In the late 1800s a doctor named Andrew Taylor Still developed the field of osteopathic medicine and is considered its founder. He was a pioneering doctor in the study of how the attributes of good health could help doctors understand disease and illness.

Through his experience with patients and research, he decided there was a better way to treat patients than the medical practices of the time. Because his new ideas were not accepted in the medical community, he established a new philosophy of medicine in 1874 called "Osteopathy."

Dr. Still opened the first school for osteopathic medicine, the American School of Osteopathy, in 1892 in Kirksville, Missouri. In 1897, students from the school formed the organization now called the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) to enforce education standards for osteopathic medicine. The AOA was recognized as the accrediting body for osteopathic medical education by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1952 and by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation in 1967. Similarly, in 1898, the Associated Colleges of Osteopathy were formed to set standards for curriculum and length of study.

Osteopathic Philosophy

Near the end of the 1800s, Dr. Still wrote a book called Philosophy of Osteopathy that helped explain why osteopathic skills are applied and why osteopathic care is beneficial.

The new method centered on treating the body by improving its natural functions rather than using medication. The major tenets of this then new philosophy included three fundamental concepts:

  1. The parts of the body make up a unified whole.
    The effects of any disease are felt, in varying degrees, throughout the body. Therefore, the entire body can be mobilized to help combat illness. Treating specific, isolated symptoms ignores the interconnectedness of the body.
  2. The body has a natural ability to self-regulate and self-heal.
    Using natural treatment methods (like OMT) rather than drugs alone promotes healthy body functions that are designed to battle disease and help repair injury. Preventative medicine, including good nutrition and fitness, is important for sustaining healthy body systems. Through appropriate treatment, the individual's so-called "host response" (innate healing ability) should be stimulated and maximized.
  3. The musculoskeletal system is a key element in maintaining health.
    This system makes up two-thirds of the body's mass and includes the bones, muscles, and cartilage. It impacts and reflects the condition of all other systems in the body (circulatory, nervous).

Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT) is the central element of the application of this philosophy. Doctors of osteopathic medicine, in addition to being trained to provide standard medical care, use their hands to diagnose problems, relieve pain, restore range of motion, and balance tissues and muscles in order to promote the body's own natural, healthy state.

To learn more about what to expect at an examination by an osteopathic physician, see The Osteopathic Medical Examination.


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