Clarence Selmer Gonstead — (1898-1978) Inventor of the Gonstead Method
Clarence Gonstead took chiropractic practice from back alley bone setting to an understandable bio-mechanical science. His life was dedicated to clinical competency. In the 1930s, the chiropractic profession was dominated by its iconoclastic leader B. J. Palmer and his Hole-In-One upper cervical specific technique. At that time the technical skills of the typical graduating chiropractor were crude and rudimentary. Gonstead changed that and gave the profession a logical and bio-mechanically sound system for practicing chiropractic. With a gift of solving mechanical problems, he developed his own ideas on subluxations, x-ray, and adjusting bones through the empirical data he gathered from his large practice. Although perhaps not his intent, Gonstead redefined the very nature of chiropractic. With the adoption of the Gonstead technique by Palmer School of Chiropractic in the early 1960s, his technique assisted the profession in restoring chiropractic to its full-spine roots.
Life in Primrose, Wisconsin
Gonstead was born in Willow Lake, South Dakota on July 23, 1898, the son of Carl and Sarah Gonstead. A few years later his father decided to relocate the family to Primrose, Wisconsin and become a dairy farmer. Growing up a rural farm provided young Gonstead with plenty of opportunities to explore the mechanical world. His enthusiasm for repairing tractors and early automobiles provided him with the kinesthetic tools for his later calling in life.
The Eureka Moment
Surprisingly, little is known about Gonstead’s education, but while in trade school Gonstead became terribly sick. In his own words:
“I developed acute rheumatoid arthritis… One morning I woke up and my toe next to the little toes was really sore. I could hardly step on it. It hurt all day and the next morning it got worse and the third day the whole foot swelled up. I couldn’t walk on it so I couldn’t go to school… that was about a week and it was just getting pretty good and it jumped into my left knee, and that puffed way up one morning. It hurt so much I couldn’t step on it and then it went into my right knee, so I was out of school for about four weeks. For about two weeks I was in bed, I couldn’t even stand having the (bed) covers over my knee. I had a box over it… the knee was that sore. The University doctors were taking care of me then, they’d come out to the house. I stayed on the east side with my aunt. About the second week she said, “Now you’ve fooled around with those University doctors long enough. Now I’m going to call in my doctor.”
Her doctor happened to be J. B. Olson, a chiropractor. Olson came to the house to care for Gonstead and after a series of adjustments and rest, he could walk again. It was a life changing event for Gonstead.
After trade school, young Gonstead took a job working as an automotive engineer. The job allowed him to save enough money to pay for chiropractic school.
The rest was history. Combining his knowledge of mechanical engineering with his understanding of the body as a functional structure, he developed what is now known as the Gonstead Method of Chiropractic Analysis and Adjusting.