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Osteopathic Medicine

Basic Philosophy

The osteopathic approach was developed by a physician, Dr. Andrew Taylor Sill, in 1874 and is based upon a holistic view of the function of the human body. Osteopathic medicine is structured on the principles that the human body is an integrated organism and therefore abnormal function in one part of the body exerts unfavorable influences on other parts and on the body as a whole; a complex system exists in the body that tends to provide for self-regulation and self-healing in the face of stress; adequate function of all body organs and systems depends on the integrating forces of the nervous and circulatory system; the body's musculoskeletal system (such as bones, joints, connective tissues, skeletal muscles, and tendons) plays an important role in the body's continuous effort to resist and overcome illness and disease. Based on these principles, osteopathic medicine postulates that any stress—physical, mechanical, or emotional—that causes muscles to become tense (referred pain) intensifies the constant stream of sensory nerve impulses being sent to the central nervous system (CNS) by receptors in the muscles and tendons. If this neural barrage is severe enough, it may spill over and initiate an excessive volley of autonomic nerve impulses that pass away from the CNS to segmentally related organs and tissues. As a result, muscular responses to referred pain may trigger a neural feedback that can become a secondary source of irritation and pain. This, in turn, may induce responses by the internal organs that are referred back to the musculoskeletal system and a vicious cycle of sensory-motor nerve excitation can be created. Unless this cycle is interrupted, it may perpetuate itself until the somatic response to referred pain becomes more severe than the original visceral disease. The somatic response in effect becomes a secondary disease.

The musculoskeletal system is easily accessible and it is believed that the treatment of it may be beneficial in altering the disease process by interrupting the vicious cycle of neural exchange. In practice, osteopathic medicine involves the application of manipulative procedures to help tense muscles, tendons, and connective tissues to relax. The increase in muscle-fiber length resulting from the relaxation eases the tension on the impulse receptors in the muscles and tendons, reducing sensory bombardment to the spinal cord. This reduction may allow the entire body to return to more normal homeostatic levels and permit segmentally related visceral structures to repair themselves under more normal conditions. It is important to note that the osteopathic system of diagnosis and therapy is used in conjunction with the standard medical procedures of drug and surgical therapy. As part of the educational program, osteopathic colleges train their students in the standard medical diagnostic and therapeutic methods as well as those associated with osteopathic medicine. For additional information write the American Osteopathic Association, 142 E. Ontario Street, Chicago, IL 60611.

Bottom Line

Dr. Still, founder of osteopathy, postulated the following cardinal principals for his new approach to the art of healing, namely:

  • • The body is a unit that operates as an integrated structural and functional entity.
  • • The body systems are intrinsically capable of self-healing in the event of disease.
  • • Integration of activities within the body is the responsibility of the circulatory and nervous systems.
  • • The combined musculoskeletal systems have a functional capacity beyond that of serving as a structural framework and for support. When these systems are healthy, they help maintain vital blood and nerve supply to the body and vice-versa; if unhealthy the supply is impeded.
  • • The diseased part of the body can be challenged by another healthy segment to restore the normal state.

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