Osteopathy is a drug-free, non-invasive manual therapy that aims to improve health across all body systems by manipulating and strengthening the musculoskeletal framework.
An osteopathic physician will focus on the joints, muscles, and spine. Treatment aims to positively affect the body’s nervous, circulatory, and lymphatic systems.
Manual medicine means that both diagnosis and treatment are carried out with the hands.
Osteopathy is a complementary therapy.
Osteopathy has its origin in the 1870’s, in the mid-western U.S. and was the creation of Dr. Andrew Taylor Still. See:http://www.meridianinstitute.com/eamt/files/still3/st3cont.html He developed this form of manual therapy as an alternative to the medical practices of his day, practices which still included ‘bleeding’ a patient, and the use of medicines that contained ingredients such as mercury. He did not like the idea of fighting disease by weakening a person: by trying to kill (poison) a disease, and hope that the patient somehow lives through this approach.
Still asked himself, why is it that some people get ill, while others seem to have the vitality, the ability to avoid or overcome disease and injury? After several years of contemplating questions like this, while he continued his medical practice, he came up with a principle of health: “The rule of the artery is supreme.”
This principle arose from his observations that when a person has restricted blood supply (poor circulation, etc) to an area of the body, that area, part, or organ, will eventually become impaired and would end up diseased. In turn, if a person had good blood flow, in all areas of their body, such a person seemed to heal well after a trauma, and resist, or recover quickly, from illness. This principle about the flow of blood was extended by Still to include lymphatic flow, nerve flow, and respiratory health (air flow).
Therefore, Still began to use manual therapy to create mechanical changes to joints, etc. in order to open up areas of restriction that could impede the flow of fluids and nerve impulses. In part, Still saw that this was also a flow of information to and from one part of the body, to and from the brain and spinal cord, and in turn, to all the other parts of the body. All the parts of a body need to work together, in a co-ordinated, interdependent manner, as a whole unit. In this harmony of structures and their functions, health is to be found.
Still decided that the body was capable of being its own drug manufacturer and distributor. We now know how true this is: that the immune system (within the lymphatic system, tissues and organs) does just this. It organizes, manufactures, and distributes specific responses to specific infections or diseased areas of the body. Another example is the production of endorphins by the body to fight pain.
From Still’s observation of what constitutes health, and what jeopardizes it, the following principles of osteopathy have been formulated:
- The body is a unified whole, one entity; (not a collection of parts).
- The body is self-regulating and self-healing.
- Structure and function are intimately related. (Structural differences – shape, composition – in bone or muscle, for example, must impact on, and affect how, a joint will function. So too, for all tissues of the body. )
- Reasoning from these three principles provides a rational, sensible, therapy for each individual.
Still’s approach to treatment was based on this unified view of the body. He had observed that people who exhibited postural and mechanical (movement) imbalances, especially when they have been chronic, were unable to heal well from injury, or from illness. These people would often succumb to their injury or illness. He found that if he corrected these imbalances, these asymmetries in structure and function, with the intent of improving flow, then a person’s ability to recover was greatly enhanced. For this reason he experimented and developed a manual approach to physical dysfunction and towards disease that relied on using various limbs, bones and tissues as levers and pulleys to open up restrictions to joints and tissues, with an eye to removing restrictions to the flow of blood, lymph, and nerve impulses. With this, he had great success, and due to this success, he opened a school of osteopathy in Kansas.
Since his time many specialized techniques have been researched and developed within the field of osteopathy. Some of the most well know are Cranial osteopathy (Cranial-Sacral therapy), numerous myofascial techniques, Visceral Manipulation, positional release (or, Strain-Counterstrain), Muscle Energy (mobilizing joints and changing the tension and tone in muscle simultaneously), and lymphatic techniques.
Note: All of these modalities are within a massage therapist’s scope of practice, and most therapists have received some (post-graduate) training in one or more of them.