How The Pettibon System Came To Be

Challenging Conventional Chiropractic

In a career that has spanned more than half a century, Dr. Pettibon has been unrelenting in demanding that chiropractic deliver on its promise: provide health care that enables the human spine to maintain its optimal structure for normal function. His first challenge to the profession took place as a student at Cleveland Chiropractic College.

“I realized that there was no model of a ‘normal’ spine. With no optimum normal or optimum spinal position, there are no origins to measure from. To quote Jack Welch, a former CEO of GE: ‘One can’t prove, disprove or improve that which one can’t measure.’"

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dr. Pettibon established a model of the optimum upright spine and procedures for taking, marking, and measuring x-rays so abnormal spinal form can be measured and treatment effectiveness assessed.

In 1988, Dr. Pettibon was honored for his work as the recipient of the Daniel David Chiropractic Scientific Award. But despite more than thirty years of practice, he couldn’t put aside doubts about whether chiropractic produced permanent spine and postural change.

Putting Conventional Chiropractic Procedures 'To The Test'

In 1991, Dr. Pettibon came out of a third retirement and moved from his home in Gig Harbor, Washington to South Carolina to partner with the late Dr. Vern Pierce and determine 'the truth' about chiropractic clinical procedures—theirs as well as all the others.

They rented an area of the Sherman Chiropractic College clinic building for their research. There, Dr. Pettibon and Vern Pierce used the dissection laboratory and students willing to be 'subjects' for their experiments.

They studied both normal and aberrant motions of vertebrae and areas of the spine that were misaligned—usually by trauma—using a video fluoroscopy x-ray machine with a twelve-inch intensifying screen. They also used an in-line x-ray machine with self-centering head clamps so they could repeatedly take pre and post-treatment x-rays to measurably determine the effectiveness of various procedures and techniques. An x-ray digitizer enabled them to compile the measurements and data that was generated from still and motion x-rays as well as from other experiments.

The Findings

Two and one-half years later, their research at Sherman and later at Palmer Davenport and Life East, invalidated conventional chiropractic procedures:

Attempts to adjust/manipulate vertebrae into different positions, whether into misalignment or alignment, worked on cadavers and other inanimate objects but did not make any lasting corrections in living people and whatever was attempted made a person's spine measurably worse.

In addition, they discovered how chiropractic students—about 100 from Palmer and Life—who entered college with x-rays showing normal or near normal lordotic cervical curves, on comparison x-rays taken at the end of their schooling, had abnormal military or kyphotic necks, and most had spinal pathology.

Reinventing Chiropractic

It wasn't enough for Dr. Pettibon to identify what didn't work. So he moved to Garland, Texas, after purchasing a clinic, to take what he learned from his research and apply it to developing new procedures and equipment. In 1996, with the fundamental 'reinvention of chiropractic' complete, Dr. Pettibon moved back to his home in Gig Harbor.