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Early beginnings

DR. ANDREW TAYLOR STILL. (1828 - 1917) 

drstill"...the cerebrospinal fluid is one of the highest known elements that are contained in the body, and unless the brain furnishes this fluid in abundance, a disabled condition of the body will remain."

Dr. Still also tells us: "He who is able to reason will see that this great river of life (the cerebrospinal fluid - ed) must be tapped and the withering field irrigated at once, or the harvest of health be forever lost."

A physician called Andrew Taylor Still came up with a revolutionary way of treating illness and disease. Born in Jonesboro, Lee County in Virginia on 6th August 1828 and the third of nine children, his father was a Methodist preacher and physician who instilled in Andrew the beliefs that all men were created equal and that alcohol abuse could lead to destructive ends.

He decided early on to follow in his fathers footsteps as a physician. After studying medicine and serving an apprenticeship under his father, he became a licensed MD in the state of Missouri. He served as a doctor in the Union Army during the American civil war, 1861-1865, where he experienced first hand the horrors and suffering of war.
Following the death of three of his children in 1864, from spinal meningitis, and shortly afterwards the death of his wife in child-birth, Still concluded that the orthodox medicinal practices of his day were frequently ineffective and sometimes harmful. The practise of bleeding the body, prescribing medicines that included arsenic, mercury and addictive narcotics, and frequent amputations were standard treatments of that time. He devoted the rest of his life to studying the human body to find more effective ways to treat disease.

His clinical research and observations led him to believe that the musculoskeletal system played a vital role in keeping the body healthy. He believed that the body contained everything required to maintain good health, if properly treated. He devised a system of manipulation of the spinal bones, that he would later call osteopathy, to correct misalignments or dislocations which he named "subluxations". He saw these subluxations as barriers, or blocks, to the innate healing ability of the body, and by removing them, the body would heal most things all by itself.
The action of correcting the subluxations freed up nerve impulses that had become trapped either by injury or illness. It also had the benefit of improving blood and lymph flow.

He also instigated preventative medicine, believing that physicians should treat the whole person rather than focusing on disease. Dr Still’s approach was founded on four basic tenets

(1) The body functions as a total biologic unit.
(2) The body possesses self-healing and self-regulatory mechanisms.
(3) Structure and function are interrelated.
(4) Abnormal pressure in one part of the body will produce abnormal pressures and strains in other body parts.

He considered drugs to be harmful and used only manual therapy to achieve his remarkable success. He was the first to advocate treating the patient as a whole person and not a disease entity. He believed that a person cannot be ill in one area of the body without that illness affecting other areas. He was an advocate of the movement of fluid being paramount.

However, as with many new ideas and approaches, his former medical peers thought the prevailing system worked well and would not understand why he had rejected it. They poured scorn on his methods, which used only manual techniques. The religious community were also becoming quite outspoken in their condemnation of his healing with his hands, thinking it sacrilegious, and in at least one incident, a local church claimed he obtained his remarkable results through the works of the Devil.

He had to move location on several occasions because he was vilified by the medical and religious fraternities. Even his own brothers, also physicians, proclaimed him to be insane. When he moved to Kirksville, Missouri, he was able to restore to full health the daughter of the local Minister, and thereafter gained wide acceptance as a physician and teacher.

As his fame spread, his patients came from further afield, boosting the business of the inn- keepers and boarding houses. Kirksville embraced the Still family, a new experience for them. Through observation and practice his methods became increasingly successful and he built up a following of patients and doctors who wished to learn his methodology. His success meant that he could not cope with the large numbers of people queuing for treatment.

In 1892 he founded The American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville Missouri, later known as the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine, and today as A T Still University. The first graduating class included five women, unheard of at that time, and sixteen men, three of whom were Still’s own children.

He fought all his life as an osteopath to keep drugs out of osteopathy, but shortly after he died in 1917, drugs were introduced and within a few years osteopaths were required to take the same exams as medical doctors. Osteopathy as practised in America has changed radically from what Dr Still taught, but in Europe it is closer to Still’s original teaching.