History Of Osteopathy


Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of osteopathy reaffirmed the Hippocratic approach to medicine. He believed that the body is a functional unit and should be treated as a whole. The osteopathic approach acknowledges that bodily imbalances lie behind the illness and that only by treating these the body will be free to fight the disease itself.

The name osteopathy stems from the Latin ‘osteon’ for ‘structure’, and ‘pathos’ for ‘passion for’ or ‘suffering or dysfunction of’.  Osteopaths are often thought of as ‘bone doctors’, but our speciality or passion is for structure as a whole. Dr. Still was a licensed physician in the frontier of the USA who had always been fascinated by human anatomy and the science of healing. He went on to pursue a life of study and practise in medicine and osteopathy.

He was born in 1828 and was brought up in and around Macon County, Missouri. His father was a preacher and country doctor, looking after the bodies and souls of those in his local area. It was from him that he received his first medical training. He then went on to attend and graduate from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Kansas.

Dr. Still was a typical frontier physician, like most of his colleagues, he did many things besides practice medicine: farming, mechanical work and fighting in the Civil War. Dr. Still experienced a particularly dark period in the medical history of the US. His experience as an army doctor during the Civil War in 1861 led him to become very concerned over the way soldiers were treated for their injuries.

After the end of the war he was still practising medicine. He cared for both settlers and Native Americans in his medical practice. He faced many epidemics, such as cholera, malaria, pneumonia, smallpox, diphtheria and tuberculosis.

When his wife and three of their children were claimed by spinal meningitis, it drove him further onto discovering why people became sick. He searched for a more complete and ultimately better form of medicine. In 1874 he first articulated the basic osteopathic principals. He studied good health, rather than diseases, as the basis for more clearly understanding the disease process. The ideas he uses date back to Hippocrates, the father of medicine.

It seemed uncontroversial to have a system of supporting natural health, but there were many critics and factions within the medical practitioners at the time and the era abounded with mistrust. Faced with cynicism towards his developing science, Dr. Still became a roaming physician, first through Kansas, then to Missouri, practising his mechanical skills and talking to all that would listen as he went.

His treatments quickly began to speak for themselves. Using manipulation methods to improve circulation and function, he initially used fewer, then no drugs, and eventually spoke out against nearly all of them.

By 1889 the large numbers of people travelling to his recently founded infirmary were drawing more attention to his approach and the validity of his treatments. He began to gain more respect and understanding from the public and medical practitioners alike.

The quantity of patients and the demand for osteopathy was so high that he was forced to stay in Kirksville, Missouri, where three years later he opened the American School of Osteopathy. He aimed for excellence in knowledge and was often quoted as saying, “We teach you anatomy in all its branches, that you may be able to have and keep a living picture before your mind all the time, so you can see all joints, ligaments, muscles, glands, arteries, veins, lymphatic, fascia superficial and deep, all organs, how they are fed, what they must do, and why they are expected to do a part, and what would follow in case that part was not well done and on time.”

Since this time, many institutions around the world have opened to teach osteopathy, and the practice, research and development of the science has never stopped. The next generation of osteopaths carried on the work with the various aspects of osteopathy, each contributing to its growth. They include such pioneers as Viola Frymann D.O., Rollin Becker D.O., Thomas Schooley D.O., Harold I. Magoun D.O., William Garland Sutherland D.O. and John Martin Littlejohn D.O. to name but a few.

In the early 1900s, William Garner Sutherland D.O., who was trained by Dr. Still, continued the profession’s development, researching and practising in the field of cranial osteopathy in what was called the Cranio-Sacral Functional Unit. President Theodore Roosevelt received a successful osteopathic treatment, which helped its benefits to become officially recognised in the USA. The later trend of osteopathy in the United States was towards the practise of medicine and surgery, veering away from the pure origins of the discipline and the desire of it's founder. Now the American Academy of Osteopathy is doing everything it can to address this and preserve its inherent potential and clear philosophy.

Dr. Still was the first to welcome minorities and women into medical school. He warned that women especially were regularly the victims of needless surgery and warned that the USA would have a major drug addiction problem during this century if doctors did not stop over prescribing addictive drugs.