Most of us are familiar with the stories of how Hippocrates would smear mud on people’s bodies to see whether certain areas would dry quicker than others and thus be warmer, meaning that in those areas something was up. Even chiropractors in the early age of chiropractic used this knowledge and yet, quite logically, had to find different ways to test this on the people they were looking after. In the beginning, they used the back of their hands to find the so-called “hot spots.” These hot spots were indicators that the spine was impinging the nerves running across the spine and leaving from small openings between the individual vertebrae. The nerves, as D.D. Palmer, founder of chiropractic, said, are responsible for heating the body; if they are impinged due to subluxations of the spine, hot spots would appear. A little later, they also noticed that, besides hot spots, there could be also “cold spots.” Hot spots were theorized to be indicative of acute spinal problems while cold spots appeared due to long standing (i.e. chronic) spinal problems. This is one of the most fundamental principles to detect vertebral subluxations for chiropractors throughout history.


With time, instruments were developed to measure exactly the temperature of the skin alongside the spine. Due to the specific design of their machine, they were able to compare the temperature of either side of the spine; during this process they noticed the needle spring sharply from one side to the other. They called this phenomenon a “break.” This break, they reasoned, was exactly where the nerve was impinged by a misalignment of a vertebra, i.e. the subluxation, which caused friction of the electrical energy flowing through the nerve measured by their instrument. They called this instrument, which measured the temperature of the nerves, Neurocalometer (NCM). For those early chiropractors, this was revolutionary regarding the effectiveness, reliability and reproducibility of their methods of detecting vertebral subluxation and started a trend in chiropractic to analyse the spine and nervous system with objective measures.



Still nowadays, many chiropractors use this approach in their everyday practice, yet with up-to-date technological devices, updated understanding on what is actually being measured, and with new interpretations of how this information can be used for clinical decision making. We now know, for example, that we don’t actually measure any friction of electrical energy in the nerves, but the heat emitted from the blood circulation in the skin, which is closely monitored and regulated by a part of the nervous system, called the “sympathetic nervous system.” Having understood more about the nervous system as a whole, we learned that the initial theory of the “break analysis” may not explain the entirety of vertebral subluxation and that we needed to look more globally and spot “patterns” of heat distribution over larger parts of the skin of the spine. When people were measured at the same time each day for consecutive days and consistently showed nearly identical readings, they were said to be “in pattern” and in need for an adjustment. This practice was inspired by advances in technology allowing these chiropractors to graph their measurements so that comparisons could easily be made between the readings before and after an adjustment and thus track the progress of people being under long-term care. These “patterns” really stimulated the evolution of thermographic analysis to newer and higher levels.


The presence of a person-specific thermographic pattern is thought to be indicative of a lowered state of neurological adaptability affecting the thermoregulation of the skin. As we are living in an environment that is constantly changing, our bodies are equipped with a “master control system” that monitors the external environment and the internal needs of the body; in response to these needs, it directs bodily functions. This “master control system” is the brain with its vast network of nerves travelling across the body. Now, when a vertebral subluxation is present, it interferes with the function of the nervous system which will be expressed as the lowered state of adaptability observed as the “pattern.” In a practical sense, the presence of a pattern shows the need for an adjustment, whereas the absence of the pattern tells us that no adjustment is needed.


Thermography has a rich history from its use by the early chiropractic pioneers, including the founder, to the advances and evolution by modern technology and revised neurophysiological knowledge. Its reproducibility and the ability it provides to us to track the progress of people under care is what makes this technology invaluable to the everyday use. Every time you will come into our office, we will measure you and let this information guide our clinical decision of what is necessary in that moment.