Osteopathy today is a 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.
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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. He believed that by shaking a person, one could cure disease. He rejected the idea that germs cause disease.
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
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:
- "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)
In the 1960s in California, the 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.
- Today, except for additional emphasis on musculoskeletal diagnosis and treatment, the scope of osteopathy is identical to that of 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)
Osteopathy is currently taught at 19 different schools in the United States.
Doctors of Osteopathy today
Today, an osteopath is sometimes described as a mix of an M.D. and a 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. follow essentially the same set of studies. However, osteopathic students receive additional training in palpatory diagnosis and manipulative (manual) medicine. The osteopathic community also has an increased emphasis on primary care.
Osteopathy is a medical body that includes physicians practicing in all fields of medicine, and osteopaths are fully-licensed physicians in all fifty states of the United States.
Osteopaths tend to specialize less than M.D.s; there are, for example, fewer then 20 endocrinologists with D.O. degrees in the U.S. and fewer still of those are in full-time practice.
- Muscle Energy Techniques, Leon Chaitow, Craig Liebenson, Donald R. Murphy, Harcourt Health Sciences, 2001, 2nd edition, paperback, 232 pages, ISBN 0443064962
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