"The possibilities in the Science of Osteopathy are as great as the magnitude
of the Heavens."

William Garner Sutherland, D.O., developer of Cranial Osteopathy, 1939


If you get a deep cut in your finger, the attending doctor will disinfect, close, and bandage the wound.  In a week the cut is mended.  Did the doctor heal you?  Actually, no.  Your own body did.  But the physician assisted - by setting the stage and removing obstacles that might interfere with your body's repair processes.  In much the same way but with a larger scope, a physician who practices traditional Osteopathy (or Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine) removes the impediments to normal body functions and corrects the physical abnormalities that cause disease and inhibit recovery.  Like unkinking a garden hose, this allows your own innate healing abilities to come forth and restore you naturally to optimal health.

Osteopathy, first developed by Andrew Taylor Still, M.D. at the end of the 1800s, is both a type of medical practice and a philosophy - interchangeable and inseparable.  Practitioners have their knowledge solidly rooted in the details of anatomy, their guidance found in the unerring wisdom of the body; their partner in healing the elemental energies of life.  Doctors of Osteopathy (D.O.s) are fully licensed physicians with credentials equal to M.D.s, who practice all phases of medicine, including writing prescriptions and performing surgery.  However, they are trained to look at the whole person; mind, body, and spirit, rather than focus on diseased parts.  They understand that the human body has a nearly unlimited power to heal and maintain itself, but sometimes needs assistance in removing obstacles that block it from achieving its full health potential.

D.O.s have learned how the body’s systems work together, and why a small physical disturbance in one area may greatly impact functions elsewhere.  They are concerned with determining what is causing an imbalance in the body and why.  Osteopaths have found that once the underlying causes have been diagnosed, treated and removed, the body is then free to repair itself or to respond to other appropriate therapies more successfully.

How Osteopathy Works

Osteopathy has been defined as "a comprehensive system of diagnosis and treatment, based on the interrelationship of anatomy and physiology, for the study, prevention and treatment of disease."  The entire body, if adequately nourished, functions to maintain, repair and heal itself to the best advantage if its structure and physiological functioning are in proper order. Osteopathy emphasize the following four fundamental principles:

  1. The human being is a dynamic unit of function.
  2. The body possesses self-regulatory mechanisms which are self-healing in nature.
  3. Structure and function are interrelated at all levels.
  4. Rational treatment is based on these principles.

Doctors of Osteopathy understand that health will manifest to its fullest potential only when all parts of the body are in correct relationship to one another and free to move within their normal range of motion.  They know that resistance to disease depends on normal blood and nerve supply.  Such integrated totality emphasizes the fundamental need for the physician to consider the individual who has the diseases rather than the disease which has the individual - the principal approach being through proper normalization of the total body structure.

When putting these principles into action, they first find imbalances in the anatomy, often old and hidden, by touch.  They then apply gentle manipulation to the bones, muscles, organs, and all connective tissue over the entire body to restore normal structure and remove restrictions.  This enhances all circulatory systems, allowing the body’s own healing powers to better reach ailing areas.  D.O.s also consider how all aspects of a patient’s life, including diet, exercise, physical and emotional stresses, genetic, and environmental and occupational issues, influence their overall state of health.

By combining natural therapies with a physician’s knowledge of western medicine, Traditional Osteopaths work to correct the true underlying cause of dysfunction.  They can relieve pain, prevent disease, and speed recovery from nearly all medical problems.  Often they can reduce or even eliminate the need for more intrusive therapies such as medication or surgery.

Cranial Osteopathy

Cranial Osteopathy is a prominent sub-specialty of Traditional Osteopathic medicine, and was discovered, developed and taught by William Garner Sutherland, DO.  He determined that there is a palpable movement within the body that occurs in conjunction with the motion of the bones of the head.  This is a rhythmic alternating expansion and contraction motion in the cranium, independent of the rhythms of heart beat or breathing, which is part of the Primary Respiratory Mechanism (PRM).  This motion exists in every cell of the body and can be felt and worked with in any part of the body by a trained physician.   The aim is to free up restrictions in the PRM and allow the subtle natural rhythms of the central nervous system to express themselves in a balanced fashion.

