By Gordon Elder, D.C. and Philip Kennedy, D.C.
Skin temperature has played an important role in analyzing disease from ancient times. Hippocrates would put mud on a patient’s back and would note where it dried first, indicating higher temperatures and therefore disruption of normal physiological function.
In the early part of the 1900’s chiropractors, in much the same way, would move the back of the hand up a patient’s spine to locate “hot boxes,” areas of increased temperature. The increased temperature indicated to them, as to Hippocrates, an area of dysfunction and therefore possibly an area in need of a chiropractic adjustment.
As the century and technology progressed, chiropractic analysis became more refined. In 1922 the Neurocalometer (meaning nerve-heat-meter) was invented.
Dossa Evins, an engineer, contracted tuberculosis which then caused kidney failure. The effect that this had on Evins was that, since waste could not leave the body via urine, he excreted it through his sweat glands (called uremic frost) – which didn’t exactly provide a pleasant body odor. In his search for health he got under the care of a chiropractor in San Antonio, Texas. Evins noted that when his spine was in alignment his kidney function improved and he didn’t have the uremic frost. He also noted that the chiropractor analyzed his spine by using the above described method of sensing hot boxes with the back of his hand. Being an engineer, and figuring that if he could help the chiropractor do his job better he would benefit as well, Evins began working on a thermocouple device that would measure and compare skin temperature on either side of the spine. At the same time (1920) he enrolled in the Palmer School of Chiropractic. By 1922 the Neurocalometer was finished and in 1924 it had been tested and retested and was submitted to the chiropractic profession.
Our modern heat-sensing instruments are similar to the one developed by Dossa Evins and our understanding of the meaning of temperature imbalances has advanced since the 1920’s. Chiropractors of that era thought they were detecting the heat of an inflamed nerve, but we now know that the real story is more complex. Abnormal signals generated by spinal misalignments travel into the spinal cord along nerve fibers which connect directly to the part of the nervous system that controls blood flow in the skin. These abnormal signals disrupt the ability of the nervous system to keep the skin temperature even and balanced. The resulting temperature imbalance can be detected using the Neurocalometer or a similar device.
Incidentally, the same part of the nervous system that controls skin temperature also controls many of the major organs and systems of the body. This is why many patients who seek chiropractic care because of back or neck pain also end up noticing improvement of other health problems as well – digestive disorders, asthma, or abnormal heart rhythms, for example.
While many in our profession have abandoned the use of heat-sensing instruments, we at Muncy Chiropractic feel that they have an important place in any program of precise, specific spinal care.