Some osteopaths trace their profession back hundreds of years from the simple, roving surgeons of early times and through the bone setters of the eighteenth century. It was not, however, until the year 1874 that the founder of modern osteopathy, Andrew Taylor Still, announced his theories about health and medicine.

Still was an American, the son of a methodist preacher, and he hated drugs and alcohol of all kinds. He firmly believed that the human body can be treated as a machine and that faults in the musculo-skeletal system are responsible for the development of a huge variety of diseases. Although one of Stillís early students, a man called John Martin Littlejohn, tried to expand the basis upon which osteopathy was founded, most of Stillís followers believed that they could help their patients best by manipulating their spines.

Today, although a small number of osteopaths will claim that they can help deal with a much wider range of problems, the majority of practising osteopaths concentrate on dealing with backache, leg pains, headaches and neck pains by manipulating bones and joints. Indeed, the figures suggest that well over half of all the patients going to an osteopath have one particular type of problem: backache.


Osteopaths diagnose their patients by watching the way that they walk, stand and sit; by taking a full personal history; by performing a physical examination and by taking X-rays.


Osteopaths usually treat their patients with massage and manipulation of various kinds.

There is an additional type of osteopathy Ė cranial osteopathy Ė that ought to be mentioned here. Pioneered by a nineteenth-century osteopath, William Sutherland, cranial osteopathy is used both to help make a diagnosis and to help in treatment. Sutherland was interested in the structure of the skull and after study he decided that all twenty-two bones of the skull could be moved by manipulation. He believed that by gentle touch and pressure the skull could be realigned and that a slight pressure from the therapistís hands on the patientís head could prove extremely relaxing.


Some osteopaths claim that osteopathy is completely safe. I disagree. I believe that the manipulation of joints can lead to problems. Osteopathy is a potentially hazardous procedure that needs to be carried out with great care. It should only be used after a thorough diagnosis has ruled out the possibilities of there being some condition (such as a fracture, a tumour or an infection) which makes manipulation unwise.


Osteopathy is an excellent form of treatment for simple bone, joint and muscle problems. Most doctors with backache visit osteopaths or chiropractors.