By 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, the beleaguered patients—their bodies creaking and popping, their central nervous systems aflame—have packed a cramped waiting room in an office building overlooking the traffic-clogged Sam Houston Parkway.
Old and young, white and brown, wealthy and working class, they are a quintessential assemblage of twenty-first-century Houston. And yet, many of the patients at Advanced Chiropractic Relief have arrived here from far away.
Among them is Sergio, a bulky, thirty-year-old construction worker suffering from excruciating back pain, who has made the seven-hour drive from Oklahoma City. Shekynah, a 23-year-old flight attendant with a herniated disc so painful she lost consciousness at 30,000 feet, flew in from her home in Boston. Professional athletes are fixtures here, as are worn-down roughnecks, bodybuilders, and tattooed military veterans referred by the local VA medical center. Svelte Instagram influencers are regulars, as are a race car driver, Vietnam veterans, and a former Miss Texas USA. In recent months, patients have journeyed to this understated office decorated with religious quotes and homeopathic paraphernalia from places as distant as China and Australia, each with their own horror stories of bodily breakdown.
But for almost all of them, the road to this office began even earlier, when they logged on to YouTube and found themselves mesmerized by videos showing a lively, silver-haired man in blue scrubs violently tugging on people’s necks—unleashing loud pops and even louder profanities. The man doing the pulling is Dr. Gregory Johnson, a magnetic, 61-year-old Houston chiropractor whose unorthodox methods and folksy charm have made him a YouTube phenomenon, with 387,000 subscribers and more than 111 million views. He has given his signature spine realignment—a technique resembling some combination of exorcism and medieval torture that online audiences can’t seem to get enough of—an official title: the “Ring Dinger.”
Johnson claims his wildly popular footage is strictly “educational.” But in an era in which YouTube is turning ordinary people into homegrown celebrities who can pocket hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in ad revenue each year, some critics see a problem. They allege that the content is merely a money-making scheme from practitioners of a profession marred by fraud and pseudoscience.
“An evangelical Christian with a strong Southern twang who races Corvettes and claims to have a black belt in tae kwon do, he considers himself a tool of healing whose hands are divinely directed. But his primary goal, he says, is more earthly in nature: to spread the gospel of chiropractic medicine to the uninitiated masses.”
Johnson dismisses these claims as the age-old bias of establishment medicine. An evangelical Christian with a strong Southern twang who races Corvettes and claims to have a black belt in tae kwon do, he considers himself a tool of healing whose hands are divinely directed. But his primary goal, he says, is more earthly in nature: to spread the gospel of chiropractic medicine to the uninitiated masses.
“I’m showing people everything that I do as a chiropractor,” Johnson said, referring to the transparent nature of his video content. “But I’m most passionate about changing the world’s perception of chiropracting, because for too long we’ve had that alternative, cultish type of label.”