Dr. A. T. Still Founder of Osteopathy
M. A. Lane
A. T. STILL AS A MEDICAL THINKER
In order to comprehend osteopathy we must comprehend the work of Andrew Taylor
Still, and to that end we must know in a clear way something of the immediate
predecessors of the man, together with something of the medical world upon which
the eyes of A. T. Still opened and into which they looked with the sharpest criticism
of the ages.
Improvement in human institutions comes about by two methods, which are in
reality two aspects of one fundamental fact. These two are reform and revolution.
Reform is slow, revolution rapid; but the results accomplished by both are essentially
and practically the same. Fundamental and original discoveries in science are
always revolutionary in their effects, as are also fundamental perceptions in
Now medicine is an art, and when we discuss "reform" in medicine we are compelled
to look at our subject from two separate and distinct points of view - namely,
the changes that have come about because of discoveries in pure science which
have only an incidental bearing on the practice of the art of medicine - and
changes that are instituted by the actual practitioner of medicine himself apart
from the discoveries of pure science.
In examining the history of medicine, only one practitioner can be found
who combined the two things in himself; who used pure science as his primary
method and directly based his practice upon it. This man was Andrew Taylor
Still, whose reform of medicine was revolutionary - therefore rapid -
and radical to the very roots of the entire structure itself.
MEDICINE'S SLOW PAINFUL REFORM
Previously to Still, medical practitioners had honestly tried to reform their
art, and suffered the fate of the reformer in consequence. The first great reformer
in what we call modern medicine was Flaubert, the French physician of the latter
end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th Century. Medicine in his day was
a procedure of purge, vomit, blistering, bleeding, and a mixture of materia
medica drawn from nauseating substances of all kinds, and from plants, the virtues
of which were based upon absolute superstition - the entire art in that
day being but slightly more scientific or civilized than the practice of the
savage tribe with its medicine man.
Not one of the physiological beliefs of the physicians of Flaubert's time survives
in the present day.
Flaubert failed to make the slightest impression on the medical craft of his
age. He made no appeal to science. There was no science, save anatomy, in that
time with a direct bearing on medical practice. Such reform as he attempted
was nothing but a protest against every one of the agents and every method of
treatment then in use as therapeutic. In a word, Flaubert sought to dismantle
medicine as he had found it. Small wonder he failed in a day when the art of
medicine had as little true understanding of the real body as could possibly
be, if we neglect the imperfect work of the anatomists of the time, of Harvey
on the circulation and of Hunter on the coagulation of the blood. Flaubert had
in him the same medical nihilism as Still had when he looked around and saw
that "the patients we were treating for disease were dead". But in the hands
of the French physician medical nihilism was futile, whereas in the hands of
Still it led to the only general therapy the world has ever known.
HAHNEMANN, THE SECOND REFORMER
The second attempt in the modern reform of medicine by practitioners was made
by Hahnemann, the founder of the homeopathic school, who, quite unlike Flaubert,
was anything but a medical nihilist. Hahnemann's great principle was based on
the two main beliefs, first, that drugs of any kind (or any other kind of substance)
which, when introduced into the body, would produce symptoms similar to those
of the disease to be cured, would effect that cure; and secondly, that the smaller
the dose of the drug used the more vigorous would be the physiological (curative)
effect of it. The first belief became a kind of motto with the homeopaths -
"Like is cured by like."
This system of therapy in its practical application was in reality the abandonment
of internal medicine altogether, for in the high dilutions given all physiological
effect vanished. Hahnemann succeeded, without wishing to do so, in abolishing
drugs, although he believed that he was using drugs in stronger form than ever.
A glance at the materia medica of the homeopaths is sufficient to produce nausea
in a person with a "delicate stomach," or in other words with psychic tendency
to sea sickness.
HELPED BY WEAKENING THE DOSE
Hahnemann not only swallowed the entire ancient apothecary's shop, but vastly
multiplied the number of drugs in use by the old "regular" school. It is difficult
to believe that any homeopath today can take himself seriously in the matter
of "high potency" dilutions, although human credulity can stretch ad infinitum.
