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  • David Bennett

Osteopathic Medicine - what is it?

In 1876 Kirksville Missouri USA, the name "Osteopathy" was chosen to describe a new medical profession which was to have a special aptitude for "bone-feeling"; or using the hands to understand the relationship between all bones of the body, and everything else that is attached to (and influenced by) them. The Greek root word "Osteo" refers to "bone", and "path" refers to either "feeling" (as in em-pathy) or "disease" (as in Allo-pathy, the name given to Western medicine). So it is that Osteopathy has little to do with naming bone diseases, and everything to do with feeling for Nature's inner expression of Health. This is the origin of the name Osteopathy.

"The objective of the doctor is to find health, anyone can find disease"

~ Dr AT Still (Founder of Osteopathy 1876)

Osteopathic Medicine involves feeling for restrictions within the deeper tissues and organs of a body - and gently manipulating these structures towards normal function. By returning them to a state of integrated structure and function, an Osteopath reveals the body's natural self-healing and self-regulating capacity. The final health outcome is a restoration of normal osseous (bone), articulatory (joint), ligamentous, muscular, fascial (connective tissue), visceral (organ), neurological, arterial, venous, lymphatic, immunological and cerebrospinal functions - the basic essentials of life.

Osteopathy is a receptive and holistic manual medical system, which considers that each individual has the structural and functional characteristics of body, soul and spirit. Each of these elements are inter-related and inseparable from one another, and so fall within the scope of Osteopathic practice.

Dr Still was a frountier doctor and surgeon, who was Union surgeon in the American civil war. His father was also a doctor and methodist minister, and Dr Still's early years where spent in Indian reservations. Because of his time spent in areas untouched by western civilisation, knowledge of the native Indian language and an immersion in their culture - Dr Still developed a profound appreciation for nature, and our place within it. The native Indian health treatment included spinal manipulation. Of course, an exposure to Christian philosophy and teachings and his knowledge of anatomy as a surgeon, all combined and formed the basis for what was to become the future Osteopathic profession.

For the past 140 years, Osteopaths have been taught to feel and listen with their hands, to treat each patient as a unique individual and to perpetually learn from their patients. Instead of applying a 'technique', 'system' or 'recipe' approach to treatment, they would develop their knowledge on a daily basis by listening to and learning from the human body itself. Osteopathy therefore has been a productive profession in a creative sense, with a great many different approaches to treatment within the single profession. There are a great number of original Osteopathic methods of treatment that have been adopted over the years into other health professions.

Examples of treatment methods that originated within the Osteopathic profession include Craniosacral Therapy (Cranial Osteopathy), Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (Biodynamic Cranial Osteopathy), Muscle Energy Technique, Positional Release (Strain/counterstrain) and Bowen Therapy; and there are others that still remain soley with the Osteopathic profession.

By way of observation, once a 'treatment method' is removed from the vine, it tends to stay (more or less) that size and shape thereafter. Osteopathic training is known for applying the essential principles of Osteopathic Medicine, and not focussing 'techniques'. These essential principles allow the different methods of treatment within Osteopathy to grow and emerge over time (as Osteopaths continue to dig and explore), and for individuals within the profession to develop their own unique approaches to treatment.

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