Manipulative methods as part of medical treatment are known to date back to earliest times. Hippocrates wrote of their value. Throughout medical history manual methods have been used, but almost always with a view to the correction of gross structural problems such as dislocations or spinal deformities. The methods used were empirical and often extremely forceful, with a minimum of scientific rationale to support their use. The same can be said for much of medical practice, until the end of the nineteenth century. Heroic drugging and bleeding were the methods most frequently used in order to bludgeon the body back to a semblance of health.
There have been a number of medical reformers who saw the folly of attacking the apparent disease process, or more often the symptoms of it, rather than seeking and eliminating causes. Among these were the celebrated Dutch physician Hermann Boerhaave (1669-1738), and the great English doctor and teacher, Thomas Sydenham. They stressed the vital importance, in the Hippocratic tradition, of placing the study of the patient at the heart of medicine rather than emphasizing the disease process.
Andrew Taylor Still
In a different age and out of a very different culture there emerged a man who wrestled with the same problems and who came to a practical solution. Andrew Taylor Still was born in 1828 in Jonesburgh, Virginia. His father Rev Abram Still, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, was both preacher and doctor to his flock. This was not an unusual combination at this time in frontier America. When Andrew was six the family moved to Tennesee, where he attended elementary school. Three years later the family moved again to Northern Missouri, Abram Still having been appointed as Methodist missionary in the area. There Andrew attended a typical frontier school.
During this period Andrew displayed a great interest in the natural environment. With his father's aid he studied and observed nature. He found great beauty and order in the world, marred only by the constant presence of disease and death. He was horrified by the havoc caused by the common diseases of the day, such as smallpox, cholera and meningitis. He was sensitive to the inadequacies of current medical methods in dealing with these diseases.
Andrew Taylor Still M.D. (1828-1917), Founder of Osteopathy
When Andrew was sixteen the family moved again, this time to Kansas where his father had been appointed missionary to the Shawnee Indians. At the age of eighteen Andrew Still married. In 1857 he was elected to the Kansas legislature where he promoted the anti-slavery cause. His wife died in 1859 leaving him with three young children, and he remarried in 1860. His medical training began when he was able to help and learn from his father, and other practicing doctors of medicine. At this time medical schools were few in the U.S.A. and the preceptor method of training was usual. Before the civil war he attended the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Kansas City, but before completing the course he enlisted in the army. During the civil war he served as a surgeon and rose to the rank of major.
Following the war he continued to study the nature of health and disease. He found current theory and practice inadequate and in his autobiography he states: 'I was in the practice of medicine and had been for several years. I treated my patients as other doctors did. Some of them got well, and some of them died. Others, both young and old, got sick and got well again without the assistance of the medical doctor'. He studied the human body in detail, its structure and the relationship between structure and function. He became convinced that only through an understanding of this relationship could an understanding be achieved of the malfunctions of the body, i.e. disease.