Monday, February 1, 2010

The Origins of Sacro-Occipital Technic (SOT)

Sacro-Occipital Technic, or SOT, is one of the oldest chiropractic techniques still being used today and has a fascinating historical record thanks to the copious amounts of publishing its founder, Dr. M. B. DeJarnette, did.

At a time when chiropractic was largely based on the concept of a bone that has misaligned and is putting pressure on a nerve, DeJarnette stood out like a sore thumb because he was looking at the nervous system and its effects on the human body quite independently of the vertebral system. On a constant ongoing basis Dr. DeJarnette added to, subtracted from, and altered his technique based on his research findings from his very unusual practice (more on this story another time).

The overarching theme to SOT is the idea that doing different things to the body will result in stimulation and inhibition of various functions via the nervous system. As such, he and BJ had no love lost between them, but DeJarnette was nothing if not focused in his attempt to improve chiropractic and take it beyond the idea of a bone squishing a nerve! SOT encompasses a variety of procedures including vertebral adjusting, reflex manipulation, soft tissue and extremity work, cranial adjusting and even visceral manipulation, all in a systematized approach to correct subluxations and normalize function in the body.

How "The Major" set off down this path is an interesting story in and of itself. While DeJarnette was a student at the Nebraska Chiropractic College (now defunct) in Lincoln, NE, he had a classmate who had to drop out because of a debilitating heart condition. As a senior student, DeJarnette was sent to this man's home to adjust him and see if he could be enrolled back in classes. One of the symptoms affecting this student was extreme pain in the left arm and shoulder (probably referred from the heart), and DeJarnette said that as a student, he hardly knew what to do for this guy, so he put a hot compress on his shoulder in an attempt to relieve some of his discomfort.

According to DeJarnette's story, this caused the man to pass out! Thinking he'd killed his former classmate, DeJarnette filled a pail with cold water and doused the man, which revived him immediately. Later, the man said his shoulder felt a little better! Over the course of several weeks, DeJarnette went to his rooms and alternated warm and cold compresses, and steadily over time his shoulder pain disappeared and his heart condition improved!

Eventually the man was able to come back to the college and graduated, practicing chiropractic for several decades in Nebraska. As DeJarnette related the story, he was congratulated heartily by the students and faculty at the college, and was "big man on campus" for some time, so he never had the heart to tell anyone there he had never, in fact, adjusted the student, simply used hot and cold in a specific way and somehow this stimulated or inhibited the right functions and helped his classmate!

In his 1958 book on the history of SOT, DeJarnette said, “I became obsessed with the idea that what we did to the spine in adjusting did not produce results because we moved a vertebra and removed nerve pressure, but because we either applied stimuli or inhibition.”


  1. Quite fascinating. Thank you for posting.
    Adrienne DeJarnette

  2. Adrienne, are you related to Dr. DeJarnette? I tried to email you but I can't gain access to your information, so would you mind dropping me an email so we can chat a little?

  3. Dr. Agocs,
    Do you think this is where the dichotomy began with Chiropractic: "Straight" adjusters of the spine (removal of VS) and a more broad concept of "stimulation and inhibition" of the nervous system commonly seen in the evolving concepts of Functional Neurology and other techniques and systems? And where some of the foundational arguments within the profession begin, ie are we removing an interference to the expression of II or are we stimulating/inhibiting the body to get a certain outcome which we and the patient desire?
    Any thoughts on the differences?
    Be well!
    Brandon Schultz, D.C.

  4. It's hard to say, Brandon. I don't "know" Dr. DeJarnette very well through the writings I've read. Talking to Dr. Heese would be a good way to clarify your questions, as well as going to the primary source of his writings. There's a very rare booklet DeJarnette wrote called "What is chiropractic?" but it's from early on in his career, so it's tough to know how his explanation of chiropractic would've changed over the years, like everything else in his technique did.

    I would be hard-pressed to pin much real philosophy shift on DeJarnette. If you study chiropractic history closesly, right out of the gates DD's first students started mixing. It was only natural to do so. DD taught nothing about the rationale/philosophy, or much of anything else. He simply taught them the idea of adjusting, so these DO's and MD's who he was training to "practice and teach" took the PROCEDURE they learned, rolled it into what they already knew, and carried on. The tradition of mixing in our profession is as old as our profession.

    For that matter, BJ's philosophy, which really didn't start coming to fruition until 1907 with the Morikubo trial, and progressively got more and more metaphysical throughout his career, didn't jive with Old Dad Chiro's, either. People were constantly accusing BJ of being a mixer. The only reason he was able to shrug off the label was the fact that he had the Palmer name and a lot of clout!

    So, I can't really answer your question. I don't know that there is a "right" and a "wrong" philosophy of chiropractic. Someone with more training in real philosophy could probably answer that, but it seems to me people in this profession have always been willing to declare a "correct and true" philosophy as whatever they want, regardless of whether it is historically accurate or not, when it suits their purposes. I don't like the personification of II, personally, and never have. I think it boils down to the simplest idea that everything alive wants to live, and sometimes there are roadblocks standing in the way of this drive. I don't see the need to get more complicated about it than that, but then again, I've never really been into the metaphysical side of things.

  5. Steve, lots of good points. Much to ponder. I too have always had a hard time with what exactly is "straight" and "mixing".
    Good talking points. I would hate to see where this would have gone on FB... LOL.
    Take care!

  6. Yeah, it's tough to say. Who is the authority who gets to make the judgment, anyway? Things have gotten a little extreme, where people accuse even the straightest of straight chiropractors as being mixers. I fail to see the reality of accusing Clarence Gonstead of being " a naturopath" and etc, when BJ himself had an enormous rehab wing in the research clinic, as well as a medical lab, etc. Sure, he qualified it by not doing any of the lab/medical stuff himself, and he also was quick to mention that "no rehab was used in the care of patients, simply as incentive to move around once they had been adjusted..." but what's the difference between that and doing rehab? lol


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