Articles On Manual Therapy

The Biological Phase of an Osteopathic Treatment

Chauncey Lawrence, A.B., D.O.
(Read before the North Carolina Osteopathic Society, September 20, 1918)
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association
1918, Vol.18, No.4, pp.170-172

JUST what takes places in the body as the result of an osteopathic treatment; wherein is the curative value of a treatment?

To answer this question we must think of the body as a mass of minute cells, each being a bit of protoplasm containing a nucleus, yet differing in form and functions, as nerve cells, muscle cells, etc., "Every cell of the body is aquatic in nature." By that we mean that every cell of the body is bathed in a liquid called lymph, from which it takes its nourishment, into which it throws off its waste products, and by which its life processes are influenced, just as is the case with those minute forms of life that live in water.  We can best learn of the body's activities, therefore, by studying single-celled aquatic animals, remembering that each cell of the body is a living organism possessing certain properties common to all living matter; such as, ability to assimilate food, to reproduce, and to respond to external stimuli.

The single-celled animal most commonly studied by medical students is the paramecium, found in stagnant water.  Because its shape is similar to the sole of the foot it has been called the "Slipper Animalcule." Under the microscope these tiny animals are seen to possess the ability to respond to certain external stimuli such as light, heat, food, etc.  These responses to stimuli are called tropisms, from the Greek word tropein, meaning to turn.  Response to chemical action is called chemotropism; to light, heliotropism; to heat, thermotropism; to food, sitotropism; to electricity, electropism or galvanotropism; to touch, thigmotropism; to oxygen, oxytropism; to gravity, geotropism.

A few examples may tend to make this more clear.  Heliotropism, or response to light, is shown by the potato sprout in the cellar seeking the window; also by the darkening of pigment cells of our skin when exposed to the sun's rays forming tan or freckles.  Thigmotropism, or response to touch, is illustrated by a vine twining around a string or twig; geotropism or response to gravity, by growing erect against gravity.  By sitotropism, or response to food, a cell has power not only to be attracted by food but also to select the kind of food best suited to its need by what we call selective absorption.  All other tropisms are in reality included in the term, chemotropism.  Each tropism may be positive or negative according to whether the cell is attracted or repelled by the stimulus.  Any stimulus may be so intense or so prolonged as to cause the response to being changed from positive to negative.

Cells are able not only to respond to these different stimuli but to transmit these impulses from cell to cell from the point of primary stimulation.  For example: the leaves of the sundew plant are covered with hairs or tentacles whose function is to catch insects upon which the plant preys.  Each tentacle is covered with a sticky secretion which detains the victim until neighboring tentacles are able to curve over it and completely invest it. Then enzymic secretions are poured out to digest the insect.  Here a complicated set of tropisms is involved from thigmotropism, or response to touch when the insect lights on the leaf, to a chemotropism in the secreting of digestive juices.  The transaction includes reception and transmission of impulses, mechanical motion, intra-cellular activity, and secretary action, all resulting from the touching of the leaf by the insect.

The vorticella is a tiny microscopic single-celled animal shaped like a bell on a stalk.  The stalk contains a contractile filament which is the first appearance of muscle fiber as we ascend the scale of evolution from the simplest forms of life.  When an object touches the body of the vorticella, the irritation is immediately transmitted to the pedicle, or stalk, which contracts suddenly and violently withdraws the animals from the harmful influence.  In plants the signs of conductivity are most evident among the lowest forms, but in animals they are most obvious and best developed among the highest forms.

It is a common experiment in physiology to stimulate a nerve fiber with a galvanic current.  All nerve tissue seems to be highly susceptible to electric conduction and stimulation, so that the application of an electrode to the central end of a motor nerve is followed by immediate muscular contraction; to the peripheral end of a sensory nerve by painful sensation, while to the central end of a secretory nerve by secretion on the part of the glands governed by that nerve.

It is a well known principle of physics that energy of one kind may be transformed into energy of another kind, as for example, potential heat energy of coal may be changed into electric energy.  Likewise there is a degree of interchangability of the tropisms referred to, which interchange depends upon the kind of stimulus and the nature of the cell receiving the impulse.

