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The Man From Woo - Part 2

Updated: Jul 14, 2022

My naiveté, gullibility, and foolishness did not cease upon entering chiropractic college. I recall only one class, taught in the first term, in which the scientific method was discussed, and I remember almost nothing of that class. My amnesia probably derives from the degree of importance I accorded this information. That there were no other classes in the curriculum on this subject served to reinforce its irrelevance to me.

Applied Kinesiology muscle testing

My interest was piqued by courses in visceral manipulation and Applied Kinesiology. I was so eager to learn these methods that I took them as electives. Applied Kinesiology (aka AK) was a third year class that I arranged to take during my second year. The instructor was Santo Pullella who had a Ph.D. in physiology. He had taught physiology at Palmer Chiropractic College where he obtained his DC degree, and he also taught physiology at Western States. I was lucky to have been able to take the class in AK when I did; by the time I reached ninth quarter it had been removed from the curriculum. AK has little to do with the field of kinesiology. (1) AK is famous for testing the strength of muscles as both a diagnostic tool and post-treatment evaluation. However, unlike the muscle testing that is performed as part of a neurological examination, muscle testing in AK is done to determine everything from subluxations and nutritional deficiencies to the need for specific homeopathic remedies and the health of internal organs. Babies and young children can be tested by having a parent hold the child while the parent is tested as a surrogate. Certain muscles are believed to be related to specific organs. I still remember that the teres muscles of the shoulder girdle are indicators of thyroid gland health, and the sartorius muscle of the anterior thigh—also known as the tailor’s muscle because it allowed tailors of old to sit in a cross-legged position—is related to the adrenal glands. Studying this subject was not entirely without benefit because I learned how to isolate and test many muscles, thus learning their function more intimately than I might otherwise have. (I discuss AK in more detail in the chapter on techniques in my forthcoming book.)

The course in visceral manipulation was taught by Ralph Failor, a chiropractor and naturopath, whose text, Three Generations of Healing Secrets, (2) announced on the cover some of the conditions he claimed to treat: hiatal hernia, migraines, constipation, kidney and bladder, sciatica, sore shoulders, asthma, and varicose veins. Dr. Failor’s primary modus operandi was manipulation of internal organs. I was so intrigued by this subject that I attended his class over the summer between my first and second years. I not only learned his methods in class, I practiced them on anyone who would allow me to press my hands into their pliant abdomens. That summer I corrected numerous hiatal hernias (a condition where the stomach herniates upward through the diaphragm) and ptosed (dropped) kidneys as well as some congested gall bladders and livers. Many of my “patients” were fellow students with whom I socialized and in whom I diagnosed the conditions I had learned to treat. Of course, these ministrations helped everyone I laid my hands on.

I was most impressed by Dr. Failor’s method of correcting herniated intervertebral discs via anterior spinal manipulation through the abdomen. He first anesthetized the patient using chromo analgesia, a method of shining light through alternating colored lenses to induce a state of deep relaxation. I never used his technique, but I did observe him administering the procedure in class. With it, Failor was able to press deeply into the subject’s abdomen, spread apart two lumbar vertebrae, and reposition the disc between the two bones—or so it appeared.

Dr. Adolf Lorenz

Failor had learned his methods from Dr. Byron A. White who had operated a chiropractic hospital in McMinnville, Oregon for 41 years. Dr. White had learned these techniques from Dr. Adolf Lorenz, a Viennese physician who had come to America to practice “bloodless surgery.” I am not aware of any independent verification of the results of the treatments these men administered, much less scientific evidence to support the efficacy of their work.

Despite the absence of research-based credibility, I had a high degree of respect for many of my clinical instructors at Western States Chiropractic College, which I still hold to this day. Drs. Ralph Failor, Santo Pullella, Appa Anderson, Richard Stonebrink, Ravinder Sanni, Earl Homewood and others were truly caring individuals dedicated to relieving the suffering of their patients. I do not doubt that they helped many thousands of patients with techniques that, for the most part, had never been scrutinized scientifically. I am also indebted to my basic science instructors, many of whom were or later became chiropractors in addition to the doctoral degrees they had earned at mainstream universities. They include Drs. Oliver Titrud, Michael Carnes, Paul Shervey, Bob Boal, and Don Goe. These people strived to impart their knowledge to us chiropractic students in such fields as human anatomy, physiology, histology, neuroanatomy, chemistry, and neurophysiology.

I want to share one more anecdote from my chiropractic college years, if for no reason other than to demonstrate that I was able to think independently and rationally to some extent. One of my favorite classes was clinical lab where we learned about blood and urine testing. I enjoyed the course, not only for the subject’s relationship to nutrition but because of the instructor, Ozzie Davis, who was a clinical laboratory scientist and Palmer College grad. I think of him as The One-Armed Chiropractor because one upper extremity had been crippled by polio. He practiced in Vancouver, Washington using a drop table that allowed him to give adjustments using his one good arm. He had a sense of humor that matched my own rebellious and disrespectful one. One day he asked the class, “Who can tell me about urine?” “Well, there’s urine and there’s mine,” I blurted out. He asked me where I was from. “California.” His rejoinder: “Largest outdoor funny farm in the world.”

Dr. Davis earned my respect as a fellow mischief maker after he revealed his role in writing a portion of the book Chiropractic Health Care, essentially a PR piece for the chiropractic profession, produced by The Foundation for Chiropractic Education and Research (FCER) and endorsed by the American Chiropractic Association. Chapter 2 of the second edition, dated March 1977, is titled The Historic Roots of Chiropractic Philosophy. Here we find the following:

Anthropologist Unearths Prehistoric Chiropractic

“It has now been firmly established that spinal manipulative therapy significantly pre-dates medical therapy and, it is fair to state, has been looked upon as the only acceptable form of therapy for the greater part of man’s experiential past.” Thus writes Sir Austin Mowbry-Smyth, ScD, in his book, Manipulative Therapy in Preliterate Europe: A Documentary Approach.

Dr. Mowbry-Smyth, Professor Emeritus of Cross Cultural Anthropology at All-Souls College, Oxford, notes that the construction of the Paris to Cannes subway system uncovered extensive prehistoric cave paintings at Point le Merd [sic] in southwestern France. “Truly an anthropological Penticost [sic]; the significant breakthrough we’ve been hoping for, but hardly expected!” Arranged in a series of mural-like representations, the pictures clearly depict spinal adjustments as delivered during the Aurignacian period (17,500 B.C.). (3)

I like to think that my bullshit detector is far more sensitive now than it was in my woo-woo days, but even as a young chiropractic student I sensed a hoax. I held Dr. Davis in high esteem after learning he was the author of this portion of FCER’s book, which is missing from subsequent editions.

Read The Man From Woo - Part 1.


  1. Kinesiology concerns itself with the mechanics of body movement. It is an important subject for chiropractors and was taught in my first year. back

  2. R.M. Failor, Three Generations of Healing Secrets. McMinnville, Oregon: self-published, 1975. back

  3. Chiropractic Health Care: A Conservative Approach to Health Restoration, Maintenance, and Disease Resistance, R.C. Shafer, D.C., editor. Des Moines, Iowa: The Foundation for Chiropractic Education and Research, second edition, 1977, page 9. back

About J. Michael Burke, D.C.

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During 45 years of diverse experience as a chiropractor, I have witnessed and documented many facets of the profession and the follies of many chiropractors, myself included. My involvement in various activities and endeavors has ranged from cracking necks and backs to developing a managed alternative healthcare network to investigating fraud.

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