A Recipe for the Body: Chiropractic Medicine in Mexico (Part I)


Jethro Hernández Berrones

In the 1970s, Posada Press launched a book series for popular audiences that examined topics on science, religion, history, and society. In this series, chiropractor Ignacio Martínez Ugalde published Quiropráctica: La ciencia y técnica de curar con las manos, where he examined the history and foundations of chiropractic medicine. As in domestic health manuals of a century earlier, he also included a series of recipes for the body, “diverse techniques of chiropractic treatment”, like the following one.

Rheumatism. It is a rheumatic mesenchymal ailment with pain, fever, and osteo-articular deformities[. …] Adjustment or treatment. Adjustment should be oriented towards parts of the spine related to the elimination organs. The medial and lower part of the dorsal and lumbar zone are the ones invariable linked to these cases.”[1]

Martínez Ugalde’s work aimed at positioning chiropractic medicine as a new, safe, scientific, and regulated practice that Mexicans could consume in the last decades of the 20th century. However, his examples drew from the practice of chiropractic in the United States and around the world, ignoring its long history in Mexico (fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Francisco Montaño Pizarro in a chiropractic consulting room. Personal archives of Francisco Montaño Benet.


In spite of the long tradition of bodily manipulation for therapeutic purposes in Mexico dating back to pre-Colombian times, the technique disassociated from academic medicine during the colonial and early nationalist periods. Scholars usually associate these bodily manipulations with indigenous practices either preserved in communities with reduced contact with European culture or absorbed by surgery under the colonial model of medical education. Visible among the indigenous population, the sobador (masseur) and the huesero (bonesetter) disappeared from the professional landscape in urban medicine after the 17th century. They, however, continued healing communities in remote or secluded spaces, away from the surveillance of academic and governing institutions. Mexicans’ increasing mobility within the country in the first decades of the 20th century promoted the contact between indigenous and foreign medical cultures. Mexico City became a space of therapeutic encounters and healing opportunities where chiropractic medicine flourished.

Fig. 2. Celebration at the School of Chiropractic Medicine. Francisco Montaño Luna, second row from the top, fourth from the right. Manlio Fuentes, below from Montaño wearing glasses and looking to his right. Taken from “Historia de la quiropráctica en México. La primera ola: Los pioneros” in nova (junio, 2011), p. 20.

The study of the history of chiropractic medicine in Mexico still awaits its historian. This blog entry offers a few ingredients I found prospecting the archival mines of unorthodox healers in post-revolutionary Mexico in an attempt to aid in concocting a nuanced narrative of 20th century Mexican medicine. If bodily manipulations as treatment are common in many cultures, their modern formulation as a systematized body of knowledge belongs to Daniel David Palmer in the United States during the Progressive era.[2] The first chiropractors were American and South American and had studied Palmer’s system in the United States. They obtained a license to practice and offered their services in the early 1920s in Mexico City and the state of Nuevo León.[3] Francisco Montaño Luna, in 1921, and Manlio Fuentes were the first two Mexicans who graduated from the Palmer School of Chiropractic.[4]

Back in Mexico City in 1927, the first generation of chiropractors organized the Mexican Association of Chiropractic and the Hispano-American School of Chiropractic “David D. Palmer” (fig. 2).[5] If they had recipes to manipulate their patients’ bodies to relieve them from their discomforts, they also had a prescription for the body politic.  I detail this recipe in the next blog entry coming soon…



[1] Ignacio Martínez Ugalde, La quiropráctica: Ciencia y técnica de curar con las manos” Colección Duda. (México, D. F.: Editorial Posada, S. A., 1974), 111, 126.

[2] An American healing system, chiropractic medicine has received some attention by historians. Holly Folk, The Religion of Chiropractic: Populist Healing from the American Heartland (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017); Steven C. Martin, ““The Only Truly Scientific Method of Healing”: Chiropractic and American Science, 1895-1990″ Isis 85, no. 2 (1994): 207-27; Martin, Steven C. “Chiropractic and the social context of medical technology, 1895-1925”, Technology and Culture 34 (1993): 808-834; J. Stuart Moore, Chiropractic in America: The History of a Medical Alternative (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); Walter I. Wardwell, Chiropractic: History and Evolution of a New Profession (St. Louis: Mosby Yearbook, 1992); Walter I. Wardwell, “Chiropractors: Evolution to Acceptance”, in Norman Gevitz, Other Healers: Unorthodox Medicine in America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), 157-191; and Gibbons, Russell W. “Physician-chiropractors: Medical Presence in the Evolution of Chiropractic” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 55, no. 2 (1981): 233-45

[3] Dr. S. Voquero was a South American who had studied at the Texas Chiropractic College; he established a practice in Nuevo León. Dr. L. M. Driver from the National School and Dr. C. E. Boswell of the Los Angeles College of Chiropractic established their practice in Mexico City before Clarence W. Weiant. Clarence W. Weiant, “The Chiropractor and Chiropractic in Mexico”, The Chiropractor & Clinical Journal 17, 6 (June, 1921), 16, 45, 47, 51; Joseph C. Keating, “Chronology of Chiropractic in Mexico”, June 22, 1998. https://www.institutechiro.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Mexico_Chiro-in-chrono.pdf

[4] Roberto Luis Cerón, “Historia de la quiropráctica en México: La primera ola, los pioneros”, Nova (junio, 2011) 18-21.

[5] Manlio S. Fuentes and Francisco Montaño Luna’ correspondence to President of Mexico Emilio Portes Gil, January 18, 1927, Archivo General de la Nación, Secretaría de Educación Pública, Departamento de Psicopedagogía e Higiene, Box 35536, referencia 143, expediente 47, folios 1-6.

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