So what happened to Osteopathic Medicine from the 1900’s to the present?

It is interesting to note that Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMT) is known to treat musculoskeletal pain. Unknown to some, it has traditionally been used and still used on patients pre and post surgery and those with pneumonias, asthmatics, and various other medical conditions to decrease recovery time and improve the management of the disease along with appropriate medical and surgical treatments.


Presently, chiropractic is more commonly associated with manipulation than Osteopathic physicians even though the field was pioneered and developed by Osteopathic physicians in the United States. Why then is manipulation more commonly associated with chiropractors?  A study of the history behind Osteopathic medicine and chiropractic can explain this. I will quote from Dr. Hildreth, a former student in the first class of Osteopathy and whose parents were acquainted with Dr. Still’s early work in 1875, well before the establishment of the School of Osteopathy:

“At the opening of the second class in the fall of 1893,  a man by the name of Strothers, who had been a member of the first class in the fall and winter before and who has been practicing in Davenport, Iowa during the summer of 1893, returned to Kirksville for further study.  There came with him a man who said his name was Palmer. This was a person probably in his 50’s who was very large, a heavyset man with a dark brown beard. He came to Kirksville, it was said, to take treatment from Dr. Still.  Dr. Still’s daughter, Blanche, now Mrs. George M. Laughlin, told me that this man, Palmer, was not only treated by her father, but also sat at the family table upon the invitation of the old doctor. She told me that as many as eighteen laces would be laid at Dr. Still’s table at that time and some of the most prominent people who were treated by Dr. Still would eat with him.


Palmer took treatments from Dr. Still for a few weeks.  He also talked with Dr. Still’s students and was treated by many of them. When we next heard of him, he had “discovered” a method of treating disease by the hands which he called chiropractic.  My first experience with the method taught by Palmer in Davenport was a demonstration given by Dr. C.E. Achorn, then of Boston, at the American Osteopathic Association Convention in 1900 at Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Dr. Achorn had come to Kirksville in an early day and studied Osteopathy. He graduated from a Northern School in Minneapolis.  He also visited Davenport and witnessed a type of adjustment treatment there which was called chiropractic. Dr. Achorn showed that the Palmer method was along the lines practiced by Dr. Still for a number of years before opening his school in 1892 in Kirksville, Missouri, only it was a very crude and very poor imitation of the manipulative therapy Dr. Still practiced.


There has been much discussion as to whom the credit should be given for the discovery and use of adjustment to cure disease. There is no question in the minds of those Osteopathic physicians who were associated with Dr. Still and who knew of his theory of the development and growth of Osteopathy to where the credit belongs.


Dr. Still was using manipulative methods for the alleviation of pain and suffering years before the man from Davenport was ever heard of.  Hence, to Dr. Still alone belongs the credit for the discovery of adjustment and physical defects as the basis for the cure of disease.”

Although Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine is older than the more well known chiropractic school, the general public knows little if anything about it or how much it differs from other forms of manipulation. 

There were some events that placed manipulation in association with chiropractors in the eye of the public. First there was a de-emphasis on manipulative treatment for patient management among osteopathic physicians. This decline of manipulative treatment among D.O.’s began after the 1930’s.Also, in order to improve an Osteopathic physician graduate’s chances of  passing unlimited licensure examinations, many full time non-D.O. teachers were hired. Basic science instruction improved at the cost of adequate integration of Osteopathic principles into the lectures. As a result of increasing efforts to grant unlimited licenses to D.O.’s and a shift to broad-based practice rights, less time was spent performing manipulative treatment in the office, and particularly, in the hospital. Also, physical modalities, such as spinalators, did not require the continued presence of physicians. The development drug therapies, which included antibiotics, analgesics, anti-inflammatory agents, muscle relaxers and tranquilizers from 1935 to 1960 further decreased the need for lengthy Osteopathic manipulative procedures in the management of patient care. As a result of these various events, it was not surprising to see that musculoskeletal manipulation became more closely associated with chiropractors as more DO's chose to practice as MD's. 

"I am simply trying to teach you what you are; to get you to realize your right to health, and when you see the cures wrought here, after all other means have failed, you can but know that the foundation of my work is laid on nature’s rock."
—Autobiography of A. T. Still

"To find health should be the object of the doctor. Anyone can find disease."
—Philosophy of Osteopathy

"An Osteopath reasons from his knowledge of anatomy. He compares the work of the abnormal body with the work of the normal body."
—Osteopathy Research and Practice

"DO means Dig On."
—Andrew Taylor Still, personal papers

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