Osteopathic medicine was founded late in the 19th century by Andrew Taylor Still, an MD from Missouri. He had been apprenticed to his father, an MD and preacher, before serving as a hospital steward and surgeon during the Civil War. After he returned home, Dr. Still watched his wife and most of his children die in a meningitis epidemic at a time when the only treatment was a medicine made of mercury. He reasoned that if some people could survive, then the body must have the capability to fight off that disease, and possibly other diseases. It occurred to him that the reason some people survive a disease and some don’t is that the part of the patient that fights off disease must somehow be broken or disabled in those who succumb. He further thought that the body must inherently have everything it needs to stay healthy, and that this situation would prevail as long as nothing happened to deplete the body of this ability.
Dr. Still postulated that if he could discover what could derail the inherent healing capability of the body and restore it to full function, people would be able to stay healthier and live better lives.
Through observation and anatomic study, Dr. Still found that when an organ system expressed disease, there was inevitably a restriction of motion or function in the organ, or the nerves and blood vessels feeding that organ, frequently centered around a restriction of the spine where those nerves exited. He found that if he could restore the ability to move and freed the path of the nerves and blood vessels, that the person frequently recovered health. He studied for years how to diagnose where the restrictions were and how to use his hands to free up these pathways. He then went on to postulate that if he found those restrictions in people before disease set in, he might be able to prevent the patient from becoming ill in the first place.
Dr. Still developed a system of manual medicine to free these restrictions. For some problems that were too severe to respond to manipulation, where the health of the organ was already too compromised, he performed surgery. Thus the study of osteopathic medicine, the use of our hands to restore health by manual manipulation or surgery, was born. Dr. Still opened the first school, the American School of Osteopathy, in 1892 in Kirksville Missouri.