What is Osteopathy

1. Definition
2. Osteopathy History
3. Philosophy
4. Principles

Osteopathy is a science that believes anomalies in the bodys muscles, joints, and tendons cause most diseases, pain, and general unease in a person. Osteopathic medicine is a form of treatment that utilizes physical manipulation to return the bodys structure to its natural balance thus reversing conditions that may cause alarm.

Osteopathy Definition

Osteopathic medicine bases its treatment techniques on the principle that the body acts as a whole. Therefore, when one part is in an atypical position, it does not only affect that particular spot, but also the rest of the body. The parts of the body are all interconnected and any abnormality in structure or function results in discomfort.

Osteopathy is widely recognized as a treatment, or part of a treatment for various conditions. There are several forms of physical manipulation that are employed in this practice. Manipulation may involve a Doctor of Osteopathy moving a joint through its normal range of motion, placing a joint or muscle in a relaxed position and stretching and loosening it, as in craniomandibular osteopathy, moving a joint to find any restrictions, or forcing the muscles to go against resistance.

Osteopathic medicine is considered by many to be a protoscience, or a new area of scientific undertaking that is still in the process of being established. Available scientific evidence does not support claims that Osteopathic treatment alone is effective in most diseases, although there are studies that indicate the benefits of Osteopathy to musculoskeletal problems and discomfort related to it.
Nevertheless, the principles and theories behind Osteopathy go in accordance with standard medical practices, and are based on the same scientific studies that other medical professionals use. In recent years, the differences between a doctor of Osteopathy and a doctor of medicine have become minimal.

The philosophy of Osteopathy is what sets it apart from other medical disciplines. In essence, it is a drug-free and non-invasive treatment that allows the body to heal itself. Osteopaths only intervene when the body is in distress and requires manipulation to the musculoskeletal system to promote its own healing process. Osteopaths also believe in working together with a system of other health providers as appropriate.

History of Osteopathy

Portrait of Andrew Taylor StillOsteopathy was established in the United States in 1874 by Andrew Taylor Still, MD. (shown at right) Due to the deaths of his wife and several of his children from infectious diseases, he was led to judge traditional medicine as ineffective and lacking.

Osteopathy was Dr. Stills reaction to the dependence of conventional medicine on drug therapy. He advocated that drug therapy, and especially surgery, should only be considered as a last resort in treating diseases.

Dr Still promoted the theory that diseases could be cured by working on misaligned bones, joints, and muscles, clearing obstructions in the path of the bodys natural ability to make itself recover. He believed that the primary duty of a physician is to assist in removing hindrances to the healthy function of every person.

Still founded the first Osteopathic school in the town of Kirksville, Missouri in the year 1892. The schools curriculum focused on a treatment that gives emphasis to complete patient care through centering on the neuromusculoskeletal system as an important element in the process of healing. He encouraged his students to continue researching his hypothesis over the years and, by 1913, scientific researchers from the Andrew Taylor Research Institute had joined the effort.

In time, Still developed an evolution in medical practice with his theory on Osteopathy, forming a full medical curriculum meriting cognition from the State of Missouri of its equivalency to an MD degree. However, Still chose to maintain the distinction from conventional medicine by awarding graduates with a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) degree.

Today, the curriculum of Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) that Dr. Still started in his school (now the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine) is taught in 20 Osteopathic medical colleges in the United States. Once excluded from practice in conventional hospitals and institutions, Osteopathy has evolved to include theories and practices of conventional medicine. There are approximately 60,000 DOs in practice, some of which are in general practice, the others in primary care specializations such as pediatrics, internal medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology.

Osteopathic Medicine training in the United Sates involves four years of academic studying, including two years of clinical rotations, after which, DOs need to serve a one year internship to gain experience in internal medicine, obstetrics/gynecology, general practice, pediatrics, and surgery. A DO then enrolls in a residency program of their choice, which adds two to six more years of education, depending on their choice of specialization.

In the United Kingdom, Osteopathy developed as a distinct profession beginning in the early 1900s. The British School of Osteopathy, still in existence, was the first Osteopathic education institution outside the USA. Osteopathy has experienced exponential development over the past decade. The General Osteopathic Council (GOC), the first institution for Osteopaths in the UK, is continuously working on information dissemination on the history and current status of Osteopathy. Its aim is to enlighten the community on the standards of practice, continuous education and training, and research activities going on in the field of Osteopathy and its practitioners. All graduates of Osteopathic colleges or institutions are registered with the GOC before bearing the title “Osteopath.”

