Dr Andrew Tailer Still, the founder of osteopathy, was a man endowed with imagination, rare vision and perseverance. He was born on August 6, 1828, to a simple, hardy German farmer who was a physician by training and a missionary by choice. His mother Martha, was Scottish. Andrew was born in a remote village in Virginia, U.S.A . He was sturdy and strong and lived close to nature. He was fond of watching different animals. He would catch hares and squirrels and dissect them to find out the type of organs they had.
Andrew’s parents wanted him to become a Methodist minister. He wanted to be a physician, probably inspired by the visits he made with his father, assisting him on call of duty. He describes an incident in his autobiography. He was ten years old when he got a severe headache. He was in agony. He took a rope and made a swing between two trees, about 6-8 inches above the ground, put a small pillow over it, placed his neck on it, and lay flat on the ground with his head hanging over the swing. He was reasonably comfortable that way. He went to sleep and got up twenty minutes later minus the headache. He knew nothing about the anatomy of the neck and he never imagined that this simple action with the swing could have stopped the headache. He used the same method till he was twenty years old. At this juncture he reasoned out his initial discovery. ‘I could see that I had suspended the action of the great occipital nerves, and could give harmony to the flow of the arterial blood to and through the veins, and ease effect.’
Still joined the College of Physicians. When his wife Mary Vaugh died in 1859, he remarried and moved to an Indian settlement in Eastern Kansas. Later he joined the Army Medical Corps as a surgeon. At end of the war, in October1864, he was discharged from military service with the rank of Major. He resumed private practice. Medical science, at the time, was not very advanced and doctors made widespread use of mercurial preparations, irritants and alcohol. In 1875, a writer in British medical journal advised diabetics to take mineral acids, bark and opium preparations. In the same issue Dr. Conrad said that venereal diseases had some power to modify the eruptions of smallpox. Skin cancer was treated with arsenical paste, enuresis with strychnine. In the light of modern medicine this was a foolish and dangerous trend.
At this juncture Still was hit by a great tragedy. Three of his sons died of spinal meningitis. He watched helplessly while his beloved children were snatched away by the cruel hands of Fate. This was the turning point in his life. His suspicion about the inadequacy of medical science was confirmed. He says in his autobiography: ‘It was when I stood gazing at three members of my family all dead from spinal meningitis that I asked myself a serious question. In sickness had God left man stranded in a world of guessing? To guess what the matter was? To guess what to give and guess what the result would be? I decided then that God was not a guessing God but a God of truth. All his words, spiritual or material, were harmonious. So wise a God had certainly provided remedies for all illnesses.’
Still’s own experience of curing his severe headache and his great personal tragedy drove him relentlessly towards a deeper study of Man. His anguish led him to the conviction that something must be found to enable the body to heal itself in accordance with the law of nature. He chose Baker University to present his new idea. His father and brothers had donated 480 acres of land to the university. When he approached the authorities with his new idea he was looked upon with raised eyebrows and his request to present his paper was turned down. In spite of the generosity of his family, his reputation as a good doctor, his career in the army and as a legislator, the university doors were closed to him.
His theory that the body possesses the power for self-healing and self-maintenance was not acceptable. Doctors continued to give patients opium and whisky, which was like adding poison to the body already loaded with toxins. Sir William Oster, a noted physician, said, ‘He who takes medicine must get well twice, once form the disease he has and once from the medicines he has taken.’ Even this blow was not enough to make him deviate from his chosen path. He returned to Missouri and with greater determination went on developing his own theory. He maintained that the body was a complete unit and it was not possible for one part of the unit to be sick without affecting other parts. He believed in treating the body as a whole. He believed that the body’s self-mechanism should be recognised and normalised, and this would do the rest of the job of prevention and treatment.
To understand disease we must know what health is and any deviation from it should be recognised. The muscular-skeletal system (constituting muscles, bones, ligaments and fascia) forms sixty per cent of the body mass. Unfortunately this part is most neglected. Any alteration or disorder in this systems of the body. The effect is mainly due to the nerve irritation which causes a muscle spasm, hence resulting in a change in blood supply and the flow of lymph.
Dr. Still was hopeful and enthusiastic about his theories in spite of the criticism against him. In those days, to study human bones was a sin. Yet he went ahead and exhumed bodies from the shallow graves. He collected human bones and studied them in secrecy. The intricate mechanism of the human body fascinated and surprised him. He was curious about the sacro-iliac joint described in textbooks as a joint which does not move. He proved that the books were wrong. (Only recently have medical authorities arrived at the conclusion that the sacro-iliac joint has movement) Then he examined the spine which is a great combination of flexibility and strength. Intricate bones preserve and protect the spinal chord and its branches. The nerves passing through the joints reach the muscles, joints and different organs. The spine has a disc between each joint which acts as a shock absorber.
Dr Still began to wonder why so many bones were so intricately interwoven, performing such delicate movements, and supporting the structure of the body. Would a change in the mechanism affect the body? If it was true that the change did affect the body, then he had found the cause. He said, ‘A thousand experiments were made with bones until I became quite fam iliar with the bony structure . I spent much time in the study of anatomy, physiology, chemistry and mineralogy. During the winters of 1878 and 1879 I was called to my old home in Kansas to treat a member of the family, whom I had doctored for ten years prior to my moving to Missouri. I treated partially by drugs, as was done in those days, but also gave osteopathic treatment and the patient got well.’
