A Brief History of Osteopathy

Body of bones

"We look at the body in health as meaning perfection and harmony, not in one part, but in the whole." - A. T. Still MD, DO

A lot of people benefit from Osteopathic treatment around the world but a couple of the most frequently asked questions I get are still "What is Osteopathy?" and "What do you do?".

Well, in honour of the founder of Osteopathy's birthday (Andrew Taylor Still, 6th August 1828), I am going to try and shed some light on the mystery that can be Osteopathy. This is by no means exhaustive, Osteopathy is ever-evolving but hopefully this gives some insight into the foundations!

Since the beginning is generally a good place to start, we shall go through a short timeline of Osteopathy.

1828 - Birth

Andrew Taylor Still (A.T.S.) was born.


American Civil War - served as a sergeant.

1864 - Death of family

Death of wife and 4 children.

These graphic and tragic demonstrations of the failings of the medical healthcare of the time prompted him to start to develop a new way of looking at the body to promote it's own healing capabilities.

1874 - Physician in Civil War

A.T.S. was a physician on the Missouri frontier.

He discovered a non-surgical way to help reduce congestion in the body and promote freedom of tissues.

He was a great believer in the benefits of a deep knowledge of anatomy and physiology so now all Osteopaths spend most of their studies and careers developing their knowledge of these human systems.

1885 - Osteopathy, the creation of the name

Named this form of treatment --- OSTEOPATHY from the Greek "osteon-"(bone) and "-pathos"(to suffer). This is not intended to reduce the meaning Osteopathy to "bone disease" - it encompasses structure of the body, dysfunction and usage.

The A.T.S. definition of Osteopathy is rather long and in-depth so a brief and more current definition would be:

~A form of manual therapy that looks at relieving muscle tension, increasing joint mobility and helping to restore balance in the body - thereby enhancing blood and nerve supply to the tissues, promoting the body's own ability to heal itself.~

1892 - First Osteopathic School

A.T.S. founded the first school of Osteopathy, the American School of Osteopathy, in Missouri.

Since then, Osteopathy has been shared around the world, developed, grown with the times and now people, and even animals, benefit internationally from this revolutionary thinking.

1913 - British School of Osteopathy

John Martin Littlejohn, a patient of Osteopathy and student of Osteopathy, founded the British School of Osteopathy.

1993 - Registration of the profession in U.K.

Osteopathy became a registered profession in Britain. Now you need to complete the relevant minimum of 4 year course and register with the General Osteopathic Council to call yourself an Osteopath.

Osteopathy is based around 4 basic principles:

#1 The rule of the artery is supreme --- the flow of fluids around the body is important to promote health of tissues and unity in the body.

#2 The body has it's own medicine chest --- the body has the capacity to heal itself (within reason) provided it has the right environment to do so.

#3 The body is a unit --- The body is a whole, this encourages hollistic thinking.

E.g. A patient has hip pain - an Osteopath would not just look at the hip, they would also consider the knee, how the patient is walking, any lower back issues, underlying systemic issues affecting healing etc etc...

#4 Structure and function are interrelated --- the structure of a joint, for example, will adapt to how it is being used (it's function) but it could also be said that the function of a joint is developed due to it's structure. Osteopathy looks to understand this balance in the individual's body and how it can be used to help a patient.

#Osteopathyhistory #andrewtaylorstill #whatisosteopathy #osteopathytimeline

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