Certainly in these days of scientific pharmacology and physiology, of pathology
and immunology, one would imagine that "old time homeopathy" should be a thoroughly
dead cock in the pit. Hahnemann's reform, however, was the best "practical"
reform up to its own time, for it saved many a life by indirection. The medicines
could literally do no harm, a fact to which Osler attributed homeopathic "cures".
ECLECTICISM THE THIRD REFORM
The third great reform practitioner was Bennett, the Scotchman, who reacted
in the other direction. Bennett founded what he called the Eclectic School,
that is, the "choosing" school. Any remedy whether homeopathic or "allopathic"
(a name ever repudiated by the ancient school of physicians) that was proved
good would be used by the eclectics. But Bennett was compelled to put a new
shine on the old drugs, so he decided to extract the drug in a fresh rather
than in a dry state, making the drug more active, as he believed - an absurdity
on its face to those who know. But Bennett did better than all this. He was
probably the first reformer who by his opposition compelled the old doctors
to abandon the bleeding methods in general use in his time.
Thus far we see that every useful reform in modern medicine was in the direction
of destroying whatever therapy the art of medicine had inherited from the ages,
rather than in creating or discovering a new therapy underpinned by scientific
A. T. STILL, M. D., BROUGHT A SCIENTIFIC THERAPY
And then, on the heels of Bennett came Still, the fourth and last reformer
of eminence of modern medical art, with a therapy which automatically abolished
all previous practiced therapy by positive, not negative, methods of treatment.
Osteopathy had been discovered.
An amazing fact in the history of medicine is this, that from the time of the
discovery of the valves in the veins by Fabricio ab Aquapendente (which led
to the discovery of the circulation of the blood by Harvey) down to 1890 when
Behring, working in Koch's Laboratory, discovered the antitoxins, not one experimental
result of real science had ever been successfully applied to the cure of any
disease in man or in animal! What an in stupendous fact! From Harvey to Behring
scientific investigation with its infinite printed matter in our knowledge of
the conduct of living matter, had resulted in positively nothing in the way
of therapy! Can you wonder that osteopathy, when it came, was a success? The
panorama of Europe's great scientific progress in all the biological sciences
accomplished nothing except to strike down, one after another, every medical
agent, every therapeutic fallacy that had come down from a past black with superstition
and death, and every one that had sprung up since the Italian Renaissance. Medicine,
it was seen, was only a hideous nightmare, rescued during the ages from the
dismal superstitution of the jungle and the primitive imagination of the brute
man, who filled the earth and the air with the deities and the devils of his
childlike and fearsome brain.
With these truths clearly before us we can understand the work done by Still,
and can comprehend why osteopathy is!
We can understand how this therapy, vital from its first conception, has remained
vital and will continue to live and do its work even in spite of the fact that
its practitioners and its researchers have not been able to interpret it with
that detail and precision that is scientifically desirable.
Still's entire therapy rests on two grand generalizations which, like all revolutionary
discoveries in science, were at first totally incomprehensible to the thought
of the age upon which they dawned. To measure their revolutionary character
we must remember in what the medical bedictment of the art of medicine there
lies in that lief of that day consisted. The cure of disease in that time was
limited in the main to internal medicine. By that is meant the putting into
the body - into the blood and the tissues - substances called "medicines" because
they were believed to heal the body. In 1870 disease was just beginning to be
studied. Virchow had just dawned with the discovery of the modern science of
pathology. Until Virchow's work nobody had the slightest understanding of the
nature of disease itself. Pathology was only a name. The best scientists of
Europe knew as little - far less indeed - of disease than the average intelligent
layman of today who reads the popular magazines. Neither scientists nor physicians
had the slightest suspicion that many diseases were caused by the growth in
the tissues or the blood, or in both, of the parasitic organisms so well understood
today. Tumors were mere "lumps" growing in the body, some of which resembled
normal tissues. Skin eruptions of every kind were believed to be "impurities"
of the blood, and the people swallowed oceans of drugs believed to be "blood
purifiers". Patients with fevers were generously bled even as late as 1870.
