About Dr. Thompson

Founder of Thompson Technique

About Dr. Thompson

Founder of Thompson Technique


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J. Clay Thompson DC PhC

Dr. J Clay Thompson often told his students that our lives are planned; that it was no accident that they were a part of the greatest profession, chiropractic. As we look back on his life, we can clearly see how his experiences led him to become a pioneer in the development of chiropractic equipment and technique.

About Dr. Thompson

1909 - Dr. Thompson Is Born

Dr. Thompson was born in Hartville, Wyoming, and grew up in the little river town of Keithsburg, IL. Clay came from a poor family and worked to help support his family from a very young age. He worked at Al Cannon’s Machine Shop, cleaning up the shavings and later learned how to run the lathe and planer and other machinery. Al Cannon was the only machinist in the area and did quite a bit of work for the Mississippi River boats. Clay developed a good mechanical background at this young age. He had a second job at Jack Gilrain’s Drug Store on Saturdays where he helped make prescriptions and developed a real interest in becoming a pharmacist himself one day.

1927 - Big Dreams

In 1927, Clay had the opportunity to study the violin at the Chicago Conservatory of Music at the age of 18 and Jack Gilrain was able to get Clay a job at Fred Raymond’s Drug Store where Clay earned his Pharmacist’s assistant certificate.

1930s - Great Depression

When the Great Depression hit, Clay moved back to Keithsburg where he worked at the McKee button factory. Buttons were made from the clam shells found in the Mississippi River. Clay met and married Peggy Miller in 1935, and the two moved to the Quad Cities where Clay got a job at the John Deere Harvester Company in the experimental department.

1935 - Tragedy Strikes

At the age of 26, Clay suffered a blow to the head while unloading lumber from a truck. A short time later he developed Acute Diabetes Mellitus. Despite seeing the best specialists in the area, he did not respond to any of the treatments. His blood sugar rose to over 500 and his doctors told him to get his affairs in order because he had less than 2 weeks to live. Clay was showing all the symptoms of late state Diabetes. He was filling up with fluid and hadn’t changed his clothes in days because he was in so much pain that it even hurt if someone came into the room to talk to him.

Peggy took Clay to his parent’s home to die. Clay’s father begged Clay to see the old family Chiropractor. With Clay’s medical background, he said to his father, “Why should I see some old quack when the best doctors can’t help me?” His Dad said, “Well Clay, how much worse could he do? What have you got to lose?” To make his father happy more than anything, Clay agreed to take the train to DesMoines, IA to see Dr. James Delk.

1935 - A Revelation

Dr. Delk picked Clay up from the train and took him to his home. He did an exam, took x-rays and told Clay,” I have found your problem.” Clay was angry and said, “There is nothing wrong with my back! I have Diabetes.” Dr. Delk said, “Alright, alright Clay. Hold your horses. We will see about that.” Before Clay knew it, Dr. Delk had laid him on an old split table and gave him a forceful adjustment. Clay felt a warmth come over his body and he slept for the first time in weeks that night. Dr. Delk adjusted him every day for the next 16 days and Clay returned home completely recovered never exhibiting symptoms of diabetes again. Ten years later, Clay would enter the Palmer School of Chiropractic at the age of 36. In the meantime, Clay completed courses in engineering which would help him years later as an inventor and developer of Chiropractic equipment.

1945 - School Days

When Clay entered school in 1945, the adjusting tables had not been updated since 1915. These were the HIO days and patients were adjusted on the side posture table with stationary headpiece. In technique class, students practiced their toggle recoil on old rubber stools. The higher you could make your stool jump, the better your recoil.

Clay was excited to adjust his first patient in the Palmer Clinic. He laid his patient on the table as instructed, carefully took his contact, and to his surprise, he felt a great deal of his force come back into his body when he delivered the adjustive thrust. He knew there had to be a better way to adjust patients that was easier on the patient and the doctor.

1950s - Developments

Dr. Thompson developed a head clamp and timer for x-ray and got the attention of BJ who started asking him to work on projects for ideas BJ had. This was the start of a very close friendship, and Dr. Thompson stated that BJ was like a father to him.

