Theoretical and philosophical foundations

The theoretical foundations of osteopathy were first laid by its founder, Andrew Taylor Still.  According to Still, a human being, composed of body, spirit and soul, is the perfect creation of a higher power. Man is a machine of impeccable design, with all of its structures and mechanisms subject to an elegant, harmonious set of natural laws. With no disruptions, the human being maintains perfect health: its machinery is equipped to completely regulate all life-sustaining functions. However, when the body’s natural mechanisms are disrupted, it can no longer maintain its state of health.

Still believed that the proper functioning of the entire system is dependent on the proper functioning of all of its parts. When one part of the system is disrupted, all other parts are necessarily affected. However, he believed that certain parts play a central role in the maintenance of health, and that the disruption of these parts have particularly dire consequences for the entire system.  The body’s fluids (in particular the blood, lymph and cerebrospinal fluid) as well as the signals of the nervous system must remain unimpeded in their functions in order for the body to maintain a state of health. Of prime importance are the body’s connective tissues (or fascia), which are responsible for the transportation and exchange of the body’s fluids. Particularly problematic are areas of fluid stagnation, lack of motion, and misalignments of structures.

In Still’s view, the proper work of a medical professional should therefore be to find and treat these disruptions in the body’s mechanisms (especially in the fascia). By restoring the body’s mechanisms to their perfectly designed states, the osteopath restores its capacity for self-healing and self-regulation. The osteopath’s job is not to fight to disease, but to restore the body’s form and function to their natural states of balance and harmony. Still emphasized the continuous and rigorous study of human anatomy and biomechanics, for, in his view, the osteopath must have expert knowledge of what this natural, balanced state is like so that (s)he may accurately diagnose and treat a disruption. An osteopath must not stop at treating the symptoms presented by a patient but look for and treat the causes of disease, which, in Still’s view, could always be found in an underlying abnormality of form and function. In addition, the osteopath must treat abnormalities in all parts of the body, since the body operates as a series of interrelated and functionally dependent mechanisms and not as a collection of isolated parts.

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