History of Osteopathy

The role of the physician is to find the health within the patient.

The Osteopathic medical profession was founded by Andrew Taylor Still, MD in the 1870’s.  He was the son of a physician, practiced as a country doctor, and served as a surgeon in the Union Army during the Civil War.  He was helpless to prevent his first wife and six of his children from dying of infectious illnesses.  He himself had pneumonia and typhoid.  He was frustrated that the medical practices of that time were frequently ineffective and sometimes harmful.  So he set out to find more effective ways to help people regain health, devoting the next ten years of his life to further study.  

Dr. Still spent many hours re-reading the medical texts of the time and studying cadavers and the animals he hunted.  He was guided by the wisdom he observed in the natural world.  He said, “Osteopathy is to me a very sacred science. It is sacred because it is a healing power through all of nature.”  Dr. Still believed that the role of the physician is to find the health within the patient, and that the body contains all of the elements needed to maintain health.  He taught himself to feel deviations from normal in the living anatomy.  Then he used various manual techniques to restore normal structure and function, allowing the body to regain its self-healing capacity.  

Dr Still called this new medical science Osteopathy.  He had great success, and people came from all across America to see him.  He saved many lives from infectious illness, and helped many people regain health from the full spectrum of medical ailments, totally without the use of drugs.

Dr. Still was unable to convince the medical schools to include his ideas, so he opened a separate Osteopathic medical school in 1892.  From the beginning women were welcomed as students.  The school included the medical training of that time, with anatomy, physiology, pathology, histology, biochemistry, surgery and medicines.  He did not emphasize specific manual techniques, but rather the recognition of health within a person by putting the hands on and observing.  The techniques followed as a way to help restore the health.

An example of the effectiveness of osteopathy was the influenza epidemic of 1917-1918.  Only 0.25% of those treated by osteopaths died, as compared to 6% of those under MD care.  The ability to help restore a person’s health is a very powerful tool.  It is the health within a person that does the real healing.

Osteopathy Today

In the United States today, physicians (medical doctors) who practice medicine hold either the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree (DO) or the Doctor of Medicine degree (MD).   Currently less than 10% of the total physicians in the US have a DO degree.  Both are trained in all aspects of modern medicine including prescription drugs, surgery, and the use of technology to diagnose disease and evaluate injury.  In addition, DO’s still learn Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM) in school, practicing how to use their hands to help diagnose, treat and prevent illness and injury.

Osteopathic physicians are more likely to go into primary care rather than specialize.  DO’s tend to think more holistically, looking at the big picture of the person’s health.  They are more likely to create an individual treatment plan for each person rather than simply treating the diagnosis.  Unfortunately most osteopaths do not continue to use OMM to treat their patients once they are in practice.

A Traditional Osteopathic Practice

Today, only about 5% of DO’s in practice use osteopathic manipulation daily to help each patient regain health. This specialty is often called “traditional osteopathy” and is much in demand.  

To practice traditional osteopathy the knowledge of anatomy, embryology and physiology is very important.  As physicians all osteopaths have the understanding of when to make appropriate referrals to colleagues who are more expert in the use of drugs, surgery or a particular specialty of medicine.

When possible it is best to find the cause of a medical problem and not just treat the symptoms.  If the cause is not clear, a person can still be helped by focusing on restoring health.

A thorough history, a review of any diagnostic work-up, and a hands-on evaluation of the health of each person is done by a traditional osteopath. This includes evaluating the health of the bones, the fascia, the fluids (cerebrospinal fluid, blood, lymphatics), the organs, the connective tissues, and the nervous system of each person.  It is also important determine how all of these systems are integrated together.  Diagnosis and treatment both occur during an osteopathic treatment.

The goal of any doctor should be to help each person recover vibrant health and the ability to keep it.  This includes the ability to quickly regain health if something disrupts it.