At that time purging and vomiting were the usual practice. The quantities of
mercury salts sold by prescription and without prescription would stagger the
intelligence of today. Quinine was handled commercially by the ton as a staple
to the people. It was swallowed by the ton, with and without prescription, by
all persons, from babes to centenarian, in all febrile conditions. The wholesale
drug trade was one of the most important divisions of civilized human activity.
Drug stores were drug stores then.
A little scientific pathology would have remedied these evils, but of scientific
pathology there was none! Virchow was only a dim blaze on the horizon of things.
Let us repeat: The theory back of the use of the drug was that some kind, or
any kind of substance, taken into the body would or could work a cure. In the
very midst of this dismal credulity came A. T. Still, M. D., with this message:
The body itself contains within itself all the chemicals, all the medicines,
necessary for the cure of disease.
This assertion was, as you can see, subversive of every belief then current
in medicine, but only a moment's thought is necessary to understand how true
it was, and how true it is today, and how it had to be from the dawn of life
in this old world. There is hardly a disease that is invariably fatal. No disease
invariably kills all the individuals whom it attacks. Indeed the vast majority
of human beings and animals are normally in the act of continuously "curing
themselves" of disease by which they are being continuously "attacked". Were
this not true all races of animals including man, would swiftly be destroyed
by the various biological reactions which ignorance had named disease. The sciences
of histology, pathology, immunology and pathological chemistry, in the past
30 years, have told us what disease is, and in this modern definition of disease
we find that it is only a chemical reaction of one or another kind among the
molecule-complexes, or atom-complexes, of which living matter consists.
Thus at one swift stroke of his clear intellectual vision - A. T. Still saw
the biological basis upon which modern pathology, in its histological, immunological
and chemical aspects, has been reared since the appearance of Virchow and Pasteur.
Credit for this original and far-reaching perception - the perception of a mind
of prime origination and imperial power - will be given to Still in due time
by the future historians of our sciences. The earlier pupils of Still could
see the force of the truth he taught them, because they themselves had been
born and bred in the midst of the medical ideas of Still's own age. And these
early pupils will recall how bitterly this fundamental truth was fought, how
viciously it was ridiculed by the medical men of that time and later. Today
this fact is taught in every university in the world as one of the fundamental
bases of a superior and scientific medical education.
TRUTH USUALLY OBVIOUS AFTER BEING PROCLAIMED
One of the great arms of Still's new system of therapy was therefore the principle
of the general immunity of the blood and the tissue to disease, and so self-evident
is the truth of this principle that the wonder is it was not seen ages before
the time of Still and his pupils.
Why do the sick recover?
Answer, because the body is self-healing.
Why is the body self-healing?
Answer, because only those organisms that had in them the necessary chemical
and structural elements for resistance to so-called disease survived in the
struggle for existence during the long and tragic life-history of the past.
Because only those organisms that had these necessary elements of resistance
and recovery from disease, could live long enough to reproduce their kind, thus
passing down to the new generation the self-healing and self-adjusting mechanisms
that safeguard the maintenance of the races we see inhabiting the earth today.
But if this is true, why is there any disease today in men and animals? Why
are not the surviving races entirely free from disease?
