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History of Osteopathic Medicine


It has been only recently in the human experience that "the Healing Arts" has embraced science.  Well into the 1800s, disease and illness were addressed with a litany of methods that were very much a product of folklore and myth.  Physicians were not seen as very helpful in restoring health--only used as a very (desparate) last resort, who might be helpful for prognosis, but were effective only infrequently.


Learning how to help people deal with debilitation and disease was generally done in an apprenticeship format. One followed and assisted a practitioner, learning one case at a time. Schools as we now know them did not develope until there was a more formal body of knowledge, which began to accumulate in the mid-1800s.  Especially in the agrarian and immigrant society that was the United States, getting a medical education was accomplished by apprenticeship--in hebal remedies, bone-setting, and surgery (amputation).


Andrew T. Still (1828-1917) chose to go west for land and opportunity, eventually settling in what is now Kansas.  He farmed, developed an interest in and did apprenticeship training in medicine, and served with Union forces in the Civil War.  During this time he experienced a family tragedy that fundamentally affected his way of looking at the medical services he would offer when two of his three children died during a meningitis epidemic. This led him to investigate ways to treat previously ignored conditions which he thought might contribute to poor circulation and thereby reduce one's resistance to disease.  He developed manual treatment methods to address certain conditions and "promote health", but was ostrasized from his church and community because it was believed that only Christ--not mortal men--should heal with the laying-on of hands.   


In 1875, Andrew Still chose to move to Missouri, to continue to practice medicine and develope methods to (manually) treat conditions that interfered with upright posture, that would allow people to function more healthfully and maintain activity.  He was confident enough in his philosophic principles that he--like many others in late 19th century America--started his own medical school (in 1892) to teach this method.  The first class of the American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville, MO, graduated in 1895.  Interestingly, this first class of 23 had 4 women, something very unusual in medicine of that day.


Osteopathic medical schools were able to survive the intense criticism and scrutiny that followed the Flexner Report  (1911).  Over the course of the next two decades, schools of Osteopathy developed curriculums that included the many basic sciences involved with better understanding human disease and illness, while methods of manual treatment to address common biomechanical and myofascial conditions also were refined. State licensure of DOs recognized this parity of education and training by 1970. These DOs are seen as exceptionally well-qualified primary care practitioners.


With the acceptance of osteopathic medicine in licensure and in practice, DOs have now been absorbed into the fabric of the medical establishment.  In the medical economic reality of present-day practice, such practitioners have less incentive to put time and energy into dealing with (non-lethal) musculo-skeletal problems or with the complexity of chronic pain. However, there is still a small segment of practicing osteopathic physicians who choose to focus / specialize in diagnosing and treating musculo-skeletal conditions that interfere with health and quality of life, or that interfere with sporting activities.  Dr. Leifheit is proud to be one of those. 

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