The Osteopathic Way

Maria T. Gentile, D.O.

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Treatment of Pain and Injury

Brief History of Osteopathy

Andrew Taylor Still, M.D. - Father of Osteopathic Medicine

1828 - 1917

Andrew Taylor Still was born on August 6, 1828 in Lee County, Virginia. He was the third of nine children born to Abram and Martha Still.  His father was a Methodist circuit-riding preacher and a physician.  This career led the family to move several times between 1834 and 1841.  They eventually settled in a post in Kansas as a result of his father’s strong anti-slavery beliefs and sermons.  In 1853, Andrew Still followed his parents to Kansas, moving his wife, Mary Vaughan, and his two young children.  It was here that he decided to become a physician.

He apprenticed as a physician at his fathers side and attended formal medical training in Baldwin, Kansas, receiving his M.D. degree.  Dr. Still served in the Civil War as a soldier first and then performed the duties of a surgeon in the Union hospitals.  It was here that he grew disgusted at the ineffectiveness of 19th century medicine which included such treatments as amputation, bleeding, purging and calomel (a mercury based drug which rotted the teeth, gums, and cheeks of the patient). He realized that many of the medications of his day were useless or even harmful.  However, his faith in medicine truly suffered as he watched three of his children die from spinal meningitis and one from pneumonia despite the best medical treatment available.  His inability to save his family led Dr. Still to dedicate the next 10 years of his life to the intensive study of Anatomy and Physiology in the hopes of finding a better, alternative means of healing.  

Dr. Still continued the use of some drugs at first, but gradually achieved good results without them. This convinced him that most diseases could be alleviated or cured without drugs.  He realized that the key was to find and correct anatomical deviations that interfered with the free flow of blood and "nerve force" in the body.  Dr. Still was also one of the first in his time to study the attributes of good health so that he could better understand the process of disease.   This led him to the founding of a philosophy of medicine based on ideas that dated back to Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine. The philosophy focuses on the unity and interconnectedness of all the body’s parts. He identified the musculoskeletal system as a key element of health, determining that the maintenance of proper structure by occasional manipulation, enabled the body to function properly and to resist disease by empowering the immune system.  He also recognized that the body has an inherent ability to heal itself.  Dr. Still stressed preventative medicine, eating properly, and keeping fit. 

On June 22nd 1874, Andrew Taylor Still first elucidated the method and applications of an art and science he would name “Osteopathy” (pronounced: ah-stee-AH-puh-thee). Osteopathic medicine is a unique and holistic form of American medical care based upon and within the following philosophies:

The human being is a dynamic unit of function

The body possesses self-regulatory mechanisms which are self-healing in nature

 Structure and function are interrelated at all levels

Dr. Still presented his theories to his allopathic (M.D.) colleagues who mocked him and accused him of quackery.  This led him to settle in Kirksville, Missouri where he found enough acceptance to be allowed to open an office on the town square in March 1875.  Dr. Still's patients included both settlers and American Indians.  In his medical practice, he faced epidemics such as cholera, pneumonia, malaria, smallpox, tuberculosis and diphtheria.  His treatments included manipulation designed to imrpove circulation and to correct altered mechanics.  Dr. Still slowly built up his reputation as word spread that his drugless, “hands-on” manipulative medicine was able to cure many apparently hopeless cases.  He trained his children and a few others to assist him in his practice when the numbers of patients increased beyond his ability to attend to them all.  Interest in Osteopathy grew leading him to form his own school, the American School of Osteopathy (now the A.T.Still University of Health Sciences), founded in Kirksville.  The school received its charter on May 10, 1892.  The first class included five women and sixteen men graduating with a D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathy) degree in 1894.  Three of Dr. Still's children and one of his brothers were in the first class.

The school was a huge success, doubling in size by 1895.  History reports that over 30,000 osteopathic treatments were given that year. The local railroad increased its daily passenger trains to Kirksville to accommodate the over 400 people who traveled to Kirksville daily to be treated. 

Dr. Still remained active in the American School of Osteopathy throughout his later years, despite being greatly weakened by a stroke in 1914. Dr. Andrew Taylor Still died on December 12, 1917, at the age of 89.


Dr. Still pioneered the concept of wellness over 100 years ago without the use of medications.  In the early 1900's medication and surgery, thoroughly researched and found clinically practical, became a permanent part of the osteopathic medicine curriculum. Today, there are 20 Osteopathic Medical Schools . These schools are almost identical to allopathic (M.D.) medical schools with the exception of teaching 2 plus years of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM) and granting the D.O. degree.

The majority of D.O. graduates specialize in primary care fields, such as Family Practice, Internal Medicine, Obstetrics/Gynecology, and Pediatrics.  A few Osteopathic Physicians continue to value the wisdom of Osteopathic Manipulation.

Osteopathic practice focuses on the musculoskeletal system, Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment (OMT), diet, exercise, and fitness in the Prevention and Maintenance of Total Health.

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