It is not possible to separate osteopathic practice from the theories that produced it. Osteopathy is not just a mechanistic approach to disease but a sincere and effective system which attempts to remove the causes of ill-health and seeks to reinforce the basic curative force which lies within the body itself. The belief was originally expressed over a hundred years ago by Andrew Taylor Still, the originator of Osteopathy, whose life and work will be considered in the next chapter. The concept of many of the causes, and therefore of the remedies, lying within the body itself, has a long history. For as long as man has existed on earth, disease and injury have existed with him.
Treatment of disease was, in prehistory, assigned to practitioners of one or another healing method. The cause of disease was ascribed, by many, to outside forces which were thought to enter the body of the sufferer. Treatment in such case was aimed at driving out such evil or morbid influences. Other practitioners blamed aberrations within the body, or soul, of the victim, for the disease process, and treatment was then designed to normalize the causative disturbances. These two divergent philosophies, the outside or inside cause, exists side by side for centuries.
In the fourth century B.C. a rational system of healing was introduced by the great Greek physician Hippocrates. He taught that illness was often caused by quite simple things, such as eating the wrong food or by living in unhygienic conditions. He therefore recognized that the apparent causes of disease could originate from external or internal factors. However, I believed also that the body itself, through the healing efforts of its own nature, was the means of recovery. 'It is our natures that are the physicians of our diseases'.
He stressed that the physician should assist the ability of the body to overcome disease by removing causative factors, and by encouraging the healing effort, but never to meddle with, or hinder nature's attempt towards recovery. Thus the school of thought that followed Hippocrates' teaching emphasized the study of health of man as a whole integrated unit; relating the whole man to his environment. Within that framework the causes of ill health were to be found.
Other schools of thought, however, continued to focus attention on the disease process itself, as an entity, largely ignoring the patient. The history of medicine ever since has been highlighted by proponents of one or other of these schools of thought. Through the ages we find the theoretical battle raging, which is more important, the diseased or the disease? It is true to say that the Hippocratic concept has been more honoured, but the rival philosophy has been more practiced.
Osteopathic theory and practice are firmly in line with the concepts of Hippocrates. The patient is considered and treated as a whole. Founded as it was in this tradition, osteopathy is patient orientated rather than disease orientated. It has utilized structural diagnosis and manipulative therapy as part of its philosophy and practice, and therefore as part of total patient care, not confining it to painful conditions of the musculo-skeletal system alone.
In essence the original concept of osteopathy held that:
- Within the human body there exists a constant tendency towards health. If this capacity is recognized, and if treatment takes its relevance into account, then the prevention and normalization of disease processes is enhanced.
- The structure of the body is reciprocally related to its function. By this it is meant that any change in structure will alter some aspect of function and, conversely, any alteration in function will result in structural changes.
- Health is the primary area to be studied in attempting to understand disease.
- The musculo-skeletal system, which incorporates the bones, ligaments, muscles, fascia etc. forms a structure which, when disordered, may affect the function of other parts and systems of the body. This might be the result of irritation or abnormal response of the nerve and/or blood supply to these other organs or parts.
- The body is subject to mechanical disorder and is therefore capable of mechanical correction.