What is Osteopathy? > History of Osteopathy

Osteopathy was founded by the American doctor, Dr. Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917), who worked in the Midwest region of the United States, a rural, undeveloped fringe region at the time. An epidemic of meningitis caused the death of several of his family members. Helpless and frustrated by the limitations of medicine (without the drugs we have today) and the miserable conditions of hospitalization, Dr. Still decided to devote all his time and energy to improving health care.

After conducting thorough research, Still formulated four main principles based on his observations:

  • The body is a single dynamic unit of function
  • The body possesses self-regulatory and self-healing mechanisms
  • Structure and function are interrelated
  • Rational treatment is based on applying these principles

Still began using manual therapy techniques on his patients and was impressed by the improvement in their condition. The sporadic attempts gradually became a systematic method that continued to prove its effectiveness. Although Still was not the first to explore the human anatomy or use manual massage techniques, he was the first physician to apply the concept of causality on the human anatomy and understand the mechanism of cause and effect in the body. In 1874 he named the system he developed “osteopathy” (from Greek: ostéon = bone, pathei = disease of).

The medical community at the time rejected Still’s method and discoveries. Convinced of his righteousness and the benefits of osteopathy, in 1892 he opened the first school to teach osteopathy – the American School of Osteopathy, in the city of Kirksville, Missouri.

Between the years 1917 and 1918, osteopathy was put to the test when the great Spanish Flu epidemic took the life of 30 million people around the world. At that time there were already quite a few osteopaths operating in clinics and hospitals across the United States, and the results were dramatic: mortality rates among patients given standard medical treatment were 30%-40%, while mortality rates among patients treated in hospital where osteopathic treatment was given as complementary treatment, were only 1%!

In 1899, William Garner Sutherland (1873-1954) began to investigate the structure of the skull, and at the beginning of the 20th century he published his findings and his cranial treatment techniques.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Martin Littlejohn brought osteopathy to Britain, and in 1917, the first British school to teach the profession was opened. The method received wide critical acclaim and was well received in former British colonies around the world. After World War II, the method arrived to the European mainland.