Even though osteopathy is known in Germany only since about 15 years ago, it is not a new "invention." Rather, it was founded ca. 130 years ago by the American doctor Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917). A physician at the time, he was forced to look on helplessly as his first wife and four of his children died from diseases that were treated inadequately because of a lack of biomedical knowledge. Consequently, he sought a new definition of medicine and established new principles that continue to be valid and provide the foundation for osteopathy even today:
- Life is movement, i.e., all structures of the body (muscles, tendons, organs, nerves, etc.) are related to each other in movement. A loss of this movement leads to disease.
- Structure and function are mutually interdependent. A muscle that is exercised grows. If it is not used, it atrophies. This simple truth applies to all types of tissue in the body.
- Humans are a unit of body, soul, and spirit. Osteopathy thus follows the principle of holism.
- The body holds great potential for self-healing.
In 1874, Still gave his new form of medicine the name osteopathy. "Osteo" means bone, and "pathy" means suffering. With this name he meant that his studies had shown him the way to relieve suffering by means of the bones. Anatomy hence constitutes the foundation of osteopathy. In 1892, he founded the first school of osteopathy, the Kirksville Collge of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirsksville, Missouri. The response to osteopathy is great, new colleges are springing up everywhere, and the number of osteopaths is growing continuously. Since the 1960s, osteopathy has been universally accepted in the USA. Today, roughly 54,000 osteopaths work professionally as D.O.s, i.e., Doctor of Osteopathy. They are on equal footing with physicians (Medical Doctors, MD) and hence also prescribe medications and perform surgery. Osteopathy arrived in Europe already very early: A student of Still's, John Martin Littlejohn, founded the British School of Osteopathy in London in 1917. In the 1950s, osteopathy arrived on the European continent, initially in France. In contrast to the US, osteopathy in Europe is primarily learned by practitioners who apply it as a purely manual medicine, as it had originally been envisioned and developed by Still.
Further Development of Osteopathy
Still had primarily investigated the locomotor system (bones, joints, muscles, tendons) and circulation. One of his students, William Garner Sutherland (1873-1954), established Craniosacral Osteopathy. In 1939, he discussed the primary respiratory movement. As a very fine, pulsing, and independent motion, it can be felt by trained hands on the skull, sacrum, or other structures in the body. The treatment of the internal organs within the framework of osteopathy developed in different directions in Europe and the US. In the US, A.T. Still (1828-1917) treated disorders of the internal organs via the circulation (arteries, veins, lymphs, nerves) already at the end of the 19th century. This American treatment approach was recorded and refined in writing in the 1890s by William A. Kuchera D.O. and Michael L. Kuchera D.O. Europeans also began in the late nineteenth century to treat the abdominal organs by manual therapy.
The Swedish gymnast Thure Emil Brandt (1819-1895), for example, developed a diagnostic and therapeutic method for treating the organs of the lesser pelvis. Henri Stapfer, one of Brandt's students, further refined these methods. The French physician Frantz Glénard (1848-1920) also described treatments of different organs during this time. In the 1970s and 80s, French osteopaths like Jacques Weischenk D.O. in turn picked up the known treatment methods and developed them further. Lastly, we owe it to Jean-Pierre Barral D.O. that the visceral treatment of the internal organs has been able to establish itself as an aspect of osteopathy in Europe.