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What is the Gonstead Technique?

Nov 11, 2014

What do cars have to do with chiropractic? In two words: Clarence Gonstead.

He revolutionized the field of back adjustments with his reasoned and mechanical approach to the human body. He brought a modern sense of the industrial revolution into the doctor’s office, and probably did more than any other practitioner to erase the historic stigmas of “bone setting” and mysterious, cure-all “quackery” from the profession.

His methods are still foundational to the way chiropractic care is applied today, searching out the problems in the spine and its total structure to inform treatment on a localized area.

Gonstead was one of the most magnetic chiropractors of the 20th century. Among his influences were an early battle with rheumatoid arthritis that was only cured by a chiropractor, called on by his Aunt, who quickly succeeded where other doctors had failed.

He worked first as an automobile engineer. This basis in mechanical design, manipulation and repair was to remain a force throughout his life. He applied it to his logical diagnostics of the human skeleton, winning first local, then national patients and eventually global renown, building the largest chiropractic center in the world – in sleepy Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin.

Gonstead based his understanding on belief that the spine, pelvic girdle and legs should be level, forming the structural basis or foundation for the body. Once this foundation is out of position, that affects the subsequent positioning of the spine’s vertebrae. But he started by knowing the pelvis, legs and spine when even and aligned properly, would form the natural and correct posture.

When the spine is out of joint, so is the foundation, which being out of position itself can cause the maladjustment of the vertebrae. So too, an injury done to a disk among the vertebrae would be seen to cause subluxation of the spine. Gonstead treated the spinal disks, with the aim of helping a patient reclaim natural bodily structure and range of motion.

Moreover, he recognized that upper misalignment could be the effect of a harder to detect lower spine subluxation.

The reason is because he said the body tries to align itself under practically any circumstances. If the lower foundation area of the spine is off, the reaction will be to counter the misalignment with a further one higher along the spine.

The doctor treating considers the alignment of the entire spine – because an injury at the top could indicate the cause is actually a subluxation lower down.

As Dr. Gonstead said: “Find the subluxation, correct it, and then leave it alone.”

Tools that Gonstead used were

  • The full spine radiograph
  • Static and dynamic palpation of the paraspinal bone as well as soft tissues
  • Imaging of the spinal movement, position while walking, standing and evidence of inflammation around joints.
  • He also took para-spinal skin temperature to get to the bottom of the skeletal, muscular and mental particulars during treatment.

Gonstead’s findings of structural foundations in the lower back, as well as his concept of precise adjustments to affected vertebrae were important in his time, and remain the building blocks of much of current chiropractic care.

New devices such as the Activator, which focus adjustment on precise points in the spine while mitigating any surrounding impact, are essentially applying the next level of technology to Gonstead’s techniques.


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