Osteopathic Medicine lies at the intersection of mainstream and holistic medicine.
Osteopathic Medicine was developed on the Missouri frontier in the 1800’s by Andrew Taylor Still, M.D. Still was an army surgeon and an abolitionist during the Civil War and became discouraged by the ineffectiveness of the mainstream medical treatments available at that time, which often involved the use of mercury compounds to purge the body of disease. Still witnessed the deaths of many people, including three of his own children, despite the best efforts of the medicine of that day.
In response, Dr. Still founded a new approach to medicine that focused on the body’s innate ability to heal. He observed the healing process of wounds as an army surgeon, and being the son of a Methodist preacher, he reasoned that God provided all that was necessary for the health of His creation. He concluded that a thorough understanding of anatomy and the workings of the human body would help the doctor to find health within his patients.
Through his intense study of anatomy and physiology, Dr. Still began to view the body as a highly complex unified machine, and found that its balance and function was disrupted by structural abnormalities. He also discovered that these ‘”mechanical” disorders seen in the musculoskeletal system would often reflect internal illness and could aggravate or accelerate a disease process in other body systems, such as the circulatory, respiratory, nervous, immune, or gastrointestinal systems.
Dr. Still found that the human body, just like any other machine, required proper alignment to function optimally. Along with his extensive study of anatomy and physiology, he developed both the palpatory skill to be able to diagnose problems with his hands, as well as manual treatments to enhance the innate healing process. Osteopathic physicians continue to use these techniques today to help patients function optimally.
Today D.O.s specialize in all fields of medicine from family practice to pediatrics to surgery. Some osteopathic physicians specialize in Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine, the holistic hands-on approach that makes them different from M.D.s.