The idea for the first drop headpiece started when Dr. Thompson started seeing patients in his home. He bought a rickety homemade table from a graduating student. The headpiece on the table had a loose screw jack, so it gave a little when an adjustment was given. As soon as Dr. Thompson saved enough money, he bought a new table. He noticed his results were not as good on this new table and his patients complained. They wanted him to go back to using the old table. Dr. Thompson realized the difference was the “give” in the headpiece of the old table.

1950s - Prototype

Dr. Thompson started experimenting with the first headpiece on his patients and got permission from Dr. Nip Quigley (BJ Palmer’s nephew) to try the new headpiece out on the mental patients at Clearview Sanitarium. It was here that Dr. Thompson knew he really had something. Nip told BJ about the miraculous results Dr. Thompson was getting with this new headpiece. After seeing the headpiece and having Dr. Thompson adjust BJ on it, he said, “Clay, this will revolutionize Chiropractic!” BJ told Dr. Thompson to get a prototype ready for Lyceum. It was at the 1952 Palmer Homecoming, BJ debuted the table on a platform and demonstrated how to use it. To the surprise of many, it was BJ who encouraged Dr. Thompson to develop this new principle into a full spine table.

1955 - Process Patent

Dr. Thompson was able to get a process patent in 1955 on the drop headpiece for the treatment of human ailments. There were only eight given out at that time, so this was quite an accomplishment. The patent states that this headpiece was made for the Chiropractor – NOT the MD or PT. BJ stated, ”This decision nails down to the Chiropractic profession that this headpiece will be used for the exclusive use of the doctors of Chiropractic to carry on their work of getting sick people well, and for the good of all humanity.”

1957 - The Thompson Table

The first full spine table was sold in 1957 and 11 or 12 tables were put together at a machine shop in East Moline, IL. Williams Manufacturing in Elgin, IL and Rock Manufacturing in Jonesville, Michigan took over making the headpiece. Since Williams Manufacturing in Elgin, IL was already making the hi-lo table, so it was a great decision to have the tables made there. Williams Manufacturing, now Williams Health Care Systems, has made many improvements on the table over the years and has been a faithful supporter of Dr. Thompson’s work.

1957 - Positive Feedback

In BJ Palmer’s Vol. XXXV 1957, History In The Making, BJ clearly outlines the evolution of adjusting tables and states this of the PTA (Palmer Thompson Adjustment) table,” As of this time, after working with this table and seeing what it makes possible, we are convinced it is the most progressive step to more accurately adjust any subluxation, or for correction of any misalignment.” Later in the same chapter, BJ writes, “All we are doing now, is to take this new principle of the PTA head-piece, that makes possible for Innate to do a more perfect and precise job in adjusting the superior cervical specific misalignments, if, as, and when they exist. In no sense, however; is this getting back to the old meric system as we once knew it.” At the end of the chapter he says,” This PTA table is another step along the continuous and tortuous road we have set as our goal. This may not be the last word, but it is a substantial part of what we have been working to attain. It is difficult to know how to describe the aftereffects from an adjustment on PTA table. It isn’t exactly an over-all-glow, or a feeling of complete relaxation; possibly the nearest expression would be to say, “There is an all-rightness feeling” which
comes into one.”

1995 - A Fulfilling Career

Dr. Thompson took the Derefield leg checks and created the Thompson-Derefield Leg Check analysis. Throughout his career, he received 23 patents on Chiropractic equipment and a process patent for the headpiece. Dr. Thompson served on the faculty of Palmer College from 1947 to 1961 where he was the head of research for 10 years. He lectured in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, Korea, Hawaii, Canada, and Jamaica. Dr. Thompson was on the continuing education faculty of Life, Life West, Cleveland, CMCC, PCC and PCC West. He was awarded Chiropractor of the Year in 1958, the DD Scientific Award in 1967, and the Life Chiropractic College Science Award in 1983. His table was on display at the Smithsonian Institute as well. Dr. Thompson believed Chiropractors should spend time adjusting patients, not tables. His table, the Zenith 440 Thompson Table is still available through Williams Healthcare Systems and remains the “Cadillac” of adjusting tables.

Dr. Thompson passed away in 1995 at the age of 86. Chiropractic gave him an additional 60 years of life. It is no wonder Dr. Thompson believed Chiropractic is the greatest profession in the world!

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