Answer, because for the survival of a race it was essential only that the self-healing
mechanisms would enable a few of the race to live long enough to reproduce its
kind. Absolute immunity to all diseases in all organisms was not a condition
But it is clear that if immunity in some or in a few were not general against
all death-dealing diseases, there could have been no recovery of any organism
whatsoever, and hence there had been no survival, whatsoever, and life had ceased
ALL LATE RESEARCH SUPPORTS STILL'S THEORIES
Still clearly perceived the necessity of general immunity against all diseases,
including the tumors, but he did not derive his principle from the agreement
above outlined, because in his day the facts of development as discovered by
Darwin and Wallace were mainly unknown to the world at large, and not understood
at all or accepted by the great body of scientific men who, on the contrary,
ridiculed the law of natural selection as an altogether too simple thing to
account for the facts of life. If today that law is universally taught as a
fact, it is only because it was a discovery of prime character. And if Still's
great principle has been proved to be absolutely true by the world's researches
of the past 25 years, it is only because it was true when he announced it, and
hence destined to be proved experimentally some day, soon or late. In short,
his principle had to be tested by the fire of experimental science and experimental
criticism, and how well it has come through untouched in any phase of its integrity
by these tests, it has been my privilege and my happiness to study and to know.
RESULTS PROVE OSTEOPATHY SUCCESSFUL AS A THERAPY
But Sill's principle has been passing through another and a different kind
of criticism and test during the years that have followed its announcement.
I mean it has been tested by the practical experience of the pupils of Still's
school in the actual treatment of disease. Osteopaths love to point to their
results, past and present, as the living proof of the truth of Still's theory
in its twofold form. For Still, studying anatomy, had the rare power of perception
to see that the backbone is the keystone of the body, and that this imperial
palace of the imperial tissue of the body - the nerve - was the source of constant
disturbance of the circulation of the blood. The nerves as well as all the other
tissues of the body, live in an ocean of blood (or lymph, that comes from the
blood) and the back-bone through its innumerable slips and mal-adjustments does
and must produce innumerable disturbances of circulation. Hence the second arm
of Still's theory - the osteopathic lesion. Accepting this theory from the mind
of Still, osteopaths worked whole heartedly with it as their main if not the
only tool of healing, with what results the whole world knows.
I sometimes think that the spirit of Andrew Taylor Still will return upon many
osteopaths who have lost faith in that old back-bone lesion as the main causative
factor in disease, and will annihilate their skepticism. These modern skeptics,
these doubters of the truth of Still's back-bone lesion theory of disease, live
and grow prosperous on that theory while they doubt the truth of it in their
OSTEOPATHY FOUNDED UPON BACKBONE LESION ADJUSTMENT
Let such doubters and skeptics remember that the earlier osteopaths succeeded
in winning the faith of the public in osteopathy only because they preached
that back-bone lesion day and night. Let them remember that if it were not for
that imperial generalization of A. T. Sill, there would be no osteopathy today.
Let them remember that every patient they treat, they must treat by the backbone
method, or lose that patient. Let them remember that every new patient that
comes to osteopathy for treatment expects that treatment in the main. (I am
not now speaking of sprained ankles, broken noses, or obvious traumatisms in
parts other than the spine. I am speaking of disease in general.) What treatment
have you, gentlemen, for diseases in general other than spinal treatment based
on Still's lesion? And if you point to the glorious record of osteopathy, do
you not point to the osteopathic spinal bony-tissue lesion as the cause of that
record? And if you win your share of success by treating the spine are you not
at least an unintelligent operator (if not a selfstultifier) when you repudiate
the great secondary principle of which osteopathy consists? Are you waiting
until the scientists of the world have put their experimental approval also
on this back-bone etiology? Are you waiting until, through the dictum of the
world's men of science, the whole medical profession have adopted the back-bone
lesion as the main causative factor in disease, and have taken over your therapy
to themselves - are you waiting for this until you become real osteopaths, osteopaths
in mind as well as in fingers? If you are, you can rest assured that you will
not have long to wait. We are living in an age of revolution, and Still's medical
revolution is at the world's door today.
But again, science itself is not without the evidence that the spinal lesion
is the main factor in the causation of disease. And this evidence is quite as
axiomatic in the matter of Still's spinal lesion as it is in the matter of Still's
law of general immunity. I§ it necessary to bring forward scientific evidence
that spinal etiology is true? Is it necessary to do this to convince the osteopath?
