What is Osteopathy?

Dr Andrew Still
Dr Andrew Still
J Martin Littlejohn
J Martin Littlejohn
16 Buckingham Gate
Littlejohn's school at
16 Buckingham Gate
London

Osteopathy is the philosophy of healthcare concerned with that which has compromised health.

Osteopathy recognises that the living body is a self-renewing, self-reforming, self-regenerating, self-maintaining system, maintaining health constantly, every moment throughout life. This is a characteristic of life, a characteristic of a living system. It is what we might call 'health'. Should this health-maintaining system become compromised, symptoms or disease can result. Symptoms and disease therefore develop as a result of a breakdown of 'health'. Consequently, the question arises whether treatment should be directed towards controlling the subsequent disease, or whether we should seek to establish what has impaired or compromised health in the first place. Therefore the fundamental philosophy is that osteopathy is concerned with that which has compromised health, rather than with the control of the subsequent disease, or medical condition. Osteopathy is the way we assess health; it is not a treatment for disease, nor a therapy nor a technique. 

Osteopathy is as old as modern medicine. The concept was developed by Dr Andrew T. Still, a physician in Middle West of America in the 1870s.  Dr Still became disillusioned with the medical treatment practised at the time, which was often as hazardous to the patient as the disease itself. It was not Still's intention to found a new profession. He wanted to reform the existing system.

Osteopathy was brought to England by J Martin Littlejohn, a Scot who met Still in Missouri and was impressed by his ideas. Littlejohn became student at Still's school and subsequently taught there with Still. He returned to England in 1913 and founded the British School of Osteopathy at 16 Buckingham Gate, London, in 1917. The school moved to larger premises in 1975 and is now in Southwark.

Over the years the profession has developed a reputation for treating musculo-skeletal disorders such as back, neck & head pain and joint strains.  It is not that this summarises osteopathic care but because these conditions are so common and so many people suffer from them that osteopaths have become well known for treating them. Osteopathy can offer a very effective treatment for musculo-skeletal disorders but that does not summarise all of osteopathic care. Some people choose to consult their osteopath first, for all sorts of problems because they prefer the osteopathic approach.

Osteopathy in the UK now is a distinct healthcare profession, recognised in the Osteopaths Act 1993. Its practitioners are highly trained to practise autonomously in a primary contact setting. Patients may consult them directly without being referred by another healthcare professional.

"Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease.”
The World Health Organisation.