A Tribute to Dr. Burl Pettibon By Dr. William H. Koch
Originally Published in The American Chiropractor February 2018
Dr. Burl Pettibon has had an important influence on my life since I began studying with him in 1971. So it was with great sadness that I learned of his passing on December 22, 2017. I am privileged to have known Dr. Pettibon as a friend, teacher and mentor. The depth and breadth of his knowledge, his wit and wisdom never ceased to amaze me.
My studies with him led to my certification as a Spinal Biomechanical Engineer and Certified Instructor in 1977. The Pettibon method became the foundation of my technical and philosophical approach to practice and patient care which has served me and my patients well for almost 50 years.
Dr. Pettibon, founder of the Pettibon Biomechanics Institute, was driven by a profound and enduring dedication to the art and science of chiropractic. A pioneer and original thinker, he took the profession into new realms. Like many innovators he was initially motivated by a personal need.
An avid sportsman, Dr. Pettibon led a very active and adventurous life. He loved hunting, skiing, golfing, motorcycle riding, and racing cars. Over the years he sustained numerous, severe injuries including fractured limbs and severe spinal injuries, including a broken neck.
When he found that the best contemporary chiropractic techniques were unable to help him, he embarked on a personal quest to solve his own problems as well as those of many others for whom the standard of care at the time was not working.
He soon realized that the technical problems he encountered were not anatomical or physiological, but mechanical. He decided to seek assistance from the engineering department of a major university. He approached the faculty with the concept for a hypothetical piece of equipment he said he wanted to design. What he actually described to them was the human spine: its number of moving parts, range of motion, weight bearing and lifting ability.
These expert engineers responded that what he was proposing was impossible. Dr. Pettibon then informed them that what he had described was indeed possible, did in fact exist and worked very well. It was the human spine. What he really needed was help understanding its mechanics, how it worked and how it malfunctioned so he could learn how to fix it.
That was the beginning of a groundbreaking research program in what was to become the field of spinal biomechanical engineering. To that end, he founded the Pettibon Biomechanics Institute.
His many accomplishments include the creation of the Pettibon Spinal Model which revolutionized our understanding of the structural interrelationships and functional characteristics of the spine. He also developed True Plane Spinography which provides us with a 95% accurate and repeatable method of X-raying the spine. The Pettibon X-ray Analysis is an ultra precise quantitative and qualitative system of measuring the subluxation complex and establishing vectors for its correction.
Dr. Pettibon pioneered spinal rehabilitation. His unique protocols are designed to rehabilitate the lateral curves of the spine and facilitate the strengthening and healing of the soft supportive tissues of the spine.
Pettibon instrument and manual adjusting techniques are highly effective protocols for re-establishment of optimal alignment of the six spinal motor units as defined by the Pettibon Spinal Model.
Dr. Pettibon’s wisdom and words will always be with me. His passing is a great loss to me, the chiropractic profession and the many people whose lives he touched so profoundly.