Cranial Osteopathy is uniquely suited to treat problems related to the skull and brain, yet it can potentially affect any situation arising from disease or trauma in the body.  Even an almost imperceptible alteration of the skull's natural configuration and movement in infants can lead to such disorders as colic, the inability of the baby to swallow, or frequent spitting up or delayed development.  Trauma affecting this mechanism can lead in adults to low back problems, headaches, breathing and digestive disorders, joint pains, menstrual disorders and repetitive stress injuries such as tendinitis.

Some of Dr. Sutherland's techniques have been isolated and simplified to create what's called "Craniosacral therapy."  Be aware the majority of practitioners trained in this are massage therapists, chiropractors, and physical and occupational therapists who usually have little to no understanding of the underlying structure, biology or rational for the techniques.


Extra - A Short History of Osteopathy

Traditional Osteopathy is an entirely American form of holistic medical care that was developed in the late 19th century by Andrew Taylor Still, MD.  Dr. Still, a frontiersman and civil war physician, was dissatisfied with the crude and often toxic medicine of his day.  By observing wildlife and the elegant relationship between structure and function, he originated a new system of medicine, which he called "Osteopathy."  He noted that when adequately nourished and rested, the body can heal and maintain itself if all its parts are in their correct position and free to move within the normal range of motion.  Dr. Still developed the first manipulating techniques in modern medicine, used to restore structure and function, and started treating his patients with this new concept in 1874.  Owing to his ever-growing success and the demand that generated, he founded in his home town of Kirksville, Missouri the first Osteopathic college in 1892.  19 such colleges are now teaching Osteopathy nationwide.

The full benefits of Osteopathy were widely revealed during the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918.  500,000 deaths were seen in the United States from this disease, and those who were admitted to hospitals had an alarming fatality rate.  However, patients treated by Osteopaths had only one sixteenth as high a fatality rate.  Their mobilized immune system effectively fought the infection, while congestion in the lungs and other waste products from virus die-off were thoroughly drained.

One of Dr. Still's students, Dr. William Garner Sutherland, greatly expanded the science of Osteopathy by developing in the late 1930's the field of "Cranial Osteopathy."  He found that the primary rhythm of the body, from which all other energy flowed, was revealed in the pulsing of cerebral and spinal fluids.  This rhythmic pulse, not related to heartbeat, respiration, or any previously known cycles of the body, creates a coiling and uncoiling of the spinal cord that can be felt by a trained practitioner anywhere on the patient.  Special osteopathic manipulation of the cranial bones and sacrum can then gently free up restrictions and balance this primary rhythm movement.  The functioning of the central nervous system is improved, which then impacts the health of the entire body.  His concepts and therapies were so unique, even to Osteopathy, that he worked for decades before they were finally accepted by his colleagues. 

As Osteopaths struggled after WWII to gain equal recognition as MDs, their practices shifted as well in that direction towards conventional allopathic medicine.  The manipulative techniques that made them special were all but lost.  One of the few Osteopaths who steadfastly maintained the techniques and philosophy of traditional manipulation during this time was Dr. Robert Fulford, who helped bring back Dr. Still's and Sutherland's teachings to the newest generation of physicians.  His own work included the development of the Fulford Percussor as well as a profound study of how Osteopathy affects and enhances the energy field of the body.  Dr. Reiss had the privilege to train under Dr. Fulford, and more than any other physician, she models the principles of her practice after his work.

Today, Osteopaths comprise about 5% of all physicians in the U.S., but with their comprehensive training and personable orientation make up 15% of all rural doctors.  Unfortunately only 1 out of every 10 Osteopaths nationwide actually use their traditional manipulative techniques as a primary modality.  The remaining large majority, perhaps owing to the relative convenience, continue to put aside their holistic training and practice mostly conventional medicine identical to their allopathic MD counterparts.  This ratio may be changing, as it has been reported that more medical students "see the writing on the wall" and are shifting their emphasis towards the ever-more-popular holistic approach of Traditional Osteopathy.  Dr. Still's and Sutherland's work has also generated over the past century several "spin-off" therapies, including chiropractic and "craniosacral," which by their origin are limited to a small percentage of an Osteopathic physician’s training and full range of healing techniques.