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Osteopathy is a medical practice based on the theory that diseases are due chiefly to loss of structural integrity which can be restored to harmony or equilibrium by manipulation. The manipulation allegedly allows the body to heal itself. Osteopaths use manipulation for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease.

Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917), a Civil War surgeon in the Union army, is credited with discovering osAndrew Taylor Stillteopathy as an alternative to the medical practices common in his day, practices which failed to save his three children from spinal meningitis. Still became convinced that he could cure diseases by shaking the body or manipulating the spine. In his autobiography, he says he could "shake a child and stop scarlet fever, croup, diphtheria, and cure whooping cough in three days by a wring of its neck" (Barrett). He also advocated clean living, including abstinence from alcohol and medically prescribed drugs. Surgery was to be avoided, if possible. Today, D.O.s (doctors of osteopathy) complement manipulation with standard medical methods of diagnosis and treatment, including recommending drug therapy and surgery if appropriate. D.O.s have four years of medical training at a college of osteopathic medicine and do a one-year internship in primary care. Some continue their education in an area of osteopathic specialization. Nevertheless, there has not been scientific validation of Still's theory of shaking and manipulating to remove obstructions.

See also chiropractic and craniosacral therapy.

further reading


"The Paradox Of Osteopathy," New England Journal of Medicine. Volume 341:1465-1468 November 4, 1999 Number 19


Dubious Aspects of Osteopathy by Stephen Barrett, M.D.

The Paradox of Osteopathy

American Osteopathic Association

reader comments

I've only received one comment on this article in eighteen years, so I am posting it here rather than link to it in the comments files:

14 June 2012
I really enjoy your website, but I do think a few tweaks/corrections to the section on osteopathy would give a better assessment of how it is practiced in the U.S. today. (Former student of osteopathy & best friend to an awesome D.O. psychiatrist). Osteopathic medical schools are *exactly* the same as allopathic medical schools with the only exception being the addition of classes in manipulation. D.O.s can enter any specialty they choose and may enter a residency program for M.D.s if they wish and are accepted. An osteopathic residency is 3-4 years and follows the same general progression as M.D. programs. Most D.O.s no longer use OMT (Osteopathic Manipulation Therapy) or use it quite rarely. It depends greatly on the specialty and the doctor involved. Obviously, the potential use would be greater in specialties like orthopedics, rheumatology, or family practice. I've seen it used in a few pediatric practices as well. There is some pretty good evidence that OMT for back injuries is actually beneficial and may decrease the need for meds or surgery. OMT is not just the "popping & cracking" we associate with chiropractic. It can be quite slow & gentle.

Now, with that said, I still sat in labs thinking "these people are nuts if they think I'm going to believe this!" I can easily see the potential benefit for musculo-skeletal problems, fluid retention, and the like. No one is going to convince me that cranio-sacral manipulation is anything more than b.s. But I'd be the first one on the OMT table (like a massage table) in the library when my lower back started hurting my hip started turning to the outside. There's really just a lot of common sense to the idea that misalignment can lead to muscle strain and vice versa, so relieving those issues can in turn, relieve pain.

Anyway, I'm sorry for the rambling. I thought the entry was fairly accurate, but I think some of the information was out-dated and some was just a bit misleading. While osteopathy often gets lumped in with complementary and alternative medicine, it really has reached a point where it is an equal to allopathic medicine. For all but a few specialties, the letters behind your doctor's name don't matter at all. Stay skeptical!

Beverly Holmes

reply: Beverly, I think you just tweaked/corrected the article.

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