The Principles of Osteopathy, As Espoused by Andrew Taylor Still

To find health should be the objective of any doctor. Anyone can find disease

Osteopathy is a hands-on approach  to healthcare, recognising the important link between the structures of your body and the way it functions. Osteopaths look at the whole body for the cause of dis-ease, as well as barriers to recovery. They use a wide range of techniques to restore full function to the body.

The founder of osteopathy, Andrew Taylor Still, first used the term ‘osteopathy’ in 1874 to describe a philosophy of healing that he developed. Etymologically the word osteopathy derives from Greek: osteo (bone) and pathos (incoming effects from). Osteopathy describes the influence of bones in relation to disease: causation and cures; not bone disease or bone pain. Therefore ‘osteopathy’ is really ‘the incoming effects from bone’, or the suffering that results when disorder exists among them. 

Pathology in orthodox medicine means the study of suffering (or rather the study of disease ‘products’, which is really a change in its original meaning.

Orthodox medicine treats dysfunctions that can result in disease; it doesn't make you healthy.

AT Still said,  “We say 'disease' when we should say 'effect'; for disease is the effect of a change in different parts of the physical body. Disease in an abnormal body is just as natural as is health when all parts are in place.”

With all this, Andrew Taylor Still believed the body had an inherent healing ability, and that an uninterrupted nerve and blood supply to all tissues of the body was essential to their normal function. Thus if any structural problem (e.g. muscle spasm, chronic tissue tension or curvature of the spine etc.) interfered with normal blood and nerve supply, the self-healing power would also be interfered with and disease would be the result.

1. The body is a unit - every part of the body is interrelated.
2. The body has the ability to heal itself. The body has its own mechanisms for healing. Osteopaths can help the patient with this process.
3. Structure and function are related. This means that the structure of the body effects the way the body functions.
4. The body has an ability to defend itself.
5. The freedom of body fluids and nerve impulses to move unimpeded is essential for health.
6. The vital force controls the working of the body and expresses itself as health when all its parts are in order.
7. Nature heals while osteopathy assists. Osteopaths are committed to doing no harm.
8. Osteopaths treat patients who have a condition of health. They do not treat conditions in isolation.
9. Osteopathy builds health - by treating within the vital health of the patient.

What is an 'osteopathic lesion'?

Howard Beardmore DO – The osteopathic lesion is not ‘a bone out of place’ but any obstruction to physiological processes or irritation, deficiency or excess that may, if left unaddressed, lead to a state of unhealth. This can include: diet, lifestyle, posture, mental or physical trauma and poisoning; any method that is only directed at only managing the symptomatic picture, acts by palliating symptoms and suppressing nature’s attempt to clean’. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine states, “There is no such thing as incurable diseases, only incurable people”.

With all this, Andrew Taylor Still believed the body had an inherent healing ability, and that an uninterrupted nerve and blood supply to all tissues of the body was essential to their normal function. Thus if any structural problem (e.g. muscle spasm, chronic tissue tension or curvature of the spine etc.) interfered with normal blood and nerve supply, the self-healing power would also be interfered with and disease would be the result.

Commonly, if we have a pain, we take a pain-killer; if we have an infection, we take an antibiotic. That’s fine. But if we need to keep taking them, it surely begs the next question – what are we missing or ignoring? 

The main point here is that orthodox medicine deals with normality and disease, not health (see What is Good Health?). Being clear on this, it does considers good health only in terms of ‘normal’, i.e. it has parameters of good health: normal blood pressure, normal heart rate, normal blood glucose etc. Orthodox medicine treats diseases; it doesn't make you healthy.

With all this, Andrew Taylor Still believed the body had an inherent healing ability, and that an uninterrupted nerve and blood supply to all tissues of the body was essential to their normal function. Thus if any structural problem (e.g. muscle spasm, chronic tissue tension or curvature of the spine etc.) interfered with normal blood and nerve supply, the self-healing power would also be interfered with and disease would be the result.

What is Craniosacral Therapy?

Craniosacral Therapy (CST) is a non-invasive,light-touch hands-on therapy that enhances the body's natural capacity for healing. For 30 years CST has been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of physiological issues associated with pain and loss of biomechanical, systemic and emotional function/wellbeing. CST is useful both as a primary treatment method and in combination with other traditional (physiotherapy) or complementary (massage) therapeutic techniques.

The Therapeutic Value of the Craniosacral System

We are all familiar with the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Like them, the craniosacral system also influences many of the body’s functions. An imbalance in this system can adversely affect the brain and the spinal cord which can result in sensory, motor and intellectual dysfunction. The name craniosacral is derived from the system’s associated bones. Included are those of the skull, face and mouth – which make up the cranium - and of the spinal column which extends down to the sacrum. Membranes enclosing a hydraulic system connect the craniosacral system.

CST has been used successfully to relieve numerous health problems, including:

  • Migraines
  • Neck and back pain
  • TMJ dysfunction
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Fibromyalgia
  • ADD/ADHD
  • PTSD (see video of Vietnam Veterans who had CST)
  • Central nervous system disorders and many others
  • Because it’s so gentle, it’s been proven effective for all ages, from the newborn to elders.

In the early 1900’s, as an osteopathic student in Kirksville, Missouri, Dr. William G Sutherland was struck by an idea. He saw that the bones of the skull were designed to provide for movement in relationship with each other. For more than 20 years he pondered the prospect of movable bones in the adult skull. He performed experiments on himself with helmet-like devices designed to impose variable and controlled pressures on different parts of his head. 

