Clarence Gonstead

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Template:Infobox Person Clarence Selmer Gonstead (July 23, 1898 - October 2, 1978) was a chiropractor and creator of the Gonstead Technique. Dr. Gonstead took his boyhood skills as a frontier farmer and auto mechanic and applied them to spinal manipulation to advance the practice of chiropractic.

Early life

Gonstead was born in Willow Lake, South Dakota on July 23, 1898, the son of Carl and Sarah Gonstead. A few years later, his family moved to Primrose, Wisconsin a dairy farm. As a boy, Clarence was interested in repairing tractors and early automobiles, something that would come in handy later in life.

At the age of 19, Gonstead was bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis in his left knee so severe he could not even stand to have the bedsheets touch his knee[1]. After exhausting all other methods, his aunt sought help for Clarence from a chiropractor named Dr. J. B. Olson in Madison, WI. After some adjustments, young Gonstead could walk again. Gonstead decided to become a chiropractor. He would later enroll in the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa.

Meanwhile Gonstead continued work as an automotive engineer in Madison, WI and later Racine, WI. The job allowed him to save enough money to pay for chiropractic school but more importantly, it taught him basic mechanical engineering concepts that he would later apply to the practice of chiropractic.

Gonstead earned a doctor of chiropractic degree in 1923 and returned to his native Wisconsin. He would first practice with Dr. Olson, the man who inspired him to become a chiropractor, before establishing a practice in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin. His younger brother Merton would join his practice in 1929 for a few years before starting his own practice in Monroe, Wisconsin and later Beloit, Wisconsin. He would remain a sole-practitioner for the next twenty years.


Dr. Gonstead's method of chiropractic practice was a natural extension of his training from B.J. Palmer at the Palmer School of Chiropractic. While in school, B.J. began promoting the Neurocalometer (NCM), a chiropractic invention of Dossa Evins, DC [2] to find a subluxation in addition to reliance on x-ray to determine the vertebral misalignment. In practice, Dr. Gonstead assisted in various efforts to improve the quality of these two instruments. For the NCM, it started in 1940s when he became a consultant with the NCM's manufacturer Electronic Development Laboratories, Inc. Over the years, he helped the company define the device's sensitivity paramenters. He worked with various x-ray companies over the years to optimize full-spine x-ray exposure occurred after he became aware of the technology from the suggestion of a colleague. With his input, the full-spine x-ray cassettes offered split screens to account for varying patient density.

Dr. Gonstead is recognized for applying basic mechanical principles to analyzing the spine by using the x-ray. The early chiropractic profession, along with the medical profession, marvelled over the x-ray invention. Chiropractors were particularly interested in using the machine to find the subluxation but without a definite answer, chiropractors became split on its value and clinical application. That was not the case for Dr. Gonstead. He soon recognized that a number of pains and maladies displayed consistent spinal patterns that violated basic mechanical engineering principles. As these ideas matured, they became known as the Level Foundation principle and the Gonstead Disc Concept.

The Level Foundation principle states that any deviation of the spine by a particular segment away from vertical straight is an area of potential misalignment; any deviation of the spine by a particular segment that returns the spine to vertical straight is an area of compensation. The Gonstead Disc Concept attempted to redefine the chiropractic term subluxation. The prevailing hypothesis presented by D.D and B. J. Palmer was that the subluxation was the result of a vertebral bone causing nerve pressure. Accoding to the Gonstead Disc Concept the vertebral disc was the primary culprit of nerve pressure.[3]

Besides redefining the alogrithm for patient evaluation, he is recognized for a new treatment style with one key dogmatic dictum: "Find the subluxation, correct it, and then leave it alone." Following the Gonstead Disc Concept, the adjustment's line-of-drive follows the disc plane line. The result is a distinctive hollow sound that characterizes Gonstead style adjustments from more rotational vectored adjustments common with osteopathic manipulation and chiropractic's Diversified technique. To optimize disc plane line adjusting vectors, Dr. Gonstead had local cabinet makers make his own adjusting tables, later called the Gonstead Set. He also worked with chiropractic table manufacturer Zenith in designing other pieces.[4]. In summary, his method consist of five evaluative critera (visualization, instrumentation, static palpation, motion palpation, and x-ray analysis[5][6]

Finally, Dr. Gonstead's post-graduate program was popular among chiropractors, but it took on greater significance when it helped reorient the failing Palmer School School of Chiropractic. Starting in the early 1930s after Gonstead's graduation, the school narrowed its scope of manipulation by teaching Upper Cervical Specific, also known as Hole-In-One (HIO) which focused on C1-C2. For nearly thirty years, graduates of PSC struggled clinically with little education in full-spine manipulation. Hence Dr. Gonstead's post-graduate seminar program filled a void. When B.J. Palmer died in 1961, BJ's son and successor at PSC David D. Palmer invoked a number of educational changes. One of them included changing the school's curriculum to full-spine chiropractic. To assist in the change, the school worked with Dr. Gonstead and his staff to begin teaching the material at PSC in 1963.[7]


Word of Dr. Gonstead's talent spread quickly in Wisconsin. His first office was modest and located above the bank building in downtown Mount Horeb.[8] In 1939, he built his first clinic in downtown Mount Horeb. It become common for him to work six and half days a week, adjusting up to 250 patients a day.[1] Later in 1964, he opened the Gonstead Clinic of Chiropractic just outside of Mt. Horeb. The modern facility with Norwegian motifs was 29,000 square feet, a reception area for 100 patients, had 11 adjusting/treatment rooms, a complete chemistry laboratory, research facilities, and seminar rooms. By then, the clinic was caring for 300 and 400 patients per day.The next year, 1965, a full-service motel was constructed next to the clinic to accommodate patients. Limousine service was established to shuttle patients from nearby Madison's airport to the motel.

Colleagues began visiting Dr. Gonstead to observe his methods beginning in the late 1940s. In 1954, a formal program started that led to an organized seminar series. Over the next few years, a group of professional teachers helped to organize a formal teaching system leading to an ongoing seminar program that offers classes across the country.[7]

Later life

In 1974, Dr. Gonstead sold the clinic and Gonstead Seminars to Drs. Alex and Doug Cox. On October 2, 1978, at the age of 80 he passed away. He worked 6.5 days per week for 54 years of his professional life and is estimated to have treated two million patients.[9] His clinic continues operation under the ownership of the non-profit C.S. Gonstead Chiropractic Foundation. In 2007 part of the Karakahl motel was sold and demolished. A Walgreen's Drug store now stands where the parking lot and original entryway were located.[10]


  1. 1.0 1.1
  2. Moore J (1995). "The neurocalometer: watershed in the evolution of a new profession.". Chiropr Hist 15 (2): 51–4
  3. Herbst, RW. Gonstead Chiropractic Science and Art. Sci-Chi Publications. 1980
  4. Amman, M (2007) "The Machines and Tools of Clarence Gonstead, DC." Volume 27 Number 2. pp. 55-58.
  5. R.Cooperstein and B.Gleberzon. Technique Systems in Chiropractic. Elvesier. pp. 164-165
  7. 7.0 7.1 Amman, M (2008) "A Profession Seeking Clinical Competency." Chiropractic History Journal. Vol 28 No 2. pp 81-91


  • "Karakahl on the block". WI State Journal (Madison, WI). 14 Feb 2007.

External links

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