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History of Osteopathy



Traditional allopathic (Western) medicine in North America was very crude in the nineteenth century. Blistering, blood-letting, and purging were common therapies at this time. When surgery was performed, the techniques used were not precise, there were few (if any) anaesthetics, and hygiene was poor. Doctors were quite helpless when they tried to treat many conditions, including meningitis. When a meningitis epidemic struck in Missouri in 1864, Dr. Andrew Taylor Still lost 3 of his children. Dr. Still was trained in allopathic medicine, but he was unable to fight the disease effectively. He began looking for a new medical model – a safe, effective way to treat patients. Dr. Still spent 10 years studying health and disease in the context of human anatomy. The main concepts of modern osteopathy are a result of his work.

”To find health should be the object of the doctor. Anyone can find disease.–     Dr. A. T. Still D.O

Dr. Still founded the American School of Osteopathy (ASO) in 1892. The first class had 12 male students and 3 female students. Allowing women to participate was revolutionary at the time. In the first 18 years of the school, approximately one-fifth of the students were women. A few Canadians (including some who were already medical doctors) travelled to the United States to learn Osteopathy. They returned to Canada to practise Osteopathy here.



By this time, the ASO was graduating 300 students a year. Alumni of the school were practising Osteopathy across the United States, Canada, and Europe. American Osteopathic physicians wanted their profession to be regulated by the government. The first state to regulate Osteopathy was Vermont (in 1891), and the last state to do so was Louisiana (in 1973). All states in the United States recognize Osteopathic physicians as equal to medical doctors. Today, there are 22 osteopathic schools in the United States and more than 40,000 practising Osteopathic physicians.



The first Osteopathic medical school in London, England was pioneered by one of Still’s students John Martin Littlejohn. Graduates however were not allowed to practise Osteopathic Medicine in the United Kingdom. They were (and still are) restricted to practising manual Osteopathy only. For over 70 years, Osteopaths in the U.K. tried to have the government officially recognize them. They achieved this goal when the Osteopaths Act was passed 1993. Today there are over 3,000 Osteopaths in the U.K. and 7 Osteopathy schools. In 2000, Osteopathic therapy became a regulated profession and title,  protected by law.  

Only those that have graduated from a recognized Osteopathic institution, and are a member of the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) are permitted to call themselves Osteopaths and practise Osteopathic medicine. Osteopathy spread to other countries in Europe. In each country, Osteopaths have worked to gain official recognition. There are both Osteopaths and Osteopathic physicians in Europe today. Osteopathy has also spread to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, Russia, and Brazil.



Osteopathic physicians in Canada formed the Canadian Osteopathic Association and were acknowledged by the Canadian government. But since health care is regulated by the provinces, different restrictions were put on the practice of Osteopathy in each province. The osteopathic physicians lobbied to be given equal status with allopathic physicians (doctors of traditional Western medicine). Allopathic Medical Associations lobbied against osteopaths participating in Canadian health care.



Osteopathic physicians in Quebec were charged with practising medicine without a licence. The charges were eventually dropped on the condition that no new Osteopaths be allowed to come to Quebec. In most provinces, Osteopathic physicians were granted the status of “drugless practitioners.” They were not allowed to prescribe drugs, do surgery, or work in obstetrics. As a result of these restrictions, the number of physicians in Canada began to decrease. By 1954 there were only 124 Osteopathic physicians practising in Canada. By 1962, the number had dropped to 105.



The Canadian Royal Commission on Health Services published a report called Study of Chiropractors, Osteopaths and Naturopaths in Canada. This report gave 3 main explanations for the declining number of Osteopaths in Canada. There was no legislation regarding the practice of Osteopathy. This was the biggest factor in the historical trend. Professional training for Osteopathic medicine was not available. There were many Osteopathic physicians in the United States (11,000) but only a few in Canada (100).



The number of American-trained Osteopathic physicians working in Canada was still declining. Osteopathy in Canada was facing extinction.



A group of health practitioners in Quebec invited Philippe Druelle, an Osteopath from France, to teach Osteopathy in Quebec. This led to the development of the College d’Etudes Osteopathiques (CEO), which offered a part-time program. The program includes 5 years of clinical and academic study in Osteopathic manipulation and a research thesis. The program was taught in Montreal by European Osteopaths. To date, this program has trained 230 Osteopaths, and today it has 350 students. Other Osteopathy schools have been formed in Canada since 1982, but the CEO is still the largest.



The CEO started a school in Toronto — the Canadian College of Osteopathy (CCO). Its program is also 5 years of rigorous part-time study followed by a research thesis. Ten students were enrolled in the program in 1992. Today, there are 210 students attending CCO. The CCO now also offers its program in Vancouver and Halifax.



Other Osteopathic physicians and Osteopaths have started schools in Hamilton, Oakville and Toronto, Ontario respectively. These programs are of various part-time lengths and some are still in start-up phases. All the schools teach manual Osteopathic techniques.



The World Osteopathic Health Organization (WOHO) was formed. It is developing worldwide standards for Osteopathic physicians and manual practitioners. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario began licensing American-trained Osteopathic physicians as physicians in Ontario.


Today and Into The Future

Today, Canada benefits from having both American-trained Osteopathic physicians, European-trained Osteopaths and the more recent Canadian trained Osteopathic Manual Practitioners. We have a unique opportunity to draw on the skills and knowledge of these groups to develop a distinct Canadian system of Osteopathic health care. Thanks to the presence of European-trained Osteopaths, many more Canadians are benefiting from Osteopathic care. In addition, a few allopathic physicians are beginning to see the benefits of Osteopathic care.

Many Canadian Osteopathic training programs emphasize research. The results of this research will benefit practitioners, patients, and the delivery of health care in Canada.


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