This was the start of the experiments on men. Dr Still started his new practice in Kirksville, Missouri, a small mid-west town. His critics did not give him any importance; instead, they looked upon him as a poor idealist doctor or an insane man. This was also the time of great strides in medical science, when Lister was working on the theory of antisepsis, Pasteur on germ theory, and Virchow on physiology. The discovery of diphtheria antitoxins and the X-ray, however, came into use only years later.
Dr Still’s theories stood the test of time. He experimented by fitting a stout bench-like table covered with leather in his office. It was long enough for a person to lie on, with leather in his office. It was long enough for a person to lie on, but not wide enough. The patients who came to him were placed on the table. After being physically examined, parts of their bodies were bent in different directions. Sensitive fingers would run over their spines; his hands would pause at tender areas; there would be quick movements and the pain was gone. They could not understand why a doctor would only push and pull to treat instead of administering a pill or a bottle of medicine. The relief experienced, however, began attracting a horde of patients. The news spread fast.
What part do nerves play in the symptom of a disease? Using bones as a leverage, how can one influence them? What role do arteries and veins play in the cure of a disease? Dr.Still concluded that blood supply could be normalised a great deal by manipulative manoeuvres which relaxed the muscles and thus affected the free flow of blood. He declared, ‘The rule of the artery is supreme’. He was sure that the free flow of blood played a great role in overcoming disease.
Dr Still’s fame spread gradually. At no time, however, did he think his discovery to be complete. With the co-operation of his sons and doctors who were attracted towards his science, he founded a new branch of medical treatment which came to be known as Osteopathic Medicine. Dr Still planned to open a college of osteopathy. Assistance came in an astonishing way. Dr William Smith of Edinburgh, Scotland, was so impressed by Dr.Still that he offered to stay and teach anatomy in exchange for lessons in manipulative movements. The college at Kirksville, Missouri, opened in November 1892, and was given legal recognition.
From the beginning, the main aim of the college was to improve medical practice. It was not a ‘non-medical school’. Later it grew in stature and included all the arts and sciences of medical practice. Kirksville became a centre of feverish acitivity. Patients flocked from far and near in big numbers; a few stayed on after getting cured to continue their studies. The college grew far beyond the hopes and imagination of Dr Still. New colleges were opened. Osteopathy was growing fast in USA and UK. Dr Still passed his last few years sitting in the porch of his house on a hill overlooking the little town of Kirksville, where he could see the college building and hospital. A great experimenter, teacher and philosopher, he died on November 12,1917. By then, more than 5,000 osteopathic physicians were practising in USA and other countires.
Still expounded that Man, a remarkable creation of God, was a self-sufficient, self-maintaining machine. The machine could run smoothly and look after itself. Osteopathy recognised this great self-healing and self-maintaining power of the man-machine. It is not surprising that his theories evoked controversy. He was a complex man and his writings were difficult to understand. He could demonstrate and do things on his own, but could not put his ideas into writing in an organised form. His lectures used to be followed by demonstrations of his treatment on patients, without explaining much about what he could find and how he could put it right. A lot has been done since his time. Now there is a slow but definite recognition of Stills’s theories. He says in his philosophy of Osteopathy that his great desire was to give a head start to a philosophy that could be a guide for the future. ‘Great development in osteopathy today is the true emergence of his said philosophy’.
After Dr Still, osteopathy has produced many giants. They have contributed to its refinement and development. Today with many osteopathic hospitals, colleges and activities of different osteopathic associations in different countries, this branch of medicine is taking giant strides. Manipulative therapy, as medical science prefers to call it today, is becoming popular with medical men. Many doctors who suffer from pain themselves and ultimately get cured by manipulative therapy, try to learn a few techniques and apply them on their patients with astonishing results.
Manipulative treatment is part of the therapy as mentioned in orthopaedic text books. Osteopathy and chiropractic (where the same aim is achieved by using a slightly different technique) manipulation have come to be accepted as effective techniques of manipulative treatment. The truth, however, is that not everybody can be efficient and proficient in these techniques. A long time needs to be spent on self-training. Also there is the difficulty of finding an appropriate teacher. Techniques cannot be learnt by just studying books. Manipulation should be treated on par with other medical procedures. Who can deny the fact that even surgery saw black days beginning with the hands of barbers before the invention of anaesthesia!
Currently osteopathy is practised the most in the United States, its birth place. In UK, the profession had a relatively slower development. A few osteopaths from American colleges have settled in Australia. The Scandinavian countries are fast heading towards providing manipulative care to the public. There are quite a few osteopaths in France. It was Dr.J.B.Mannel (1877-1957) who first introduced gentle vertebral manipulation without anaesthesia within the domain of traditional medicine.
Recently the world Association of Natural Medicine came into existence. It includes osteopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, naturopathy, yoga, hypnotism, meditation, physiotherapy and homoeopathy. Its head office is in Switzerland and a world conference is held there every year.