Andrew Taylor Still: Civil War Surgeon and Osteopathic Pioneer
American physician Andrew Taylor Still first conceived and developed osteopathy in an effort to improve the practice of medicine. As a 19th century medical doctor, Dr. Still became increasingly dissatisfied with the prevailing approach to health care in his profession.
He witnessed firsthand the failure of common medical treatments as a Civil War hospital steward and surgeon. When three of Still’s children, his wife and an adopted child died from spinal meningitis in 1964, he formed a grim determination to pioneer a more effective, holistic approach to healing.
Still was an especially keen student of human anatomy, and his medical approach reflected his belief that the body is a machine requiring correct form for healthy function. Just like the parts of an engine need lubrication to work smoothly, the body needs a functional and fit musculoskeletal structure to maintain good health. As a result of his clinical research and professional experience, Still determined that the human body has the innate ability to heal itself given the appropriate stimulation. His treatment methods largely relied upon skilled soft-tissue and joint manipulation. He customarily avoided prescribing the ineffective and often harmful drugs available in his day.
Dr. Still also pioneered preventive health care, a concept that dovetailed with his holistic philosophy. He reasoned that strengthening the body’s natural functions would keep disease at bay. Also, he advocated that the only effective way to help a patient regain good health was to address illness in terms of the entire body rather treating its individual symptoms.
Osteopathy: A Different Path Than Traditional Medicine
Dr. Still established the American School of Osteopathy in the 1892, and the first 18 graduates matriculated in 1894. True to the basics of osteopathy, classwork focused primarily on the form and function of human anatomy.
The principles of osteopathy include:
- The human body is the sum of all its integrated systems, and the dysfunction of any individual part affects the whole.
- The body has a natural ability to heal itself as long as blood circulates unimpeded throughout the tissues and the nervous system provides effective regulation.
- Proper function depends upon a strong bodily structure. As the largest body system, healthy musculoskeletal structure is critical to optimum functionality. Osteopathic manual treatment can rectify structural abnormalities that promote disease.
- Body unity, self-regulation, self-healing, the interrelation between structure and function, somatic therapy and the effective use of manipulative treatment are the basic principles that underlie osteopathic medicine.
Many of the principles and practices of conventional medicine are in sync with those of osteopathy. The primary difference between the two disciplines is the practitioner’s perception of health and disease. Medicine traditionally views disease as an aggressor that must be vanquished with drugs or surgery, leaving the patient healthy once again. In contrast, osteopaths regard illness as the result of weakened bodily systems and direct their treatments toward the rejuvenation of the body and the restoration of it optimal function.
Osteopathy Achieves Official Recognition
In 1897, the students of Still’s American School of Osteopathy established the American Association for the Advancement of Osteopathy, which still exists as the American Osteopathic Association. The following year witnessed the formation of the Associated Colleges of Osteopathy, an organization that standardized the curriculum and the requirements for those wishing to earn their professional degrees.
In 1952, the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare officially acknowledged the authority of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) to accredit osteopathic education. This federal nod spurred expansive growth in the profession, with new schools in the U.S. and around the world producing more osteopathic practitioners than ever before.
Types of Osteopathic Practitioners
Those people who earn their Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degrees in the U.S. are officially known as osteopathic physicians. Like other medical doctors, they can write prescriptions, perform surgery, or use osteopathic manipulative medicine at their discretion. Just like their M.D. peers, D.O.s must pass medical board exams and obtain their licenses to practice medicine. Most other countries do not require osteopathic practitioners to have medical degrees. They are called osteopaths, and the law limits them to the practice of non-invasive manipulative therapies predominantly for neuromusculoskeletal conditions.
Establishment of Osteopathy in Australia
Osteopathy in Australia dates to the early 20th century. The Australian Osteopathic Association – now called Osteopathy Australia — was established in 1955 and achieved national recognition in 1991.
Australian practitioners must devote five years or more to the study of osteopathic techniques as well as anatomy, physiology, pathology and medical diagnosis. Publicly funded universities such as TMIT, Victoria, and Southern Cross are among those conferring degrees in osteopathy. In addition to the required education, osteopaths must maintain an ongoing course of professional development and education.