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Andrew Taylor Still: Founder of Osteopathy

Lisa Marie Foreman, B.Sc., M.OMSc. - Osteopathic Manual Practitioner

andrew taylor still osteopathy founder

Still's explorations were grounded in the study of anatomy and biomechanics. Having grown up as a hunter and farmer, he already had a basic understanding of the structural relationships of bones, muscles, and organs. Thus, with this knowledge he now extended through the study of human skeletons. He became convinced that most diseases could be alleviated or cured without drugs. The key was to find and correct anatomical dysfunctions that interfered with the free flow of blood, lymphatic and "nerve force" in the body.

It is impossible to say exactly what influences Still drew on as he shaped his new system of healing. He was a well-read man, deeply interested in the social and intellectual developments of his time, which undoubtedly helped shape his philosophy. His religious beliefs also affected his thinking about health and the human body. Furthermore, there is evidence that Still knew about a number of alternative medical theories then in circulation (magnetic healing, bonesetting, Grahamism, hydropathy, homeopathy, and eclecticism) and that in his search for a new way of healing, he investigated several of these systems for himself. Most he rejected outright. From others, he retained and adapted, consciously or unconsciously, those elements which seemed to have some validity.

Still concluded that the orthodox medical practices of his day were frequently ineffective and sometimes harmful. The use of Calomel, also known as mercury chloride, was one such medical practice Still took particular issue with. At the time, there were no standardized dosages for the drug so practitioners of heroic medicine would often deliver dosages that were too large, resulting in mercury poisoning. Still devoted the next thirty years of his life to studying the human body and finding alternative ways to treat disease. His methods involved meticulous anatomical dissection to discover its structure and, therefore, function. This involved exhuming corpses which, while controversial, was a widespread practice among many medical schools in the United States and abroad during that time. During this period, he completed a short course in medicine at the new College of Physicians and Surgeons in Kansas City, Missouri in 1870.

Still adopted the ideas of spiritualism sometime around 1867 and it held a prominent and lasting place in his thinking.

From the beginning, Still met with considerable opposition to his new theories and techniques. The local church denounced his claims of hands-on healing as sacrilegious. His brothers were embarrassed by his outspoken questioning of medical tradition; they criticized his willingness to risk his livelihood by driving away patients and to neglect his family and farm in pursuit of his "crazy" ideas. When Still asked to present his ideas at Baker University, which his family had helped to establish in the 1850s, school officials refused him permission. In 1874, Still decided to leave Kansas and return to Macon, Missouri where he hoped his ideas would be better received. They were not and after a few months of trying, Still moved north to Kirksville. There he finally began to find some acceptance, enough to open an office on the town square in March 1875. Advertising himself as a magnetic healer and a "lightning bonesetter" and traveling to towns as far away as Hannibal, Still slowly built up his reputation. Word spread about the doctor whose system of drugless, manipulative medicine (officially named "osteopathy" in 1885) was able to cure many apparently hopeless cases.

Dr. Still invented the name osteopathy by blending two Greek roots: osteon (bone) and pathos (suffering) in order to communicate his theory that disease and physiologic dysfunction were etiologically grounded in a disordered musculoskeletal system. Thus, by diagnosing and treating the musculoskeletal system, he believed that physicians could treat a variety of diseases and spare patients the negative side-effects of drugs.

Still was also one of the first physicians to promote the idea of preventive medicine and the philosophy that physicians should focus on treating the disease rather than just the symptoms.

If you would like to learn more and/or schedule an appointment with our Osteopath, Lisa Marie Foreman, call us at 905.465.4595 or book online at

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