History of osteopathy


Osteopathy was founded in the late 1800s by physician and surgeon Andrew Taylor Still in Kirksville, Missouri. As the son of a surgeon, Still soon discovered that in order to achieve the highest possible form of health, all parts of the body should work together harmoniously.

History of osteopathy

His goal was to restore the body to optimum health with minimal surgery and medicine, influenced in part by the realization that medical treatments of that time were largely ineffective and in some cases, harmful.

Over time, during which he treated patients with a wide range of conditions, from dysentery to sciatica and arthritis, with varying results, he gained a reputation as an effective practitioner. Patients from all over America flocked to Kirksville for treatment. Soon demand was so high, boarding houses were built and train routes were altered to cater for the amount of people seeking treatment.

In 1892, Still took on the first wave of 22 osteopathic students at the American School of Osteopathy (now known as the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine). The first class of both men and women (symbolic of Still’s strong sense of liberalism) were taught over a period of two years, and included in-depth education in physiology and anatomy. He drew in full practice rights for his students, and upon graduation, awarded them the title of D.O (Doctors of Osteopathy).

One of Still’s early students was J Martin Littlejohn, who moved back to Britain with his family in 1913, where he helped found the British School of Osteopathy (today the oldest and largest osteopathic school in Europe) and the Journal of Osteopathy in 1917. This helped to lay foundations for osteopathy in Europe.

Both Chris Ruddick and Tina Wissmann graduated from the British School of Osteopathy in London.

The principles of osteopathy

Where there is life, there is motion. Osteopathy appreciates the significance of even the smallest motion within all the tissues and cells of the body, and applies this understanding in its unique form of medical care. Simply put, when the body’s motion is in balance, a state of health exists.

When this motion is disturbed, health is affected and a state of disease can arise. It is the osteopath’s highly developed sense of touch (palpation) that allows him to palpate this motion and, through skilled hands, to use manipulative treatments. These treatments can relieve disturbances of motion and enhance the vitality and function of the patient.

Although osteopathy employs the practice of manual medicine, it is not just a set of techniques. It is a philosophy and a science based on the application of sound principles. Initially conceived during the late 19th century by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of osteopathy, these are the four principles on which the philosophy and science of osteopathy is based upon:

  1. Structure and function are interrelated.

From the smallest cell to the largest bone, all of anatomy is alive and in constant dynamic, rhythmic motion. Blood flows, lymphatics drain and cerebral spinal fluid fluctuates. The heart beats and the ribcage expands and contracts with each respiration. Each and every organ gently moves as it functions. Each and every structure had its own inherent rhythmic activity. This is the living anatomy that osteopaths feel with their hands. When this motion becomes impaired, the tissues will not function as they were intended. As a result of this altered motion, symptoms develop, and disease may even occur.

Dr. Still described the body as being like a machine. It has interrelated parts that need to be in proper position and to move correctly for optimal function. For example, taking a deep breath may be difficult if the ribs, diaphragm or parts of the spine do not move well. When breathing is impaired, lymphatic drainage (necessary for clearing congestion and inflammation) will also be impaired. This may lead to development of respiratory infections.

  1. The body is a single dynamic unit of function.

There are many unifying systems within the body. The circulatory system supplies blood to every tissue and organ. The nervous system connects and integrates all of the body’s functions. A third unifying system is comprised of a connective tissue matrix called fascia. The fascia is a continuous sheath of living tissue that connects the body front to back, head to toe. It surrounds every muscle, organ, nerve and blood vessel. A primary function of this fascial system is to support and lubricate. Thus, the circulatory system, the nervous system and the fascia all help to organize the body into a unified continuous whole. No single part exists independent of the whole.

Understanding this concept of functional unity allows osteopaths to diagnose and treat their patients as a functional whole. This may explain why an osteopath may treat an area that is fairly distant from the area of pain.

  1. The body possesses self-regulatory and self-healing mechanisms.

The human body is always working to maintain a state of balanced function. For example, blood pressure, blood sugar and the heart rate are actively kept within a normal range. When there is a tear in the tissues, a physician can assist by cleaning the wound and bringing the edges together, but healing occurs by the action of inherent forces and processes within the body.

Dr. Still stated: ‘ All the remedies necessary to health exist in the human body.’ he understood that within the tissues, there is an inherent wisdom, a wise all-knowing restorative force, and intelligence within every cell that keeps the body well.  When a state of discord arises, this healing force acts to restore functional balance and harmony. Sometimes the body’s self-healing forces are impaired or impeded by disease or structural imbalance. The osteopath is trained to improve the structural balance to help the body t better quickly heal itself.

  1. Rational treatment is based on applying these principles.

Osteopathic treatment applies these principles with a sound and thorough knowledge of anatomy and physiology. An osteopathic approach to treatment typically integrates osteopathic manipulation to restore structural freedom in the tissues, enhance fluid flow throughout the body and creates the optimal setting for healing to occur.