Sutherland's wife recorded the results of personality changes he displayed in response to different pressure applications; he described head pain, problems with coordination etc., related to the various pressures. In the early 1930’s, under a pseudonym in the Minnesota Osteopathic Journal, Dr Sutherland published his first article about his work. Based on his experiments, he developed a system of examination and treatment for the bones of the skull. With some patient success, Dr. Sutherland organised a small group of osteopaths who studied cranial work with him. His system became known as Cranial Osteopathy.  

Craniosacral Therapy (CST)

In the 1970’s, during surgery on a patient’s neck, Dr Upledger viewed the rhythmical movement of dura mater, the outer layer of the meningeal membranes, in the neck visibly moved in and out at about 10 cycles per second. None of his colleagues nor any of the medical texts had an explanation for his observation. He concluded that the pressure in the membrane sac was fluctuating rhythmically. Two years later Dr Upledger attended a seminar which explained Dr Sutherland’s ideas and taught some of his evaluation and treatment techniques. Coupling his scientific background with a tactile sensitivity, Dr Upledger was quick to understand how a hydraulic system might function inside a membranous sac encased within the skull and the canal of the spinal column. He incorporated and refined Dr Sutherland’s techniques with success.   

For 20 years, osteopathic physician and surgeon John Upledger has been the chief proponent of using the craniosacral system to evaluate and treat medical problems associated with pain and dysfunction. His research and clinical work with the craniosacral rhythm has led to the development of CST, a light-touch manipulative approach which as been effective with poorly understood dysfunctions, chronic pain, lowered vitality, recurring infections and PTSD, with which he has achieved great results with Vietnam Veterans).

The positive effect of CST relies to a large extent upon the patient’s natural self-corrective physiological activities. The therapist’s light, hands-on approach assists the hydraulic forces inherent in the craniosacral system to improve the internal environment. Because of its influence on many bodily functions, CST is used by a wide variety of healthcare professionals including osteopaths, medical doctors, physiotherapists, massage therapists and acupuncturists.

Why Craniosacral Therapy Matters So Much to You

Few structures in your body have as much influence over its ability to function properly as the brain and spinal cord that make up your central nervous system. And few systems have as much impact on the brain and spinal cord as the soft tissues and fluid that surround and protect them — the craniosacral system.

Every day the body endures stresses and strains and your structures compensate for them. Unfortunately, over time these compensations can cause your soft tissue to tighten and distort the craniosacral system, which in turn can put pressure on the brain and spinal cord.

The result? A barrier to the healthy performance of your central nervous system — and potentially every other system with which it interacts.

Craniosacral Therapy is designed to release those soft-tissue tensions. Practitioners use a soft touch — starting with the weight of a small coin — to evaluate how well your craniosacral system is performing. Then they use gentle techniques to release any tensions they find.

By restoring the best possible environment for your brain and spinal cord, CST naturally helps the rest of your body self-correct. It eliminates the negative effects of stress, strengthens your resistance to disease, and enhances your overall health and well-being.

People have a belief that life is difficult and healing is painful. CST helps them let go of that belief. The healing process can be much more gentle and subtle.” — S.H., Abbeville, La.

What is Visceral Manipulation?

Referred pain from the viscera

Another facet of chronic pain is pain that can have its origins elsewhere, specifically in the viscera. This can cause local pain, or causing adaptations with a change in posture or function

All the viscera is attached to something. That something could be the respiratory diaphragm, the back, or the pelvis. The viscera also like to 'move' and if they cannot move the way they wish, they will have voice - they give us symptoms

An example of this is the heart. Its origins, embryologically, is in the neck and upper chest. As the diaphragm (which also has its origins in the neck) descends, it takes a nerve supply with it from the neck. So, the heart reaches it final place in the chest, it still has a nerve supply coming from the neck. This nerve supply is really a two-way street and sensory information can pass back up into the spinal cord. Here it can ‘overflow’ into the somatic system, then being felt elsewhere in the body. The heart is wrapped up in the pericardium, and ligaments connect it to the spine (in the neck and chest) and sternum.  These pericardial ligament strains can be produced by whiplash or other impact injuries are frequently expressed as low neck and upper chest/shoulder stiffness and pain.  All this is reason that the heart can refer symptoms to the left neck/shoulder/arm and the angle of the jaw on the left with situations like a heart attack, as well as the ‘usual’ one of crushing, pain behind the sternum.

Now, this is an extreme example. Frequently there can be ‘low grade’, grumbly, referral patterns with the person experiencing stiffness in the chest, shoulder and neck. These may be present for years before the person seeks attention for their discomfort. Things like to ‘move as they wish’, and if they cannot, they will have voice; that voice being through the muscles and joints.

The pictures also show the regions of the back that have relations with it from its attachments from the gut. The shaded regions show regions covered with peritoneum (hence can be freely movable) and bare areas (that show where tissues have a direct attachment to the back).  

Structures that have a direct relationship with the back can refer pain directly to those areas. Note here the ascending and descending colon have a direct connection with the back and the lines drawn across the back by the mesentery of the other regions of the gut. The attachments can cause referred pain through to the back.

In addition to these, there are gut attachments to the respiratory diaphragm (these can give referred symptoms back up to the shoulder and neck (through the phrenic nerve and sympathetic chain), and to the pelvis, giving pain and stiffness in the hips and lower limbs.

These all can give rise to pain pictures elsewhere in the body, as shown here.