What Is It?
How To Choose a Practitioner

What Is It?

A little known but growing specialty in complementary medicine today, naprapathy utilizes hands-on healing techniques as well as nutritional counseling, exercise, and relaxation methods to treat a range of health problems. The word comes from the Czech napravit meaning "to correct," and the Greek pathos, for "suffering," and doctors of naprapathy (D.N.s) are dedicated to this cause.

Naprapathy was developed in the late 1800s by Dr. Oakley Smith, who departed from his original chiropractic training after that method failed to work for his own chronic back pain. After much experimentation on himself (with the help of his brother), Smith cured his back problem by manipulating the soft body tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons) surrounding the spine, rather than treating the spine itself.

Smith came to believe that it was energy blockages in the soft tissues that not only caused back problems like his but also led to a variety of other physical complaints. These blockages, he suggested, appeared as muscular contractions in response to psychological conflicts, physical injuries, poor nutrition, and improper posture. The concept that disease results from blocked energy was hardly a new one-Oriental and Ayurvedic medicine were founded on it-and yet Smith's theories were considered highly innovative. In 1907 he founded what is today known as the Chicago National College of Naprapathy, one of two accredited schools for this profession in the world (the other is in Sweden, see How to Choose a Practitioner).

Today, naprapathy is used to treat a wide array of ailments. Most common are back, neck, and hip problems, which in turn may produce systemic complaints such as low energy, tension headaches, digestive disorders, or unexplained depression, for example. During treatment, the spine is at times manipulated, but only to use the vertebrae as "levers" for stretching the soft tissue, not to alter their position (as in chiropractic subluxation).

Because Smith's teachings emphasized specific stretching or "mobilization" of soft tissues, naprapathic manipulation is not highly forceful. After locating areas of pain or rigidity (called "ligatites"), a naprapath will gently manipulate the tissues, stretch and massage constricted areas, and apply pressure to specific places (called trigger points) until the muscle, tendon, or ligament loosens.

The goal of this therapy is to restore natural flexibility and release tension, leaving the connective tissues pliable and in balance. This not only relieves pain and improves mobility, but enhances blood flow, nerve conduction, and the body's own healing energy. Like chiropractors, naprapaths will employ nutritional supplements and herbs to facilitate the body's ability to heal itself.

Most insurance carriers reimburse visits to a naprapath. In Illinois, where the National College is located, naprapathy is covered by 90% of insurance programs. Most PPO plans from major carriers in other states will also cover naprapathy, but if you're concerned about getting reimbursed, call your insurance provider to check before you schedule a visit.

How To Choose a Practitioner

A doctor of naprapathy carries the designation D.N. Many naprapaths are found in the Midwest, because the four-year Chicago National School of Naprapathy is located there. To be credentialed, naprapaths must complete a minimum of six years of higher education. The Chicago school accepts some candidates with a science background after two years of college.

After graduation, candidates take a licensing examination given by the state of Illinois. This is a limited professional health-care license similar to those received by doctors in specialties such as optometry, chiropractic, and podiatry. To maintain their credentials, naprapathic doctors are required to take 30 hours of certified continuing education every year. Because of naprapathy's success in treating joints and injured extremities, some naprapaths are now entering the field of sports medicine.

The only other existing recognized institution of naprapathy is located in Sweden, and credentials from the Scandinavian College of Manual Medicine should be considered reliable. Always check that anyone claiming to be a naprapath has been certified by one of these two institutions. A new U.S. school of naprapathy, which will be affiliated with Western New Mexico University in Silver City, New Mexico, is currently in the planning stages.

Check with the Chicago National School of Naprapathy to locate a D.N. in your area

Date Published: 04/19/2005
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