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Bridging the gap between chiropractic philosophy and science

Vice Chancellor for Research and Health Policy Christine Goertz, D.C., Ph.D.

Dr. Christine Goertz

I was interviewed not too long ago by the editor of the Beacon, the student newspaper on Palmer College’s Davenport Campus. The last thing he asked me was, “How do you bridge the gap between chiropractic philosophy and science?” In many ways, I thought this was the most important question of the interview. Though it was the first time I had been asked directly to address this issue, I realized there have been many times in the three years since I joined Palmer that this question has been hovering in the room.

The Merriam-Webster definition of philosophy that I feel comes closest to what we mean by chiropractic philosophy is “the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group.” On the other hand, science is defined as “knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or a system or method reconciling practical ends with scientific laws.”

When I read these definitions, I don’t see a gap between philosophy and science. In fact, philosophy forms the very foundation of our translational scientific program at the Palmer Center for Chiropractic Research—and we’re addressing more than low back pain. Let me give you some examples ...

Currently, we’re conducting studies to determine if chiropractic care is effective in treating conditions such as tempormandibular disorder, neck pain and hypertension. Hypertension research is especially important because the condition impacts 50 million U.S. adults, less than a quarter of whom are able to achieve normal blood pressure levels. If chiropractic is shown to be an effective treatment for hypertension, people living with this disease will have an option beyond medications with side effects and difficult-to-adhere-to lifestyle modifications.

In another study, we’re collecting data in the Palmer Clinics to measure outcomes in real-practice situations. In this setting, we can better explore the results you might obtain in your own office. This type of study is a great example of how the “translational research” we’re pursuing easily translates into information that chiropractors throughout the world can relate to, and most importantly, use.

Something you might not expect a chiropractic research center to be doing is looking at chiropractic utilization and costs, using a large government-sponsored data set. Yet having this information can help us compare the costs of chiropractic care to medical and other healthcare professions.

To learn more about how chiropractic adjustments impact the nervous system, and how the subluxation impacts local tissues and overall behavior, we’re doing experiments with animal models. Research on cadavers is being undertaken, too, so that we can learn more about how adjustments impact biomechanics in the low back and neck.

These areas of inquiry can appear quite diverse initially but there is a common thread that runs through them. Quite simply, every scientific study we conduct is designed to answer a few fundamental questions: Can we demonstrate our most basic beliefs on how chiropractic works? Can we show that our treatment concepts are effective? Are there things we can learn that will help us take better care of patients?

In the end, every study is an attempt to reconcile our most basic beliefs with scientific laws.

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