History of Osteopathy

Dr. Andrew Taylor Still wrote: “You wonder what osteopathy is; you look in the medical dictionary and find as its definition “bone disease.”  That is a grave mistake.  It is compounded of two words, osteon, meaning bone [and] pathos… to suffer.  Greek lexicographers say it is a proper name for a science founded on a knowledge of bones.  So instead of “bone disease” it really means bone usage.”  (Still, Autobiography, 1897, p. 221)

Osteopathy was officially founded in June, 1874, by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still.  Its global, holistic vision of the workings of the human body well distinguishes it from other therapies, yet it remains poorly understood to this day.

Founder Still, doctor and the son of a pastor, was convinced that, “… so wise a God had certainly placed the remedy within the material house in which the spirit of life dwells.”  (Still, Autobiography, 1897, p. 99)

This idea would be the basis of all of his research, devoted to the very detailed anatomical study of the human body.

Still developed a manual therapy, focused on searching out the cause of a pathology, not on its effects.

Recognized by him was the fact that the body contains, in large part, all of the medicine necessary for self-healing.  One must simply remove any blockages to movement, in order to allow life-fluids (blood, lymph, intracellular fluid, cerebrospinal fluid, etc.) and vital information (nerve impulses) to reach the affected area, for recovery.

Founded more than 140 years ago, osteopathy is a therapeutic approach in perpetual evolution, characterized by the therapist developing acute tactile sensitivity.

Palpation and evaluation are underscored by a mastery of knowledge of human anatomy, physiology, pathology and diagnosis.

Four fundamental tenets are the hallmark of osteopathy

i) the body is a functioning whole;

ii) structure governs function, and vice versa;

iii) the autonomous, self-regulating nature of the body;

iv) the role of the artery (fluid flow) is absolute

The Body is a Functioning Whole (the Unity of the Being)

Andrew Taylor Still recognized the incredible importance of fascia, which links all of the components of the body into a functioning unit.

“[The fascia]… this connecting substance must be free at all parts to receive and discharge all fluids, if healthy to… use in sustaining animal life, and eject all impurities [so] that health may not be impaired...” (Still, Philosophy, 1899, p. 166)

The body’s nerves, and blood and lymphatic vessels (engendering the movement of fluids) together with the fascia, normally enable the complex communication between structures (all tissues) and organs, thus forming a unit. Any affected area affects others in turn.

Whenever a disruption, a restriction or a blockage occurs in one part of the body, the distribution of forces is affected, in large part due to the innumerable fascial connections. Mechanical influences are thus transmitted throughout.

Structure Governs Function (and vice versa)

The reciprocal relationship between structure and function is a significant one; if a structure is abnormally fixed, its function will be affected. Similarly, when function is disrupted, related structures (any type of tissue) are noticeably negatively impacted. And function can return when a structure is normalized.

A symptom, an indication of a lack of functioning, is also an expression of a loss of mobility of a given structure/tissue, e.g., musculo-skeletal or visceral/organ. Osteopathy seeks to restore the normal, if slight, movement of pertinent structures/tissues, in order to maintain the integrity of functions.

The Autonomous, Self-Regulating Nature of the Body

For the cells of our body to function optimally, and to perform their inherent self-healing capability, they must receive all of the necessary nutrition for metabolism, and they must expel their waste products.

By normalizing any physical restrictions in the tissue/structures, osteopathy facilitates the arrival of nourishing fluids, and the flushing out of the “old”, tainted fluids. Nervous system communication, enabled too by the osteopath ensuring the adequate mobility of structures, also assures the body’s innate abilities to adapt to its environment, to heal itself, and to defend itself against infection, disease, etc.

“…in the human body you can find the most wonderful chemical laboratory the mind can conceive of…” (Still, Philosophy, 1899, p. 221)

The Role of the Artery is Absolute

Healthy fluid circulation and the freedom of the nerves in their various pathways are of paramount importance for the nourishment of cells, the clearing out of tainted fluids, and for optimal tissue functioning; for health.

“The Osteopath seeks first physiological perfection of form, by normally adjusting the osseous framework, so that all arteries may deliver blood to nourish and construct all parts. Also, that the veins may carry away all impurities dependent upon them for renovation. Also, that the nerves of all classes may be free and unobstructed while applying the powers of life and motion to all divisions, and [to] the whole system of nature’s laboratory.” (Still, Philosophy, 1899, p.27)

The Philosophy of Osteopathy

Osteopathy is a science and an art

Osteopathy is a science, since it is heavily based on a highly detailed knowledge of anatomy, physiology, biology and neurology etc.

Osteopathy is an art, since it requires the adept interpretation of symptoms, keen observation and problem-solving skills, and the synthesis of a global approach to the body.  Also, osteopathy considers the countless links between anatomical components, and requires an extremely precise tactile sensitivity.

Each treatment must be individualized, considering the whole patient (strongly impacted by their environment); all details of their health history are important.  

The osteopath must be highly adaptable — no recipe for simply treating symptoms will remedy the cause of the dysfunction, in order to restore health.

Osteopathy as Philosophy

Osteopathy is a science and an art, but it is above all a philosophy.

The human body cannot be separated from its environment, from the influences of its environment on the body’s functioning.  Osteopathy, osteopathic treatment considers the whole being, the physical, as well as, for example, any highly influencing and/or stressful life circumstances.  The complex, whole system must be considered in order to heal.


Osteopathy treats the connections, the links between the structures of the body.  Their interactivity is vital to the healthy equilibrium of the organism.  If one of these elements is hindered, the functioning of the whole is affected.

To some degree though, compensation is possible.  It is only possible, however, because of the body’s complexity, the interaction and the variability of the component parts.

Undeniably, the human body is a system, in its entirety, organised and made up of interdependent elements that can only be defined in relation to one another, according to their place within the whole system.  Like any system, the human body is organised into subsystems that interact to ensure its survival.

Systems theory, and osteopathy’s systemic approach to the body, in contrast to conventional, Cartesian logic, accepts complexity, even if the accompanying uncertainty does not allow for total, utter comprehension.

Life is the very expression of movement and change, and therefore is in everlasting imbalance, as in the body, where interactions are unlimited.


Why visit an Osteopath

Osteopathy focuses on the recovery from and the prevention of pain, illness and dysfunction.  Several initial appointments (e.g., three to six) over several weeks normally serve to resolve an issue.  Several visits per year usually serve to prevent reoccurrence.

Osteopathy can help with

  • prevention of health issues
  • joint pain and/or reduced mobility
  • inflammatory and/or degenerative conditions
  • muscle, tendon and/or ligament problems
  • postural and/or spinal issues
  • physical trauma (e.g., from sports, work-related injuries, or motor vehicle accidents)
  • digestive issues (e.g., acid reflux, hiatal hernia, inflamed bowel, constipation)
  • central nervous system difficulties (e.g., stress, anxiety, depression)
  • cardio-respiratory dysfunctions (e.g., circulation problems, chest tightness, asthma)
  • sinus issues, ear infections, dizziness, vertigo, tinnitus
  • fertility problems, menstrual complications, chronic urinary tract infections, incontinence, prostate concerns
  • pregnancy concerns (e.g., difficult pregnancy, smoother delivery, post-partum problems)
  • birth and/or development issues (e.g., cranial restriction following use of forceps or suction, trouble sleeping, regurgitation, colic, ear infections, scoliosis)