History of Osteopathy

Osteopathy was founded by American country doctor Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917). Still was the son of a Methodist preacher and he assisted his father both in his role as a preacher and physician.

In 1864, during a meningitis epidemic, three of his children died within a few days of each other. Shortly after, despite the fact that Still had consulted the most highly regarded doctors of the time, a fourth child died of pneumonia. As a result Still vowed to improve and refine the medicine of the time. He began to study a vast array of disciplines, from medical science, mechanics, spiritual philosophy to ‘bone setting’ practices. During the years 1865-1870, Still faced epidemics such as cholera, malaria, pneumonia, smallpox, diphtheria, and tuberculosis, often achieving success where others had failed. Still used a combination of ‘hands on’ manipulation and medication. However, in time, Still established an almost ‘drug free’ practice.

In 1874, Still founded a new medical science which he named Osteopathy. 1892 saw the opening of the American School of Osteopathy, Kirksville, Missouri. By the late 1890’s his school, infirmary and new surgical hospital were increasingly successful both academically and financially. He continued direct patient care, teaching his philosophical principles to his students, whilst leaving the instruction of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and histology to his hand picked faculty.


Amongst these was Dr. John Martin Littlejohn (1865-1947), who was significantly influential in developing osteopathy further through research and writing. In 1917, following his move to the UK, Littlejohn founded the British School of Osteopathy in London and made intensive efforts to achieve professional recognition for the profession. Thanks to him the foundations were laid for the spread of osteopathy in Europe.

Osteopathy in the US and Europe developed in two different directions: US graduates mainly became Osteopathic Physicians, allowed to prescribe drugs and to perform minor surgery; European graduates evolved into highly skilled manual technicians.

Over the years, pioneering work in the cranial, visceral and biodynamic fields, as well as preservation of classical structural techniques, all in adherence to Still’s original principles, have lead to osteopathy as it is practised today.