In 1874, a physician named Andrew Taylor Still became disillusioned with the medicine he practiced when he could not save his own children from an epidemic of viral meningitis that spread throughout the state of Missouri. He was determined to find another ‘way’. Through ten years of his own research, Dr. Still discovered and developed ways to manipulate tissue and restore function to dysfunctional tissue in order to restore normal physiology.
In the late 19th century, allopathic medicine was crude and surgical methods were unsophisticated. This new way of thinking about the body in health and disease was slowly accepted by the public. Dr. Still was more successful in treating a variety of conditions using this new method (osteopathy) than his allopathic counterparts. Not only did the mortality rate decrease but also many people he treated were able to carry on afterwards to live productive lives. However Dr. Still did encounter some resistance from traditional practitioners
Many influences converged to shape Dr. Still’s evolution. He apprenticed as a physician at his father’s side, as well as he was a hospital steward and scout surgeon during the Civil War. Other influences included his interest in Magnetic Healing, Bone Setting, Evolution Theory, and Spiritualism, to name a few.
Dr. Still’s main interest was to enhance nature’s own ability to heal. He realized that the human body was potentially perfect in its form and function. He studied anatomy with extreme intensity seeking to learn the secrets held by nature’s design. He realized the relationship between structure and function. He saw the human body as a highly complex machine, which, like any other machine, required proper alignment and lubrication for optimal functioning.
During his experiences in surgery, he observed adhesions, restrictions of motion and congestion of diseased organs. Dr. Still sought a non-surgical means of breaking down these adhesions, restoring motion and ultimately alleviating this congestion. With many years of practice, he eventually developed a means of restoring freedom to restricted tissues using his hands to relieve the congestion.
As his skills evolved and his reputation grew, train routes were redirected and boarding houses were erected to accommodate the influx of people into the remote area of Kirksville, Missouri. The ailments his patients suffered from ranged from epilepsy to parasitic infections, acute dysentery to appendicitis. He was able to help the majority of patients that he treated.
Dr. Still founded the first osteopathic school, the American School of Osteopathy, in Missouri in 1892. In the early 1900’s, John Martin Littlejohn came from Great Britain to study osteopathy with Dr. Still in Kirksville, Missouri. He and his brother were instrumental in founding the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. Dr. Littlejohn moved back to England in 1910, started the British School of Osteopathy and subsequently expanded the practice of osteopathy to Europe.
In France, the origin of osteopathy has been traced back to 1923. Most notable in his contribution was an osteopath by the name of Jean-Pierre Barral, D.O. who pioneered the treatment of the ‘visceral’ systems. Such European osteopathic traditions provided significant contributions thereby expanding the art and science of osteopathy.
Several osteopaths have played an important role in the history and evolution of the tradition. Significant contributions were made by William Garner Sutherland D.O., Rollin Becker D.O., Thomas Schooley D.O., Ann Wales D.O., Harold Magoun Sr. D.O.
At the beginning of the 20th century, one of Dr. Still’s students, Dr. William Garner Sutherland discovered the “cranial rhythm” (a natural motion of the cranio-sacral unit). He realized that this rhythm was disturbed by tensions in the body and could be restored by various gentle cranial techniques.
It is noteworthy that Dr. Still’s influence gradually weakened when pharmaceuticals were introduced. As these became more advanced and practical, the use of medications was introduced into the osteopathic curriculum. As a result, osteopathy in the United States evolved towards the practice of medicine and surgery leaving behind traditional osteopathy based on palpation and manual therapeutic methods.
In the early 1900’s, some of the American osteopaths moved to Canada to practice. They were given limited medical practice rights; these individuals were registered under the Drugless Practitioners Act i.e. they were not allowed to prescribe drugs or perform surgery like the traditional medical practitioners. Osteopaths from American universities are now given full practice rights in Canada.
In 1981, Phillippe Druelle, D.O. from France founded the first school in Canada, the Collège d’Études Ostéopathiques (CEO) in Montreal, Quebec. Ten years later, the Canadian College of Osteopathy (CCO) was established based on the parent school in Montreal. In addition to the original school in Montreal, there are now schools in Quebec City, Toronto, Halifax and Vancouver. The CCO is now recognized worldwide as a leader in osteopathic education. The program of study involves five years of academic study followed by two years of research. On successful completion of the course students obtain a doctorate diploma in osteopathic manual practice D.O.(MP).