Palpating your way to optimal health
Author: Amy Wood (first published in Alive magazine November, 2010)

Though many are not familiar with osteopathic medicine, it is gaining popularity as an effective and noninvasive treatment for many of the aches, pains, and conditions we may suffer from over the course of our lives. From back pain to headaches, constipation to vertigo, osteopathic medicine can be the ticket to relief.


Osteopathy was founded over a century ago in 1874 by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still. A licensed physician himself, Still’s belief in the then-current medical practices was shattered when he could not save his children and wife from a deadly bout of meningitis.
Over the next 10 years, Still dedicated his time to finding an alternative to allopathic medicine, one that encouraged the body’s ability to heal itself. And in Missouri, in 1892, Still founded the first school of osteopathy.


This system is composed of the skull, vertebrae, and sacrum, as well, as the brain, spinal cord, and the cranial fluids. The osteopath accurately manipulates the cranial bones and surrounding membranes to restore proper function.

This system is composed of the body’s soft internal organs, such as the heart, lungs, liver, and the structures supporting these organs. The osteopath palpates the area between the organ and its surrounding structure to relieve restrictions.

This system includes the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and connective tissues. The osteopath manually manipulates these tissues in order to mobilize and reactivate them and to treat dysfunction.


According to the Canadian College of Osteopathy, osteopathy can be defined as “a natural medicine which aims to restore function in the body by treating the causes of pain and imbalance. To achieve this goal the Osteopathic Manual Practitioner relies on the quality and finesse of his/her palpation and works with the position, mobility, and quality of the tissues.”
Basically, osteopaths use their extensive knowledge of the human anatomy to feel or sense where imbalances or restrictions may be present. Indications of an abnormality may be observed in irregular temperature, texture, moisture, or movement.
Once an abnormality is observed, treatment is then discussed and may include techniques such as soft tissue stretching, which increases blood flow and flexibility; mobilizing joints through their range-of-motion; and muscle energy, which releases muscle tightness by way of stretching and pushing against some resistance.


Daniel Palmer an early student of Still’s at the American School of Osteopathy, went on to discover chiropractic in 1885. Thus, osteopathy and chiropractic share some similar traits and philosophies, including the importance of a healthy spine to ensure good health and vitality.
In addition, both practitioners diagnose patients primarily by visual inspection and palpation; however, chiropractors also use x-rays as a means of diagnosis, whereas osteopaths try to avoid x-rays due to the long-term negative effects of radiation exposure. According to Susanne F. Wallace, a doctor of osteopathic medicine [D.O.] from Jasper, Alberta, “chiropractic focuses on the so-called structural part of the body, meaning bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and fascia.” She says that osteopathy on the other hand, “takes every functional tissue into account, including inner organs/viscera, blood vessels, brain membranes and tissue, nerves and nerve membranes.”


Osteopathic medicine takes a more holistic approach to treatment by focusing on the root cause of an illness or condition rather than treating its symptoms, and recognizing that the body, mind, and soul are all one entity.
In addition, osteopathic medicine understands that all the systems in the body [respiratory, digestive, and nervous] are interconnected. Wallace explains that osteopaths are fully educated in the embryological development of tissues. Foe example, she says that “the mucosa of the sinuses, lungs, and bowels all have the same origin, so people with asthma often complain also about bowel and sinus problems.”


Other than the obvious joint pain, lower back pain, and other muscle pains, Wallace has reported successfully treating a range of conditions, including migraines, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, sleeping disorders, anxiety, vertigo, severe menstrual cramps, and asthma. In addition to treating present conditions, osteopaths aim to prevent injuries by suggesting options such as stretching exercises, proper posture technique, and stress relief techniques. Also, osteopaths may suggest lifestyle and dietary changes.


The Canadian College of Osteopathy suggests that osteopathy be used not as an alternative or conventional medicine, but complementary to it. By taking advantage of each modality’s strengths, the patient’s condition will be treated more quickly and efficiently, which is the ultimate goal of any practitioner.
Wallace explains, “Osteopaths have the training and the knowledge to know when to refer the patient to a physician. If there are issues that have to be checked with x-rays or blood work [then an osteopath will refer a patient to a physician].” She also says that physicians who are familiar with osteopathy may refer patients to an osteopath in addition to allopathic treatments.
Dr. Andrew Still saw the need for an alternative to allopathic medicine, and since 1874 that alternative has been osteopathy. Through extensive knowledge of the human anatomy and the belief that the body’s systems work cohesively, osteopaths can treat an assortment of conditions-you just need to feel it for yourself.


According to the Ontario Association of Osteopathic Manual Practitioners, osteopathy is rooted in four basic principles.

  1. Each structure in the body supports the body’s functions. If a structure is damaged , out of place, or otherwise not working properly, the body will not function at its best.
  2. The natural flow of the body’s fluids-lymphatic, vascular, and neurological-must be preserved and maintained.
  3. The human body is the sum of its parts, its physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and cognitive systems don’t work independently-they work in harmony.
  4. When the body has no restrictions, it has the inherent ability to heal itself.