What do you think of when you read the word osteopathy?

Usually, the first thing people think of is –bones, because that’s what osteo means. The other idea is that it has to do with a pathology, but this isn’t the case. While bones do play a role they aren’t the whole story.

When the founder of the osteopathic profession, A.T. Still, was thinking of a term for what to call his new healthcare philosophy, he based the name on one of his insights as a doctor working on the battlefields of the American Civil War.

He noticed that if he splinted a broken bone in the best possible way for the blood supply to get to it, the bone would tend to heal better and faster. This may seem obvious to us now, but remember this was back in the 1860s. The idea that microbes caused disease (Germ Theory) was just being worked out in France at the time, so they didn’t know how important blood flow was to help the immune system fight infection. And they also didn’t know that blood flow brought the building blocks necessary to heal tissue.

From this, he devised one of his key health principles, which he called the rule of the artery. The idea is that good blood supply into, and out of a tissue, is key to the health of that tissue. If blood supply is blocked in some way, then the health of the tissue will potentially suffer. The main way he thought this could happen is if the bones in our body become misaligned, thereby pressing on the blood vessel, and preventing good blood flow downstream.

An osteopath had to be someone who was able to feel for the misalignment of the bones, so they could know which bones needed to be put back into place, thereby taking pressure off the blood vessels and restoring good blood flow. They had to be sensitive or empathetic to the position of bones (osteo) – they had to be an osteo-path.

Now, we’ve mostly moved on from the idea that bones get misaligned or go “out” of place. But, we still think a lot about blood and fluid flow in and out of tissues. This often means we will take time to feel how your body is working and relating within itself, and then we will work on the structure of the body, such as the bones or the muscles, to help the function, such as blood flow or movement.