Andrew Taylor Still was born on August 6, 1828 in the Midwest of America during a turbulent time; his father being a Farmer, Preacher and Physician. Dr Andrew Taylor Still MD followed his father in becoming a Farmer and Physician.
An outbreak of spinal meningitis swept the Midwest and saw Dr Still lose three of his sons to high fevers. He was appalled that his medical training had not equipped him with the necessary skills to save the lives of his children.
In disgust at the inadequacy of the medical treatments recommended, and the drugs available, Dr Still gave up his practice and spent the next few years avidly following research into health. He felt that the answers were already there in the body, if only one could find the pathway.
Dr Andrew Taylor Still MD said he discovered Osteopathy at 10 am on June 22, 1874.
At this instant he experienced a life-changing epiphany, a dramatic moment of illumination when, he wrote, “Like a burst of sunshine the whole truth dawned on my mind, that I was gradually approaching a science by study, research, and observation that would be a great benefit to the world”.
The followers of Dr Still believe that it was then, through his observations, that he made one of sciences great discoveries. In many ways one of equal importance to Newton’s Laws of Gravitation and Darwin‘s Observations on Evolution. A discovery, so simple, yet one capable of benefiting every human being, with the potential to help mankind more than any other achievement.
Andrew Taylor Still grew up always curious about how things worked. In shooting animals for the family pot, he would often dissect his catch to see how structure was relevant to function. How it all worked.
Now, with his own meticulous human dissections and observations, he postulated that 1) Structure must govern Function; 2) that the essence of health was in a full blood supply and drainage mechanism; and 3) that the rule of the artery was supreme. The marriage of Dr Still’s farming past and his new research lead to the famous phrase ‘Watering the Withering Fields’ .
The very simple and realistic concept that the body is a self-healing unit, anticipated the Science of Immunity by a generation and, by marrying Anatomy and Physiology with principles more often associated with Mechanics, developed drugless medicine, both preventative and curative, across the whole disease spectrum.
In 1905, Dr Still won a poll for nomination as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in a major New York publication, but, by dint of politics, his name was not put forward. His portrait hangs at the Smithsonian institution in Washington DC, in recognition of his contribution to Medicine; yet his name remains obscure.
Eventually, Dr Still MD DO returned to practice, now with the very simple but profound belief, that the body is essentially a self-healing unit. All that was needed in treatment was to unlock something preventing the body’s function or to augment a process to assist it.
Dr Still cut his teeth with this new concept in treating a series of pneumonias. He would go to the bedside of the patient and, using the upper limbs as levers, move successive ribs to improve the blood supply in, and the venous and lymphatic drainage out. Thus perfusing the lung field with a free-flowing blood supply. He truly was Watering the Withering Fields.
With much opposition, Dr Still continued to use his newfound ideas in treating patients. He experienced tremendous resistance and resentment from his medical peers, who ridiculed him as a quack and told him that what he was doing was utterly impossible.
But Dr Still’s patients flourished very much better than those of his peers, who were still purging and giving sulphur drugs to those they were treating. The patients of Dr Still’s peers got better in spite of the treatment, rather than from it.
Dr Still carried on and eventually won over the opposition to become the founder of the first Osteopathic College in Kirksville, Missouri.
Friends urged him to give his radical new system a name. During a trip to Western Missouri in 1889 a Mr W D Guttery, a Kirksville Teachers’ College aluminus, invited him to dinner. After mulling over a number of suggestions, Guttery finally said “Os means bone and Pathos means sorrow, disease or pain. Then, put the two together and you have it.” Osteopathy it became.
Even though I and others, along with Dr Still, feel that the name Osteopathy fails to show the full scope of the profession – in most minds osteopaths are just for the treatment of bad backs and other musculoskeletal issues – this could not be further from the truth.
Osteopathy continued to flourish in the United States of America after the formation of the first college in Kirksville, Missouri and graduates from that school founded colleges throughout the United States.
Today, the designation DO – Doctor of Osteopathy – is recognised throughout America as a parity with the qualification of MD.
One of Dr Still’s students was a Scot, J Martin Littlejohn, who had been a Dean of Kirksville College. On leaving there, he returned to Britain and in 1917 founded the British School of Osteopathy.
In Britain, osteopathy was considered to be outside the mainstream medical practice and was not a legally regulated profession until the introduction of the Osteopaths’ Act in 1993, which led to the establishment of the General Osteopathic Council and subsequently the official register opening in 1998.
Like other medical professions, Osteopathy is now subject to statutory regulations and qualified practitioners need to register with the General Osteopathic Council in order to practice and use the title of Osteopath.
Over the years, osteopathy in the UK has expanded enormously. There are now practitioners who specialise in Osteopathic Obstetrics, Gynaecology, Paediatrics, Ear Nose and Throat disease, as well as the more, publicly accepted, conventional Musculoskeletal disorders.
I continue to be delighted and amazed with the results that can be achieved in restoring health by simply accessing the body’s own repair mechanisms.
Thank you, Dr Andrew Taylor Still MD DO, for showing the way and letting generations of students follow in your footsteps, so that they, too, can help restore health to their patients.