Chiropractic + Naturopathic Doctor

Current Trends and the Future of Chiropractic Research

By Steve Zoltai   

Features Education Profession

If 1975 marked chiropractic’s annus mirabilis and propelled at least the beginnings of chiropractic research into the modern er

If 1975 marked chiropractic’s annus mirabilis and propelled at least the beginnings of chiropractic research into the modern era – as I contend in my cover article – then, in the opinion of Dr. Brian Budgell, director of the neurophysiology lab at the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College (CMCC), “research to answer chiropractic questions has now evolved to the same calibre as any other research in the biomedical fields.”

Dr. Brian Budgell



Dr. Budgell specializes in neurophysiology research at CMCC and is currently investigating the effects of somatic stimulation on spinal cord blood flow. A 1986 CMCC graduate, he recently joined the department after a lengthy period of research in Japan dedicated principally to the study of somatoautonomic reflexes. He is involved in several international collaborations and brings a global, multidisciplinary perspective to spotting current trends in chiropractic research. Dr. Budgell shares his thoughts with Canadian Chiropractor on how chiropractic research is meeting the needs of the profession and where it may be headed in the years to come.

From Dr. Budgell’s vantage point, “a lot of today’s chiropractic research is published in the same journals that biomedical research is published in, but is not accessed by the chiropractic profession and therefore the quality and quantity of the research remains largely unappreciated.” In particular, he recognizes a growing movement among chiropractic researchers toward investigating core chiropractic questions.

“If you looked back to the 1980s it would have been difficult for researchers to have a focus as they would still have been in a developmental stage enhancing their technical abilities – so you would not have seen a trend. Now, however, we are in an age where you can look at any number of researchers who are chiropractors and their research is no longer scattered. There’s a program there. They are pursuing a question and often, though it’s not explicitly expressed, they are really investigating core principles.”

Dr. Budgell cites contemporary research referencing the phenomena that occurs when “you pinch a nerve and block the flow of information to the organs and therefore interfere with the behaviour of the organism, or that a bone out of place could change the behaviour of the spinal cord” as an example of his point. 

“These are core principles though they are not cast that way when people are proposing and publishing their research. Generally, biologically oriented research is wrapped in the mechanistic model of biomedicine without necessarily explicitly proposing the investigation of core principles. An example of this type of research is Geoffrey Bove’s work with the phenomenon surrounding pinched nerves, some of which has been done at Harvard Medical School and is now being continued at the University of New England. When it was published in the Journal of Physiology, it did not reference chiropractic but had clear relevance to the profession.”

Bove, himself, is a 1988 CMCC graduate and is the first doctor of chiropractic to attain faculty status at the prestigious Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Budgell cites perhaps an even more fundamental example: “Philip Bolton’s work investigating HIO – (Hole in One) – upper cervical manipulation to determine how it produces its observed physiological effects. The idea that the two upper vertebrae are absolutely essential to human health is a central chiropractic principle which harkens back to D.D. and B.J. Palmer’s basic tenants of chiropractic. Though Bolton would not make that overt connection, any chiropractor would readily appreciate the implications.” 

Interestingly, Dr. Budgell suggests that the notion of vitalism as incompatible with the scientific method has now come full circle. He notes that vitalism, the theory that the quality of life was separable from the vessel, was tested a number of times, and seemingly successfully disproved, at least 150 years ago.

“What chiropractors mean by vitalism, however,” observes Budgell, “is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts – this is their way of acknowledging there are things we don’t understand. To scientists, this means we need to investigate. Even people who believe they adhere to a distinct vitalistic point of view understand the world in much the same scientific terms as the most hardened scientist. They believe it expresses itself in the same atoms and molecules and forms of energy as physicists understand to exist. The distinction is that scientists have come to the point where we understand that these notions are comprehensible and we can now investigate and can find answers.”

Some phenomena with vitalistic connotations, he notes, are testable in their own right. The discovery of endorphins, for example, may help explain some of the feel-good effect that comes from treatment.

“Previously, many clinical effects were dismissed as placebo, meaning there was no specific mechanism identified which brought about these effects. We now understand there are molecules – endorphins – which may account for some of the effect.”

Characteristic of research into chiropractic fundamentals, investigation into the vitalistic roots of the profession is frequently presented in the mechanistic, biomedical terms of prevailing mainstream medicine.

“What could be cast as a study of vitalism is instead presented as a biochemical investigation,” explains Dr. Budgell.  

In Dr. Budgell’s opinion, “At this point, there is more potential than productivity at CMCC and I’m really comfortable with that. We have some really bright, really skilled people and we now have the environment that is going to support them. CMCC will be producing and publishing research of the same quality you find at the University of Toronto, at McGill or at any other major centre. If you look at the numbers and the funding that is coming in, then you see that we stand very well compared with many Canadian universities.”

In comparison with other chiropractic colleges, at least in terms of the neurobiological basis of chiropractic, Dr. Budgell notes, “CMCC would be ranked number 1 without doubt.”

Regarding chiropractic research in Canada generally, Dr. Budgell says, “For whatever reason, Canadians have done this one right. This idea of identifying able, young researchers and giving them what they need to get off the ground will be hugely profitable across the country.

Getting people into university environments and setting them up so they can get kick-started with their research, and interact with researchers from other health disciplines and the pure sciences, will help them form connections that will allow them to develop in a way, intellectually, that they could not if they were isolated. There are some individuals in the United States who have done very well in terms of support, and are outstanding researchers, but they are the exception, whereas in Canada now we have a number of promising researchers. It is disproportionate to the small population of chiropractors and will pay great dividends in the future.”

For chiropractic research in Canada, at least, the future really is so bright we have to wear shades.

Steve Zoltai is the collections development librarian and archivist for CMCC and is a member of the Canadian Chiropractic Historical Association. He was previously the assistant executive director of the Health Sciences Information Consortium of Toronto. He has worked for several public and private libraries and with the University of Toronto Archives. Steve comes by his interest in things historical honestly – he worked as a field archeologist for the Province of Manitoba. He can be contacted at

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