American physician Dr. Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917) was the founder of Osteopathy. Still grew up and worked in the United States Midwest, which at that time was a rural farm area on the frontier. An epidemic of meningitis led to the deaths of some of his family members. Helpless and frustrated due to lack of proper medical treatment, miserable hospital conditions, and without the modern medicine known to us today, Dr. Still decided to devote all of his efforts to improving health care.
After much thorough reflection and research he put forth the foundations of his observations:
1) The structure and function of the body are interrelated.
2) Movement or Motility is the basis of life.
3) The body has the ability to heal itself.
4) The condition of a particular part of the body will affect other areas of the body through fluidic and flow systems like blood, lymph, and the nervous system.
Dr. Still and his father who was also a physician, spent time doctoring and administering to the health of the Native Shawnee on the frontier. Still was familiar with some of their techniques and native natural medicine which he picked up, including a number of bone setting techniques. At the beginning of his career as a matter of fact, Still was known as the “lightning bone setter”. He was also an inventor who understood mechanics and the inner workings of things very well.
Dr. Still began to use manual techniques on his patients and was impressed with the improvement of their situation. Gradually these attempts became a growing systematic method of treatment which had proven itself.
Dr. Still was not the first to deeply explore human anatomy, or the first to use manual therapy techniques, but he was the first physician who had profoundly connected these things together and understood the mechanism of their cause and effect.
In 1874 he called the method Osteopathy: Osteo – bone, Pathos – disease.
It should be noted that even until today, many different professionals such as Physical Therapists, Massage Therapists, Athletic Therapists, and other professionals that employ manual therapy, are trained in methodologies and techniques that originally were discovered or innovated by Osteopaths. Muscle Energy Technique, Counterstrain, Chapman’s Reflexes, Ligamentous Articular Strain, are some of those taught and used by them and it is evident by the authors of these works that they are Osteopaths.
The medical community at the time rejected the method developed by Still and rejected his discoveries. His deep conviction and confidence in the benefits of Osteopathy, prompted Dr. Still to open the first school for teaching his methodology in Kirksville, Missouri, The American School of Osteopathy in 1892.
The virtues of Osteopathy were challenged dramatically during the great epidemic of Spanish flu in 1917-1918. About 30 million people had died from this disease worldwide. In the US at the time, there already had been established quite a number of Osteopathic clinics and hospitals. In hospitals which used standard medical treatment 30% to 40% of patients died from the disease, compared to hospitals which also used Osteopathic treatment in which the mortality rate was 1%.
William Garner Sutherland (1873-1954), began to study the structure and function of the skull in 1899.
At the beginning of the 20th century, he published his findings and Cranial Osteopathic Treatment method.
At the beginning of the 20th century Martin Littlejohn brought Osteopathy to Britain. In 1917 the first school was opened there. The method was thus successful and well accepted in many former British colonies around the world.
After World War II the system spread throughout Europe.