(Editor’s note: This is the first part in a three-part series written by Dr. Steve Agocs. Dr. Agocs practices in the Kansas City, MO area.)
On January 22, Dr. Harshe posted a booklet written by Drs. Clarence Jensen and Richard Doble, Jr. It’s a nice overview of Palmer Upper Cervical technique, but after reading it I was left with the feeling that the historical section really overemphasized BJ Palmer’s influence on some things while not giving credit where credit is due.
In my own opinion, BJ’s real talents were in delegating tasks, recognizing how to utilize the strengths of other people, tenaciousness in seeing a project through, and an uncanny ability to see the big picture and have long-reaching vision.
Without important collaborators, I’m not sure upper cervical chiropractic would look like it does now, or, maybe, even exist at all. Much of what has been attributed to BJ is really the work of the people who worked with and for him.
Hot Boxes, Vertemeres, and Majors and Minors
A major shift in chiropractic technique happened around 1910. There was really little of any organization to technique, and doctors largely adjusted “every lump and bump” in the spine. 1910 was a year of innovation, with BJ buying the first x-ray machine in the profession and building a spinography department at the school. Also in 1910, BJ developed the “Palmer Toggle Adjustment,” which was a faster, more dynamic adjustment than what was previously used. This was originally done in a full-spine manner. Finally, in that same year, Palmer and Dr. James Wishart introduced the procedure of “nerve tracing” to the profession.
Nerve tracing was a time-consuming procedure of palpating for “hot boxes” with the dorsum of the hand, then palpating outward from the spine and following the tenderness wherever it would lead. Hundreds of photos of nerve tracings are included in BJ’s book on nerve tracing published in 1911, and the majority show that nerve tracing seemed to often follow dermatomal patterns.
The Palmer-Toggle adjustment, coupled with nerve tracing, became known as “Meric Technique,” named after the “vertemeres” or segments of the spine. Once the x-ray technology began to be used more, the technique became known as “majors and minors” in an attempt to separate “major” subluxations from “minor” ones, or compensations.
Dossa Evins and the Neurocalometer
In the 1920’s, Dossa Dixon Evins invented the Neurocalometer, perhaps the single most important influence on the formation of BJ’s upper cervical philosophy. Evins was a brilliant electrical engineer trained at the University of Arkansas. During World War I, Evins worked for the Secret Service and invented a radio receiver to intercept high-power transmitters, leading to the capture of German spies! In 1914, Evins contracted tuberculosis, and he spent several years in a sanitarium. Eventually, Evins tried chiropractic care from a chiropractor in San Antonio, Texas, and when Evins observed Dr. Marlowe palpating the spine, Marlowe explained he was looking for “hot boxes.”
With his background in engineering, Evins began working on a device that would take place of the hand in determining temperature differences in the spine, an instrument he called the Neurocalometer (NCM). Evins enrolled in the Palmer School of Chiropractic in 1920 and continued working on the NCM. He graduated in 1922. At the time of his death, Evins was busy at work on developing x-ray tube technology, and he also developed the first hydraulic Hylo table, called the Palmer-Evins Hylo, while still a student. Notice how nothing that BJ found interesting escaped having his name attached to it!
After graduating, Evins went on to practice in Kansas City, Missouri. He approached the Registrar at the Palmer School, Frank Elliott, with his NCM instrument. Together, Evins and Elliott showed it to BJ, and the three experimented with the instrument for almost another year before BJ’s fateful unveiling of it at the 1924 Lyceum.
BJ’s strong words about the NCM, and against a large portion of the profession and their manner of practice, as well as the type of financial package (expensive leases) he required on the NCM, signaled the end of his dominance in the chiropractic profession, although he never ceased to be highly influential up until his death in 1961.
Evins synchronized the signals for BJ’s two radio stations, too, allowing him to broadcast much further on WOC than he ever was before. During the Great Depression and other hard times, it was BJ’s entertainment enterprise that kept the school afloat, so in a way, Evins can almost be credited with keeping the college solvent when it would have otherwise perished.
The NCM was utilized a variety of ways in the early days, and the basic idea was the more the needle deflected when the instrument was run over the spine, the more “major” the subluxation. BJ, of course, believed the NCM was giving the chiropractor direct information about the “flow of mental impulse” along the nerves.
For a time, students in the clinics at the school were required to use the instrument before and after every single adjustment. According to BJ, what was noticed was that sometimes, a single adjustment would “clear” the NCM reading, taking away the needle deflections.