Dr. A.T. Still is the founder of osteopathy. He was born in 1828 in Virginia. His father was a Methodist minister and physician. Early in his life he began an apprenticeship under his father to study medicine and become a physician. Dr. Still became a licensed MD in the state of Missouri and went on to completed additional coursework at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Kansas City, MO. He also served as a surgeon in the Union Army during the Civil War.
During this time period of the mid 1800’s medical treatments were crude consisting of using small doses of poison as medicine, blood letting and what would now be considered barbaric surgeries. Dr. Still’s life changed when three of his children died from spinal meningitis in 1864. He lost hope in traditional medicine and devoted the next decade of his life to understanding the human body and creating new tools for treating diseases.
Dr. Still had a medical, mechanical mind with a humble curious nature. From this perspective he had the insight that the structures of the world around him had a specific structure for a specific function. For example the structure of a bridge is created in a specific form to hold the travel of horse and buggy. He then related this concept to the human body seeing that bones and structure are formed in a specific design for specific functions. If there is a dysfunction in the structure then there is a compromise in the function. He began to develop tools (modalities) to treat the human structure to improve health. He soon was able to cure pathologies like pneumonia by restoring normal rib function allowing the body to restore its maximum lung capacity and oxygen exchange.
His research and clinical observations led him to believe that the musculoskeletal system played a vital role in health and disease. He concluded that the body contained all of the elements needed to maintain health, if properly augmented. Dr. Still believed that by correcting problems in the body's structure, through the use of manual techniques now known as osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM), the body's ability to function and to heal itself could be greatly improved. He also promoted the idea of preventive medicine and endorsed the philosophy that physicians should focus on treating the whole patient, rather than just the disease.
These beliefs formed the basis of a new medical approach, Osteopathic Medicine. Using this philosophy, Dr. Still opened the first school of osteopathic medicine in Kirksville, MO in 1892. He called his new system of medicine "Osteopathy" (osteon is Greek for bone), because it was based on anatomy. Dr. Still developed his methods of diagnosis and treatment by relying on the belief that the human being should be treated as a unit. A person cannot get sick in one area of his body without having other areas affected. All body systems operate in unison. He was truly the first Wholistic/Integrative Physician.
Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine is based upon the principle that the human body possesses self-healing/self regulating mechanisms that are the source of healing. The focus in treatment, therefore, goes beyond simple spinal alignment, to dealing directly with the abnormal body physiology using an array of direct and indirect techniques. This more holistic healthcare perspective, affords the Osteopath a broader spectrum of therapeutic options in addition to thrust techniques, among which are myofascial release, muscle energy, counterstrain, visceral manipulation, Osteopathy in The Cranial Field, and Biodynamics. The osteopath approach is fulcrum in the functions of the patients also named the Health of the system. The goal is to remove the obstacles, augment motion present and restore Health. The image is of the body as a river with various size boulders in the river creating obstruction to the flow. Our hands are trained to interact with the boulder (restrictive tissues) and transform into sand that then falls to the bottom of the riverbed. Thus allowing the fluids to move unobstructed and health to be restored.
This broader range of diagnostic and therapeutic options, allows the Osteopathic physician to custom fit their treatment plan to the patient’s unique restrictions, respecting the fact that each of us is not necessarily meant to look and function the same way with the same structure. The goals are not symmetry and alignments as much as full functional motion with unobstructed motion to all parts of the human being.