After I tell someone that I’m a naprapath, the response I get usually sounds something like, “That’s great! I go to a naturopath,” or “My cousin is a naturopath.” Then, I have to kindly inform them that I’m a na-pra-path, not a na-turo-path, to which the reply is a polite blank smile and a nod. There’s no offense meant and none taken. Almost nobody knows who we are. Despite the fact that we’ve been around for nearly 111 years, have spread to multiple countries around the world and our profession successfully treats hundreds of thousands of patients annually, we’re still a small drop in the huge bucket of healthcare. Even spell check and Google treat our profession like it’s a misspelling.
So what the heck is naprapathy and why hasn’t virtually anyone heard of it?
Even though naprapathy was founded in the United States and has since spread to multiple countries worldwide, most people in the US have no idea what it is. We have virtually no online presence. Our doctors aren’t taught about us in most traditional medical schools. Medical politics are a cutthroat business and there are those in other fields, including insurance companies, physical therapists and chiropractors, that would prefer to see us extinguished. It’s easier to uproot a small plant than a big one and our “kinder, gentler” approach to treating musculoskeletal issues goes directly at odds with our slightly older sibling, chiropractic. To compound matters, the effort to overwrite our naprapathy page on wikipedia recently succeeded, distilling our entire history into a couple lines in the chiropractic portal, then completely deleted all mention of us sometime in August or September 2018.
Considering there are over 80,000 chiropractors in the United States and fewer than 200 naprapaths, it’s a tremendous burden for those few of us who want to contribute to the field to both run our practices and find time to constantly update the web.
Also pertinent, the most definitive book of naprapathic history, “The Chiropractor’s Protégé” was published by a chiropractor, Dr. Timothy Faulkner, and is difficult to find on Amazon. It’s really an amazing work and if you’re interested in delving into the depths of our history, it’s more than worth the read. There haven’t been any naprapathy books published by naprapaths that I’m aware of for over a decade. The next scheduled book is, “Naprapathy in the 21st Century,” which is to be published by the faculty at Southwest University of Naprapathic Medicine (SUNM). Is it any wonder that our quiet field, which consists of healers who use their hands, not business people and marketers, has taken a beating in the age where online videos go viral and give cute cats more notice than someone who overcomes the odds and manages to overcome a debilitating illness?
With literally hundreds of different types of medical treatments available for diverse multitude of illnesses, people have difficulty figuring out which type of care is right for their condition. So, with millions of successful naprapathic pain treatments administered yearly to patients around the world, and research showing it’s not only safer but also more successful than chiropractic for treating a wide variety of musculoskeletal issues, what is heck is naprapathy and why haven’t you heard of it?
Naprapathic Medicine has been around since 1907. Founded in Chicago, Il, it continues to help hundreds of thousands of people around the world. With nearly 2 Million treatments performed worldwide, mostly in Sweden, Finland and Norway, it has made its way to other countries including Luxembourg, and even China. Then why are there are less than 150 practicing naprapaths in Illinois and fewer than 200 in the United States? The founder, Dr. Oakley Smith, not only wrote the first book of chiropractic, he received citations from US Military officers for helping hundreds of soldiers, but as time took its toll, naprapathic medicine all but fell off the face of the earth. Despite helping millions of people around the world, longterm mismanagement of the field in the United States, and the political arena have kept it from the forefront of modern medicine.
Two main things contributed greatly to its decline:
First, and most minor of the issues is that the name sounds like a Scandinavian, not a latin, medical term. Bohemian by its origins, naprapathy doesn’t mean anything to the general American public. People are generally slow to trust what they don’t understand so the name itself has been a hinderance. This is why some naprapaths prefer to utilize the terms neuromyology (the study of nerve and muscles) or neuromyologist (practitioner of of nerves and muscle science) to describe their practice.
Terms aside, both naprapathy and neuromyology correctly describe what a naprapath does. Napra, meaning to cure, and pathy, meaning suffering, is focused on resolving the disorders in the soft connective tissues, including nerves, muscles, blood, vessels, tendons, ligaments, organs, skin, and fascia. Bones are also connective tissues but while a chiropractor generally focuses on aligning the body through forceful velocity skeletal adjustments, the naprapath aligns the body through gentle soft tissue techniques. Naprapaths are extensively trained to affect all of these tissues non-invasively in order to methodically release contracted tissues and overcome stagnation whether the cause is physical, nutritional or neurological. Neuromyology is simply the more familiar term used to connect naprapathy to communities that accept terms medical terms with the -ology suffix, e.g. neurology.
The second, and arguably most important factor, is that there hasn’t been true unity in the field since the 1980s. Any team needs unity to prosper. Even a team of all stars can lose to a team of mediocre players if the second team works together and the first work all for themselves. Up until achieving licensure, they couldn’t agree whether being licensed was good for the field or not. When they finally came together, albeit briefly, they managed to bring the field forward leaps and bounds.
Those factors are a huge part of why the profession is still largely on the fringe of mainstream medicine. While chiropractors organized and lobbied for licensure, the leadership of naprapathy fought against the same, fearing that increased regulation would force them to compromise their medical integrity. This follows in the footsteps of the founder, Oakley Smith, who actually sent his license back to the state, preferring to practice as an unlicensed practitioner than to be regulated by them.
Unknowingly, this decision placed huge stumbling blocks in the field’s advancement and naprapathy, which once outnumbered chiropractic over 10 to 1 in multiple states, began its drastically declined in the United States, diminishing to only one college for decades, NCNM in Chicago, until SUNM opened in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Still, despite declining numbers of practitioners over the last two decades, coupled with the increasing cost of lobbying and various medical association’s tight grips on state legislation, naprapathy still exists and I’m happy to report that its finally establishing itself as a definitive source for holistic and natural medical treatments.
Fortunately, even though little research has been done on the effectiveness of naprapathic treatments, there are hundreds of thousands of documented medical files and a number verified evidentiary studies that prove the field’s effectiveness.
The main studies on naprapathic medicine have been conducted in Norwegian countries. For example, a broad study in Sweden shows that Naprapathic Medicine is more effective in pain treatments than traditional medicine. There are more limited studies in the United States that mirror this. To summarize, the studies both agree that naprapathy is effective for pain treatments. Additionally, the experiential data is overwhelming in favor. Naprapaths often work with traditional doctors, seeing the same patients and documenting their progress.
So now you know some significant parts of our history. These factors are why naprapathic medicine is not only one of the best integrative and complementary fields in healthcare, it’s one of healthcare’s best kept secrets. Now, if you’re one of the rare people already seeing a naprapath, please tell others about your experience. For the rest of you, it’s your turn to experience the benefits of naprapathy for yourself.
In good health,
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