Osteopathy is the body of medicine that originally used strictly 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 (to different degrees across the world), including the use of prescription drugs and surgery, in addition to manipulative techniques.
The osteopathic movement and chiropractic movements both started out in the United States 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. The original osteopathic movement, viewed today by scientists as pseudoscience, was founded by Dr. 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.
Over time he and his followers 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. Kirksville was one of few places where he wasn't figuratively "chased out of town" by other doctors. While the state of Missouri was willing to grant him a charter for the awarding of the M.D. degree, he remained unhappy with the practices of his peers and chose instead to grant his own D.O. degree.
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 questioned the drug practices of his day and regarded surgery as a last resort. 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 very similar to that of allopathic 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)
In the 1960s in California, perceived differences between osteopathy and conventional medicine 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, Irvine College of Medicine. However, the decision proved quite controversial, and in 1974 the California State Supreme Court ruled that licensing of DOs in that state must be resumed.
Throughout the history of Osteopathic Medicine acceptance by traditional M.D. physicians and their institutions has been an issue. The decision by the California Medical Association in the 1960's to essentially grant D.O. physicians an M.D. license was one of two turning points for D.O.s in their struggle for acceptance, the second being the U.S. Army's decision to allow D.O.'s to enter the military as physicans. Some felt the move by the California Medical Association may have been an attempt to eliminate the osteopathic competition by converting thousands of their physicians to M.D.s. While most Californian D.O.s did take the opportunity to become M.D.s, nationally it provided the osteopathic physicans the stamp of equivelancy they so desired and continue to enjoy today.
Osteopathy is currently taught at 23 different schools in the United States.
Doctors of Osteopathy today
Today, an osteopath is sometimes described as a physician who, while practicing conventional medicine much like their M.D. colleagues, also maintains the ability to perform osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) (aka osteopathic manipulative techniques (OMT)). OMM is a method of touch and manipulation performed on the musculo-skeletal system to restore balance and symmetry to the individual. In a sense, the OMM practitioner is a combination of Physician, Physical Therapist, and 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. Medical students for both D.O. and M.D. programs follow essentially the same set of studies, some schools even offering both M.D. and D.O. degrees (ie. Michigan State University), however, osteopathic students receive additional training in palpatory diagnosis and manipulative (manual) medicine. While the osteopathic community has a strong commitment to primary care osteopathic physicians can be found in any of the subspecialties. From surgery and anesthesia to emergency and family practice, Osteopathic physicians can be found practicing in all fields of medicine, and are fully-licensed physicians in all fifty of the United States.
The scientific merit of manipulative medicine continues to be a point of controversy. The American Osteopathic Association has made an effort in recent years to both support and promote scientific inquiry into the effectiveness of osteopathic manipulation as well as encourage D.O.s to offer manipulative treatments to their patients. Only a minority of D.O.s incorporate osteopathic manipulative medicine into their daily practices, a trend the AOA is working hard to reverse.
Osteopathy outside of the US
Outside of the United States Osteopathy varies heavily in its acceptance of modern medicine. In some places the original teachings of Andrew Still are practiced. In others it is closer to modern medicine. Nowhere is it as closely integrated as in the US
Muscle Energy Techniques, Leon Chaitow, Craig Liebenson, Donald R. Murphy, Harcourt Health Sciences, 2001, 2nd edition, paperback, 232 pages, ISBN 0443064962
Applying to Osteopathic Schools