Philosophy not Technique
Osteopathy is a philosophy based on principles of natural law and common sense. From early on A.T. Still preached that there was no set of techniques that could be applied in a cause and effect way to treat specific diseases. He taught that understanding basic principles, which included all branches of normal anatomy, physiology and chemistry, and an understanding of health, growth and development, would naturally lead to appropriate choices in technique. In his writing and in the first schools in which he taught, he demonstrated treatments, but he assigned, and wrote about, the study of the human body, not the techniques.
Science Grows Up
Over the last 100 years, the scientific method has emerged as the basis of western medical theory and practice. This method is based on dissecting disease and medicines and studying them in a reductionistic manner. The most refined studies are considered to be those that are able to isolate single variables and test them in conditions separate from the environment from which they originate. Reproducibility is key to acceptance of an idea or theory. This means a medicine or therapy must be rigorously tested at a chemical level before it ever enters a human trial. While this standard is not possible for all therapies, or even all pharmaceuticals, it is the highest standard on which we rely.
The foundational principles of osteopathy are not aligned with this approach. Osteopathy can never be tested by this standard but it is based on rigorous science. By its very nature Osteopathy relies on the environment to effect cure of disease. Osteopathic physicians rely not only on manual treatments, but also on the support of good diet, hygiene and behavioral modifications. The inherent ability of the body to heal itself is the most cherished principle in Osteopathy and is also the concept most often used to negate the efficacy of the work.
Osteopathic doctors rely on the reductionistic scientific studies to understand the functioning of the body, the effects of medications and it’s a key part of their education. But they can’t use this in treatments. This is not a drawback – it’s the root of the efficacy of Osteopathic Medicine. The Osteopathic doctor must look at the whole in every patient encounter. Reductionism is not a luxury of this inquiry.
Seeking Health not Disease
The scientific method of inquiry, and technique focused treatment protocols are based on naming disease and eradicating it. Treatments are often aggressive, sometimes even invasive. The goal is not to restore the body to balance, but rather to defeat the disease. The osteopathic doctor seeks out the health, understanding that given the right environment, balance and support the body is itself seeking to heal. Shifting the environment in which the disease is thriving is often all that is needed for the body to take over and effect lasting change. Most often, an osteopathic treatment doesn’t fix the problem, it supports the health and this allows natural forces to return the patient to a state of wellness.