Principles of Osteopathy and the Founding Osteopath Andrew Taylor Still

Andrew Taylor Still

The Osteopathic philosophy is defined as an approach to health care that embraces the concept of the unity of the living organism’s structure (anatomy) and function (physiology). These are the four major principles of osteopathy

  1. The body is a unit. An integrated unit of mind, body, and spirit: What happens to one part of the body has repercussions for the whole body. This means that Osteopathy not only treats the structure and functions that are affected but also looks at the whole body system and treats it as well.
  2. The body possesses a self-regulatory mechanism, having the inherent capacity to defend, repair, and remodel itself: We are constantly exposed to the forces of nature. We are constantly battered by climatic changes, germs, gravity, stress, etc. Our bodies continually react, trying to find an optimal balance and remain healthy. This unique ability to self-repair can be supported by Osteopathic treatment.
  3. Structure and function are reciprocally inter-related: This implies that if unhealthy structure leads to an unhealthy function. The opposite however is also true. A loss of function results in  a loss of structure. For example: A car that has lost a wheel (loss of      structural integrity) won’t drive very well (loss of function). A car that      has not been driven for many years (loss of function) rusts and breaks down (loss of structure). In Osteopathy we search for these two components and restore the structure or function of the body so that good health is assured.
  4. Rational therapy is based on consideration of the first three principles.

These principles are not held by Osteopaths to be law; instead they are the roots of the Osteopathic philosophy on health and disease.

Osteopathy revolves around voluntary and involuntary motion representing health. Osteopathic technique is used to restore motion where it has ceased which removes obstruction from the person’s inherent self-regulating and self-healing mechanism. This will restore function to achieve health.

Andrew Taylor Still, M.D., D.O. (August 6, 1828 – December 12, 1917) is considered the father of Osteopathy and Osteopathic medicine. He was also a physician & surgeon, author, inventor and Kansas territorial & state legislator. He was one of the founders of Baker University, the oldest 4-year college in the state of Kansas, and was the founder of the American School of Osteopathy (now A. T. Still University), the world’s first Osteopathic medical school, in Kirksville, Missouri

Still defined  Osteopathy as “that science which consists of such exact, exhaustive, and verifiable knowledge of the structure and function of the human mechanism, anatomical, physiological and psychological, including the chemistry and physics of its known elements, as has made discoverable certain organic laws and remedial resources, within the body itself, by which nature under the scientific treatment peculiar to osteopathic practice, apart from all ordinary methods of extraneous, artificial, or medicinal stimulation, and in harmonious accord with its own mechanical principles, molecular activities, and metabolic processes, may recover from displacements, disorganizations, derangements, and consequent disease, and regained its normal equilibrium of form and function in health and strength.”

When asked, “Why did Osteopathy come before the world as a healing art?” Still said: “One says, or has said, that necessity is the mother of invention. It becomes necessary to have some method or system of the healing art based upon a philosophical foundation, because all authors who have written on diseases when their philosophy was carefully read, practiced and weighed proved itself to be a lamentable failure. All writers have simply given us the effects minus cause after all their theorizing, experimenting, diagnosis and treatment. We have found that all of their theories do tremble when we ask the writer to show us the cause of such diseases as shaking palsy, asthma, pneumonia, consumption, goitre, gallstones, spasms, diseases of the heart, locomotor ataxia, facial neuralgia, rheumatism, and the whole list of diseases of which the human is heir to from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot. This necessity is the mother of this invention or discovery, known as the mechanic’s remedy for disease known as Osteopathy. Thus you see that the mechanical healer or Osteopath is the legitimate child of the mother of inventions. Her name is necessity.”

He was one of the first physicians of his day to promote the idea of preventative medicine and the philosophy that physicians should focus on treating the disease rather than just the symptoms.

Still said, “It has been the object of me and also of my teachers to direct and be guided by the compass that points to nothing but demonstrative truth. Nothing disgusts me so quick or makes me so furious as to listen to a long lecture on religion, science, government or any other subject – to sit and listen until I’m worn out physically and mentally. Hoping that the talker will say something practical instead of winding up with “however,” “possibly,” etc. He says “this is authority,” “that is authority” because of its antiquity; its long adoption and so on. There I sit for a morsel of truth that can be demonstrated; but alas he uses that old phrase “possibly this is true” and I quietly think you had better demonstrate and that demonstration be the fact that should stand side-by-side with every assertion as the voucher for its truthfulness. Give me anything but a theory that you cannot demonstrate. My motto is now, and has always been, to work and work hard and obtain knowledge much or little… My work for over 30 years has been confined to the study of man as a machine designed and produced by the mind of the Architect of the Universe. I hope I have by my study discovered and been able to give to the world some of the Truths of Life and the laws that operate to keep the body in healthy condition.”

It was these beliefs that led Still to found the first school of Osteopathy

In a December 7, 1907, interview with the Topeka Daily Capital newspaper, his son, Charles Still, DO, summarized his father’s philosophy as this: “Osteopathy deals with the body as an intricate machine which if kept in proper adjustment, nourished and cared for, will run smoothly into an old useful age. As long as the human machine is in order, the same as the locomotive, it will perform the functions for which it was intended. Every living organism has within itself the power to manufacture and prepare all chemicals, materials and forces needed to build and rebuild itself, producing the only substance that can be utilized in the economy of the individuals.”

Still was born in Lee County, Virginia, in 1828, the son of a Methodist minister and physician.  At an early age, Still decided to follow in his father’s footsteps as a physician. After studying medicine and serving an apprenticeship under his father, he entered the Civil Waras a Hospital Steward but would later state in his autobiography that he served as a “defacto surgeon.” This is consistent with US Army military medical history of the time.

After the Civil War and following the death of three of his children from spinal meningitis in 1864, Still concluded that the orthodox medical practices of his day were frequently ineffective and sometimes harmful. He devoted the next thirty years of his life to studying the human body and finding alternative ways to treat disease. During this period, he completed a short course in medicine at the new College of Physicians and Surgeons in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1870.

Osteopathy Today

Patients consulting an Osteopath are entitled to a high standard of care based on the Osteopathic principles mentioned above. As a patient you can expect your Osteopath to:

  1. Make your care their first concern
  2. Treat you with dignity and respect
  3. Involve you in decisions about your care
  4. Respond promptly to your concerns
  5. Respect and protect your private information

Ensuring High Quality Care

It is illegal to practise as an Osteopath without General Osteopathic Council Registration. Registration means the Osteopath is:

  1. Properly trained and qualified
  2. Of good character and fit to practice
  3. Covered by professional indemnity insurance
  4. Keeping their knowledge and skills up to date.

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