History of Osteopathy

Origins Of Osteopathy

In 1865 four members of the family of A T Still died during an epidemic of cerebrospinal meningitis. Beyond his personal pain, Still was traumatised as a doctor by his inability to save his children.

“As I stood there, looking fixedly at the three members of my family – two of my own children and a child we had adopted – all dead from cerebrospinal meningitis, I asked myself a grave question ‘With illness, has God abandoned man to a world of uncertainty?”

He nearly gave up medicine, but in the end, the event proved a powerful incentive in his quest for a different medicine.


A new medical approach

During 1870, he made his first experiments in this new medicine that would become osteopathy. Here is how he describes healing a child suffering from dysentery:

“I took the small sick child, I placed my hand on the little boy’s lumbar region and found it very hot, burning even, whereas his abdomen was cold.  I thought it strange that his back should be so hot and his stomach so cold; the neck and nape were equally hot, as well as the face, nose and the font of his head.  I began to work the base of the brain, believing that with pressure and friction, I could move a little heat towards the cold areas. As I did so, I found zones of rigidity and zones of limpness within the muscles and ligaments all along the spine, whereas the lumbar region was very congested. I worked for several minutes with this philosophy in mind, and told the mother to return the next day; if I could do anything for her boy, I would gladly do so. She returned the following morning and told me that the child was better.”

He didn’t content himself with a purely anatomical, physiological or mechanical approach. He explored all the areas allowed to him by the effervescence of research at the time. He also sought to provide a conceptual framework within which to establish osteopathy not simply as a form of treatment, but also as a philosophical concept which he found seriously lacking from medicine. The work of English philosopher Herbert Spencer provided him with the elements that he needed.

Basic Principles

  • The body is a whole, which the osteopath treats in its entirety.
  • Its structure and multiple functions are correlated and interact with each other.
  • The body has a great capacity for auto-regulation that most often enables it to cope with events in daily life in asymptomatic fashion.
  • When the body’s ability to adapt is altered or when environmental conditions change, the risk of illness or injury is increased.
  • Circulatory movements within the body are essential to maintaining a healthy body.
  • The nervous system also plays an important part in this regulation.
  • The osteopath works on all the circuits of the body.