In other countries Osteopathic Medicine has also taken roots. Osteopathy began in Australia in the early 1940s and now has more than 1100 practitioners all over the country. The professional body for Osteopaths is the Australian Osteopathic Association which represents its members and also serves as a source of information for other allied medical professions and the community.


The philosophy of Osteopathy is what sets it apart from other medical disciplines. It describes the belief in how your health can be defined through motion. When your body is healthy, there is a state of equilibrium in motion. When your bodys motion is agitated, your health is affected. It causes disease.

Osteopathy is, in essence, a drug-free and non-invasive treatment that focuses on the wellness of the musculoskeletal system to promote absolute body health. When your body is free of restrictions or limitations in its structures and functions, it is unimpeded in healing itself.

Thus, Osteopathy itself is not preventive therapy. Instead, Osteopaths defer to your bodys ability to self regulate and only intervene when your body is in distress, as evidenced by pains and irritations. When this occurs, they apply a distinctive form of medical care called manipulative treatment. They heal by performing manipulations with their well-trained hands. By using their hands, Osteopathic doctors can diagnose illness, reduce pain, and balance muscles and tissues.

Osteopathy applies the practice of manual medicine. It shouldnt be considered as just a group of techniques joined together. The application of these sound principles is based on philosophy and science. When these principles are put into practice, they can make intense improvement in your overall health.


The Interrelation of Structure and Functions

A young male patient is given osteopathic treament to his head and neck by a physician.Lifes primary attribute is motion. All parts of the anatomy are animate. They have steady, rhythmical and active motion. The movements within a healthy and balanced body are smooth flowing. Unrestricted movement between the structures of the body is important for your physical condition. Some examples of these movements that are very obvious are the flow of blood inside your body and the beating of your heart.

Other, less obvious, movements inside your body are the drainage of lymph nodes and the fluctuating of cerebral spinal fluid. Each structure or organ gently moves as it functions. Every part has its inherent regular activity.
Osteopathic physicians feel this movement with their hands. When this motion is disrupted, your tissues cant perform their intended functions. Your body is like a machine, according to Dr. Still, and it has interrelated components that must be in the correct position to move properly for the best function. If the parts do not blend well with one another, they will malfunction or fail. Every structure fulfills a specific function. Form determines function and function determines form. Health emanates when form and function are perfectly expressed.

The Body as a Unit

Dr. Still used this phrase long before it was popularized by Jan Smutts. It simply means that every component of the body has an effect on every other part. It also implies that the body is more than just its parts added together. Knowledge of this concept permits Osteopathic physicians to identify your illness and treat your body as a functional whole.
There are different organ systems within your body.

The circulatory system distributes blood throughout your tissue and organs. The nervous system links and integrates your bodys functions. Another system, called fascia, is composed of patterns of connective tissue and its main function is to support and lubricate. It is a very important component in Osteopathy treatment. Together with the nervous system and the circulatory system, fascia manages your bodys work as a whole. When one of these parts malfunctions your body, as a unit, malfunctions.

The Body Possesses Self-healing Mechanisms

Osteopathy acknowledges your bodys ability to heal itself and maintain its own equilibrium. For example, when you have torn tissues, a physician can only aid by cleaning the wound. If the cut is very deep, he can stitch the skin together. The healing will develop on its own. Dr. Still stated that all remedies necessary to health exist in the human body. Every cell has a natural, curative energy that will take action to reestablish functional balance when there is disorderliness in the tissues.

There are times when your bodys healing power might be weakened due to ailments and other functional disparities. A well-trained Osteopathic physician can enhance the bodys systems to aid in healing itself faster.

The Rule of Artery

It is essential to have good circulation of all your body fluids. Blood and lymphatic circulation should flow freely for the nutrients and immune cells to reach every part of your body. When you have poor circulation, the cells in your body may die.

When trauma occurs, your tissues shrink. They will become constricted and twisted. If this happens, the flow is clogged or it may even stop altogether. Through Osteopathic manipulative treatment, your tissues are restored to their untwisted state. The body fluids can then again flow normally. After this is accomplished, natural healing follows.

Images” Wellcome Images, Creative Commons License.

See Also:

Osteopathic Techniques