When an osteopathic treatment is given, whether it be adjustment, stimulation, or inhibition, there is first thigmotropism, or response of the peripheral cells to touch.  Then this impulse is carried over the nervous system and may cause motion of muscular fibers, say of blood-vessel walls, thus controlling the quantity of blood flowing to the region controlled by the nerve carrying the impulse.  If carried to a gland there will be a secretion peculiar to the kind of gland, including the glands of internal secretion with their complicated and but meagerly understood influence upon the chemistry of the body.

In case of a germ disease, the body, in accordance with the tropisms referred to, begins at once to elaborate antibodies in the blood to counteract the influence of the germ, thus establishing an immunity.  These antibodies, of which antitoxin is an example, are chemical in nature just as the action of pepsin upon proteins in the presence of hydrochloric acid in the stomach is a chemical process.

Comparison With Serum Treatment

Let us compare this with serum treatment.  This treatment is based upon the scientific principle of acquired immunity.  A suitable animal, say the horse, is innoculated with the germ desired, and later serum from the blood of the animal is taken and prepared in standard doses and injected into the patient having the corresponding disease.  The antitoxin developed in the horse assists in counteracting the disease.  In this case the germ or its toxin is the antigen, or exciting cause provoking the formation of antioxin or antibody in the horse.  It is an example of chemotropism or response to chemical stimulus.

The question naturally arises, if this antitoxin can be thus formed in the horse can it not also be formed in the patient?  It can, but under ordinary circumstances it may be that the bacteria reproduce more rapidly and therefore give off toxins more rapidly than the body can form the antitoxin.  So the antitoxin the horse has made is used to assist the body in neutralizing the toxins of the bacteria.  Now, when these cases are cured by osteopathic treatment, instead of by using antitoxin, what is the explanation?  Thigmotropism, or the response of the cells to touch during the treatment is transmitted to other cells and changed to chemotropism, giving rise to the increase in the quantity of antitoxin produced, and these antibodies neutralize the toxin of the germ and the cure is effected.  Notice, I do not say that osteopathic treatment calls forth any specific kind of antibodies.  The germ already in the body determines the kind of antibodies produced, but the treatment causes the cells to elaborate more antibodies than would otherwise be formed.

Serum treatment deserves more success than its practical application has yielded.  Unfortunately, there are two difficulties in the way.  First, the serum of the horse is not identical to the serum of the patient, so the patient must react to the serum itself as well as to the antitoxin.  Secondly, the virulence of the bacteria used in the animal is not the same as that of the bacteria in the patient, because bacteria are plants and the vitality of a plant differs with the medium in which it

The osteopathic treatment does not have this two-fold handicap, for it works with the serum in the body of the patient and helps to form antibodies of exactly the specific kind to counteract the germ already in the body.  Thus the treatment affects the chemistry of the body - another example of chemotropism.

If we place the fingers of both of our hands along the back of a patient in the mid-dorsal area and exert steady, deep pressure, we can soon observe gurgling in the stomach and intestines.  What is taking place?  The impulse has been not only transmitted from cell to cell through the nervous system, but also changed into peristaltic motion of the intestinal walls: an example of  thigmotropism causing muscular action.  In like manner glands may be caused to pour out their secretions.  These secretions change the chemical nature of the lymph surrounding the cells and the cells reached by these secretions will respond to chemical stimulus.  In this way the activity of the body cells is changed.

Or if the body has occasion to increase the number of white corpuscles in blood or to produce antibodies to combat disease germs, osteopathic treatment accelerates this functioning and so assists in overcoming disease.  Furthermore, osteopathic treatment quickens the action of excretory organs so, as a combined result of these different responses to stimuli, a change in the chemistry of the body is effected.   These are by no means the only results accomplished by treatment, but show only a phase of the work done.  Then we conclude that thigmotropism or response to touch, is converted into chemotropism, electropism, thermotropism, and indeed all tropisms by osteopathic manipulations.

To summarize briefly the points emphasized:

1.  Cells respond to external stimuli.

2.  This response is transmitted from cell to cell.

3.  The result of this response depends upon the nature of the cell ultimately receiving the impulse.

4.  This chain of effects is what takes place in the body following an osteopathic treatment.