traced nerve fibers from the spine to other parts of the body using only their fingertips, chalk and tape. The reason it is so interesting is that the era when this book was written (1908) there was still substantial debate about the role of the nervous system in controlling body function. It was not until the 1930s-40s when human experimentation in Germany (horrendous, but fascinating at the same time) demonstrated the exact function of these nerves. My point is that the book I have outlines these same nerve functions three decades before medical science caught up! Ask me to have a look if you’d like!
- Many of the other books describe devices known as the “Neurocalometer” (NCM) and the “Electroencephaloneuromentimpograph” used to locate the places in the spine requiring a chiropractic adjustment. These devices were early precursors to the modern ECG, EEG, and EMG machines that measure heart, brain, and muscle activities. Also, the NCM which was a precursor to the Tytron scanner that I use, which is a measure of nerve adaptability. I will write a future article about adaptability in an article about “heart rate variability” (HRV). My point here is that modern medicine considers nerve adaptability as the preeminent measure of body health! (1) Low adaptability is associated with almost every negative health condition you can think of … and here the chiropractors were almost 100 years ago using tools that measure adaptability in an era where they were called “quacks” for doing so (and still are, by some).
- Even though chiropractic was considered "quackery" in its early days, modern science is only now catching up on many of its principles. Here, Dr. BJ Palmer demonstrates how to determine correct vectors for chiropractic adjustments in "The Science of Chiropractic Adjustments" (Vol 3, 1908) In a series of the textbooks (The Science of Chiropractic, (Vol 1-5) and the Chiropractic Textbook (Vol 14), the authors describe something called “Serous Circulation.” It's not about nerves or blood flow, but describes what is called the “interstitial circulation.” The interstitium is the connective tissue network that exists between cells in the body, and that allows for the flow of water and nutrients from your blood vessels to your cells. Have you ever skinned your knee? If so, you may have noticed that it was something like water - not blood or pus - seeping from the wound. That is what interstitial fluid is. The point that I’m raising here is that the circulation of this fluid as controlled by the nervous system and as a major influence on health was described by chiropractic authors in the early part of the 20th century.
True, medical authors were well aware of the interstitial spaces, lymph channels, etc in this same era. However, its significance was downplayed as relatively passive.
The Interstitium, Myofascia and Nerve Receptors
Now let’s fast forward 100 years to the article in Scientific Reports where the authors make the bold assertion that the interstitium is an organ much like your skin, but one that is beneath the surface, envelops your entire body and may have a massive impact in the regulation of your nervous system. (2) This is not the first time the interstitium has made the news, however.
The interstitium is part of a broader structure known as “myofascial,” which you may have heard me mention before.
Myofascia is a dense cobweb of connective tissue that supports your body structure, contains a ridiculously dense number of nerve receptors, and may actually be more important than your muscles in allow your body to move! (3) The reason this is important is that some authors now believe that it is the physical release of the myofascial system - including the nerve cells and the interstitium - that allows chiropractic adjustments to work in the first place! (4,5,6) It may not have anything to do with “cracking bones” or “shoving joints into place” as it is on the connective tissue network that allows for your bones to move in the first place!
The Upper Cervical Chiropractic Connection
As I’m sure most of you are aware, the neck adjustments that I perform look and feel nothing like what people think of a “chiropractic manipulations.” I mean, there’s no twisting or cracking for one! In fact, you probably don’t feel much of anything move at all, and you end up wondering, “Is that it?”
Sometimes I use the drop headpiece in the table to produce an extra vibration, but other times not! And it feels like all I’m doing is gliding my hand across your skin. The upper neck has a profound influence on the interstitium, the nervous system, and potentially the health of the entire body.
Arguably, you could say that what I’m doing is actually more similar to certain types of Rolfing, lymphatic drainage technique, and even acupuncture techniques! Not exactly, but considering that these methods also affect the myofascial system it is increasingly difficult to say where the boundaries are.
As light as these pressures might be, when applied in a specific and deliberate manner, the reason they may produce the changes that they do is because of how they affect the myofascial, the interstitium, and the network of nerve receptors contained within.
And when you change the input into the nervous system, it has the potential to change the function of your entire body. (1,7) In a future article, I may mention the different types of nerve cells that are present in the brainstem right where your C1 and C2 sit so that you can have a better appreciation for what the potential health benefits of upper cervical care may be.
For now, I hope that I’ve been able to highlight a few things that give you a bit of a “behind the scenes” view on the potential impact of upper cervical care, why it is so different from general chiropractic, but also how the things that we are doing may still be ahead of where current medical science has caught up. Who knows: maybe upper cervical chiropractic is still 100 years ahead of its time!
- Thayer JF, Sternberg E. Beyond Heart Rate Variability: Vagal Regulation of Allostatic Systems. Neuroendocrine and Immune Crosstalk. Volume1088, Issue1. November 2006. Pages 361-372. First published: 8 December 2006 https://doi.org/10.1196/annals.1366.014. https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1196/annals.1366.014. Accessed 10 Apr 2018.
- Benias PC, Wells RG, Sackey-Aboagye B, et al. Structure and Distribution of an Unrecognized Interstitium in Human Tissues. Scientific Reports. Volume 8, Article number: 4947 (2018). doi:10.1038/s41598-018-23062-6. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-23062-6. Accessed 10 Apr 2018.
- Schleip R. Fascial plasticity - a new neurobiological explanation: part 1. J Bodywork Movement Therap, 2003;7(1):11-19.
- Schleip R. Fascial plasticity - a new neurobiological explanation: part 2. J Bodywork Movement Therap, 2003;7(2):104-116.
- Meyer T. Anatomy Trains (3rd Ed). Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone. 2014
- Friedman R. Quantum Spinal Mechanics (QSM3). www.qsm3.com.
- Edwards IJ, Deuchars SA, Deuchars J. The intermedius nucleus of the medulla: a potential site for the integration of cervical information and the generation of autonomic responses. J Chem Neuroanat. 2009 Nov;38(3):166-75.