Chapter 6 – Is osteopathy out of place?

Early day osteopathy

If you read the books written by the very first osteopath, A.T. Still, you might notice something odd. And I mean that the surprise starts from the table of contents. Let me give you an example from Research and Practice:

Diseases of the Throat and Neck,
Laryngeal Diseases,
Diseases of the Pharynx,
Acute Tonsillitis,
Chronic Tonsillitis,
Deposits in the Tonsils,
Exophthalmic Goiter,

Odd, isn’t it? When it comes to the region of the throat and neck, you do not read about neck pain, but about diseases. Not that osteopathy didn’t care about neck pain (some aspects of it are discussed in another part of the book), but it was definitely not what osteopathy was about.

the position of the bones

Now, my dear unknown reader, I would like to talk about an important difference between modern-day osteopathy and early-day osteopathy.

Nowadays, when you study osteopathy, you are taught about osteopathic dysfunction. To make it simple, osteopathic dysfunction is the loss of mobility of a joint (I know there’s more but I like to believe some patients read my blog too). Following that, we are taught how to test every single movement of the body, and later how to apply a technique in order to restore this loss of mobility.

Now, it might be interesting for the reader to notice that A.T. Still never talked about a lack of mobility of a joint.


He was obsessed with the position of the bones. The position, not the movement.

Oh, you don’t need to believe me. I’ll just quote him for you:

Man’s power to cure is good as far as he has a knowledge of the right or normal position, and so far as he has the skill to adjust the bones, muscles and ligaments and give freedom to nerves, blood, secretions and excretions, and no farther

He must keep all parts in perfect position before he can expect the heart to report “all is well.”

We must be sure that every bone is lined up and in its proper position, not held to the right nor the left by any muscular contraction which would follow irritation to the muscle or its nerves.

We must know the position and purpose of each bone and be thoroughly acquainted with each of its articulations. Without this knowledge our work will be a failure.

I have given attention not only to the form of each bone but also to why it is different in form and action from all other bones; to its exact location and articulation so that when it is removed from its place I know just where it belongs and how to take it and place it in the position that the builder intended for it. For days, months and years, and many of them, I have examined and criticised the normal and the abnormal position of all bones of the whole system.

If the normal position and relation of every bone from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot is a Condition necessary to good health, what variation from a socket, facet or any joint will be the cause of some progressive disease such as a fever, tuberculosis, or inflammation of any joint of the neck, back, loin, hip, legs or arm?

I will say to the student of osteopathy, to judges, jurors, lawyers and all interested, that there are many ways to set bones; there are many ways to bring them from their abnormal position back to their normal articulation. In adjusting bones the mechanic is governed by three principles—the lever, the screw and the wedge.

If so, examine and see that the upper ribs, the dorsal vertebrae and the clavicles are truly normal in position.

Here we should carefully examine with mechanical skill in order that we may know that the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth ribs and the dorsal vertebrae are absolutely in their normal position, having no “may-be-so’s,” “possibly so,” or “however,” about it.

I could go on and on like that! Gosh, this word seemed to be very important to him. Maybe was he trying to tell us to pay attention to something? I really wonder what it could be.

Meanwhile, I’ll go back and treat back pain, trying not to think too much about the patient with chronic purulent otitis whose first vertebra’s transverse processes were pulled so far back that I had to call my friend to check on it. Nor should I think of this patient with a goiter and her 5th cervical vertebra. Or about how working on the upper neck has helped patients with nose bleeds, or even lichen planus. No, I shouldn’t, because osteopathy is for back pain and no place for this bones’ position nonsense.







2 responses to “Chapter 6 – Is osteopathy out of place?”

  1. […] great. But that’s why he always talks about bringing from abnormal to normal, and about the position of the bones. Now, one of the risks would be to read it in a very mechanical way, because that’s how our […]

  2. […] osteopathy, I thought that maybe we were doing it all wrong. Just like how I mentioned last time osteopathy is out of place, today I have the feeling that osteopathy is topsy-turvy. Or maybe more inside-out. I don’t […]

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