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About the Thompson Technique

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A Historical Perspective

Chiropractic, developed by Dr. D.D. Palmer in 1895, began in Davenport, Iowa and has grown throughout the world to become one of the leading Health Care Systems providing services to millions of people in practically every country. Based on the premise that the body has an Innate Ability to Heal Itself, the Doctor of Chiropractic spends over 4,000 hours to learn how to detect abnormalities of the spine called subluxations, that interfere in the body's inherent desire to maintain homeostasis. These subluxations interfere with the normal conduction of nerve impulses from the brain that control every aspect of the body, from the smallest tissue cell to the muscles, ligaments and organs that we depend on for maintaining a normal life here on earth.

Adjusting the spinal segments is not a new concept, which has been documented in many early pictographs that show methods used by early health specialists adjusting segments in the spine. Adjusting the spinal segments has been reported in many cultures around the world from the walking on the back by South Pacific natives to the Bonesetters of England.

Although Doctors of Chiropractic focus primarily on the spine there are also special techniques used to adjust other areas of the body, such as the shoulder, ribs, elbows, wrists and hands, knees, ankles and feet. The more prominent Adjusting Techniques taught at Chiropractic Colleges are Thompson, Gonstead, Diversified, SOT, Toggle Recoil, Logan and Activator.

We will focus primarily on the Thompson Technique since it is my specialty and I was privileged to be an understudy for many years with Dr. J. Clay Thompson the originator of the technique.

The Thompson Technique utilizes a "Segmental Drop Table" to enhance the motion force imparted towards the segment or area to be Adjusted. Dr. Thompson introduced the concept of adding motion by inventing a headpiece that would drop away as the adjustive thrust was applied to the vertebral segment. He was granted a patent in 1955 on his concept and thusly was born the Palmer-Thompson drop headpiece. Since the new idea was such a success Dr. Clay then went on to invent a table with drop pieces for adjusting the dorsal, lumbar and pelvic area. this came about in 1957 and from there the rest is history. Today there are numerous manufacturers of drop-piece tables used around the world.

The "Segmental Drop System" takes advantage of the spine's inherent design of the joints in order to move the spinal segment in the direction that will improve the motion of the segment with the one above and below. It just makes good sense that since the spinal joints face front to back and have an incline that slopes more naturally backwards that we can effect increased motion by applying an adjustment from P to A, (Posterior to Anterior) and with an inferior to superior line of correction. The majority of the spinal adjusting utilizing the Thompson Technique has the patient lying prone. (face down.) This is the basis for Dr. Clay's theory of proper spinal adjusting and the driving force that lead him to invent the drop table.

Leg Length Analysis Concept

Another important aspect of the Thompson Technique is the method used to determine an imbalance in the length of the legs when observed with the patient in a prone position on the table. The "Leg Length System" is based on the early work of Dr. Derifield of Detroit, Michigan. The neurological basis for balance is found in the Reticular System of the brain where the Inhibitory and Facilitory systems maintain balance of the musculature of the body. A neurological imbalance will affect the musculature of the legs resulting in the appearance of one leg being short when observed with the patient in the prone position. The feet are observed in the extended position and then flexed to compare one with the other noting any difference in the appearance of length. Contraindications would be an anatomical short leg, history of poorly healed fracture, or a joint implant.

The "Leg Length Analysis" has five levels of interpretation developed by Drs. Derifield and Thompson. The length is observed at the juncture of where the heel and shoe come together with inversion and eversion removed and no dorsiflexion or plantar flexion of the feet. Subluxation levels are based on the "Leg Analysis "to determine what areas that may need to be adjusted. This is correlated with Physical Examination, X-ray and Motion findings, Palpation and Instrumentation utilized by the Doctor of Chiropractic.

Segmental Drop Adjusting - The Legacy Continues

The development of the "Drop Table" has come a long way since the early days of discovery by Dr. J. Clay Thompson. What started out as an improved method for delivering the "Toggle Recoil" during the era of B.J. Palmer, has grown into a world wide use of the Segmental Drop System for Chiropractic Adjusting. The following story comes from hearing Dr. Thompson lecture to students and field doctors over the years and represents a chronology of historical importance.

The "Palmer-Thompson" drop headpiece was developed by Dr. Thompson in an effort to come up with an easier method of delivering the toggle thrust on something other than the knee chest table or the side posture bench with a fixed headpiece. His experience as a student in the Palmer Clinic while treating patients in the public clinic, which was held in the gymnasium, resulted in several ineffectual attempts to toggle a number of patients. The patient's head was placed on a firm headpiece that resulted in reflected force into the doctor's arms and shoulders. The early training incorporated a follow through drop of the doctors upper torso following the delivery of the toggle thrust, which even with that, Dr. Thompson found it difficult to accept.

While attending Palmer College of Chiropractic, Dr. Thompson had developed at his apartment, a side posture table with the head piece mounted on an auto jack from a Model T car. This was done to accommodate the height of the head when the patient was placed in the side posture position. When the thrust was delivered there was some vertical drop or give that added to the toggle thrust. He surmised that if he could refine and control this drop it would be of some benefit to the proper execution of the toggle adjustment.

The first attempt resulted in a headpiece that was spring-loaded and had a drop of about ½ inch with the other end that swiveled and a catch that latched when the two pieces came together. This headpiece was utilized to experiment with the tension of the spring and various mechanisms for the latch that locked the headpiece down when the toggle thrust was delivered. The unit worked so well that several were made and thus was born the "Toggle Drop Headpiece" or as many of us came to know the Toggle Board.

When I came to Palmer College in September of 1972 one of the first things you did was to buy one of these toggle boards even before purchasing your books. If you were lucky you would find a senior who was graduating and get a real good deal. Today there are several manufactures such as Lloyd Table Company and Thuli Tables that produce excellent toggle drops, that can be adjusted for the weight of the patient's head.

As the story goes, Dr. Thompson demonstrated the drop headpiece for Dr. B.J. Palmer. Dr. Clay said many times, that B.J. felt it enhanced the toggle adjustment and they entered into an agreement to put the drop headpiece on the tables to be used in the clinic and classrooms. Many of these tables are still in use in the toggle classroom at Palmer College. They were refurbished with new upholstery a few years ago, and continue to serve in the training of the students in learning toggle recoil adjusting.

This article is not property of Absolute Health Chiropractic NJ. It is only for educational purposes. The article is property of Dr. Zemelka's Chiropractic Information Center: http://drzemelka.com/thompson.htm .  This article may not be exactly how our practice uses this technique to our clients. 

Dr. Wayne Henry Zemelka
3904 Lillie Ave. Suite #6 ~ Davenport, IA 52806
Tel: (563) 386-8585 [email protected]

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