Any osteopath? If so, what has such an osteopath been doing? What becomes of
the entire osteopathic therapy? I will tell you what becomes of it. It vanishes
like the dream of a fool into that limbo of hideous dreams on the other side
of the moon! The world would be well rid of it, and the thousands of men, women,
and children who have been cured by it have been victims of a moonshine psychology.
ZOOLOGY WILL SUPPORT THE LESION THEORY
Our grand old man in his life-time was disturbed by no such fears, and science
is as able to demonstrate the truth of the second great principle he discovered
as it has been to demonstrate the truth of the first.
The osteopathic lesion as a general factor in the etiology of disease is grounded
on the same scientific basis as is Still's theory of general immunity to disease,
and is destined surely to be accepted, in the end, by specialists in zoology
and hence in the facts of natural selection - the great and fundamental law
of life and of matter itself; next by the specialists in pathology, a science
that is utterly incomprehensible unless studied and interpreted in the light
of that great law of natural selection; and lastly by the medical profession
itself, the individual members of which are trained by these specialists in
the fundamental sciences pertaining to the structures and the work of the animal
body. But before Still's spinal lesion can be accepted by the medical profession
as the main causative factor in disease - a cause that interferes with the so-called
"normal" conduct of the body - that spinal lesion in all its significance must
be studied by the zoologists, the physiologists, the physiological chemists,
the pharmacologists, and the pathologists of all kinds, and its importance in
the life history of races mastered and understood.
THERE IS NO OTHER GENERAL THERAPY TODAY!
There is no general therapy today, there never has been a general therapy,
excepting osteopathy, based on these two great generalizations of Andrew Taylor
Still - the law of the general immunity of organisms to so-called disease, and
the law of the spinal lesion as the main ultimate etiological factor in that
great tribe of animals called the vertebrates.
But you may say, how about the vast hordes of animals that are not vertebrates,
that have no backbones? Are they to be without a therapy? Did not Still think
of them, too, in his grand scheme of healing?
The answer is simple. He did not. Still had in his hands only a man. But you
will observe that the invertebrates, plants as well as animals, are in perfect
harmony with the law of general immunity which Still announced for the human
species. A. T. Still was not a "materialistic" thinker. He believed, as was
natural in his day, in a land of "divine" supervision of nature, or perhaps
in the divinity of nature itself - a belief or conviction to which many men
of advanced science are coming back today, and so forward has become the scientific
mind that a Thomson, a Ramsey, a Becquerel and a Still could meet on common
ground and understand one another's philosophical conceptions of nature and
the "soul" of nature. The very fact that Still in his science of disease and
its remedy did not take into account the invertebrate world, and calculated
chiefly if not wholly the human element, lends additional value to his discoveries.
Science has demonstrated his law of immunity in all living things, as well as
in man. If what he held of man be true, it must be true for all other forms
of life. Were it not true for all other forms, it could not be true for man.
The very test of its truth in the case of man was its universal application
to all living things. And in the past 25 years it has been proved universally
true by the laboratories of Europe. His theory concerning the spinal lesion
as the main primary causative factor in disease must stand a similar test. It
must be true not only in the case of man, but also in that of all other vertebrates.
And he who adequately studies comparative pathology in the light of the law
of natural selection will not for one minute combat the theory of the spinal
lesion in that etiological sense because he perceives the necessity of its truth.
To these osteopaths who have doubts as to the virtue of that theory as a primary
conception in their art, I would recommend a careful study of the literature
of evolution and comparative embryology and can guarantee them that their convictions
will then square with their practice.
This original theory of A. T. Still has been steadfastly taught to the young
osteopaths that have been trained in the American School of Osteopathy
at Kirksville. It has been instilled in their minds at that school
from the beginning. It has been consistently taught them during
the years I have been myself a teacher in that school, and when
it ceases to be taught there the American School of Osteopathy will
be no longer a representative of the essential and fundamental thought
of its founder. No school that does not make that theory the main
spring and purpose of its existence can be called osteopathic without
false pretense and the moral and scientific obliquity that false
pretense of any kind implies. And when osteopathy lets go of that
primary teaching it ceases to be.