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Osteopathy today is a body of medicine that originally strictly used manipulative techniques for correcting somatic abnormalities thought to cause disease and inhibit recovery. However, over the past century, osteopathy has embraced the full spectrum of medicine, including the use of prescription drugs and surgery as well as manipulative techniques.

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The original osteopathic movement, today viewed by scientists as pseudoscience, was founded by Andrew Taylor Still, who was born in 1828 in Virginia. Unhappy with the ways in which his peers prescribed medicines in excess, Still sought more holistic approaches. Observing that the human body had much in common with the machines he worked on earlier in life, Still approached the study of the human body as one would approach the study of a machine. He believed that by shaking a person, one could cure disease. He rejected the idea that germs cause disease.

Over time he and his follower developed a series of specialized physical treatments, for which he coined the name 'Osteopathy.' Dr. Still founded the American School of Osteopathy (now the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine) in Kirksville, Missouri, for the teaching of osteopathy, on May 10, 1892.

In the late 1800s Still believed that diseases were caused when bones moved out of place, and disrupted the flow of blood, or the flow of nervous impulses; he therefore concluded that one could cure diseases by manipulating bones to restore the supposedly interrupted flow. His critics point out that he never ran any controlled experiments to test his hypothesis. He wrote in his autobiography that he could "shake a child and stop scarlet fever, croup, diphtheria, and cure whooping cough in three days by a wring of its neck." (Andrew Taylor Still, Autobiography, New York, 1972, Arno Press)

"Still was antagonistic toward the drug practices of his day and regarded surgery as a last resort. Rejected as a cultist by organized medicine, he founded the first osteopathic medical school in Kirksville, Missouri, in 1892. As medical science developed, osteopathy gradually incorporated all its theories and practices. Today, except for additional emphasis on musculoskeletal diagnosis and treatment, the scope of osteopathy is identical to that of medicine. The percentage of practitioners who use osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) and the extent to which they use it have been falling steadily." (Source: Dubious Aspects of Osteopathy, Stephen Barrett)

Today, osteopathy is taught at 19 different medical schools in the United States.

Doctors of Osteopathy today

Today, an osteopath is sometimes described as a mix of an M.D. and a chiropractor. A doctor of osteopathy will follow his or her name with the initials D.O., in much the same way as a Medical Doctor follows his or her name with the initials M.D. (D.O.'s are termed osteopaths, but M.D.'s are not properly termed allopaths, which is a derisive term coined by Hahnemann).

Osteopathy is a medical body that includes physicians practicing in all fields of medicine, and osteopaths are fully-licensed physicians in all fifty states of the United States.

Osteopathy vs. Allopathy vs. Chiropractic

The osteopathic movement and chiropractic movements both started out in the midwest in the 1890s and had similar philosophies; however, osteopathy came to adopt the use of medicine and surgery, whereas chiropractors continue to strictly use manipulative techniques. In the 1960s in California, the differences between osteopathy and allopathy blurred enough that the California Medical Association and the California Osteopathic Association merged, and D.O.s were granted an M.D. degree in exchange for paying $65 and attending a short seminar. The College of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons became the University of California College of Medicine, Irvine.

Osteopathic Schools

Further Reading

  • Muscle Energy Techniques, Leon Chaitow, Craig Liebenson, Donald R. Murphy, Harcourt Health Sciences, 2001, 2nd edition, paperback, 232 pages, ISBN 0443064962

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