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Osteopathy in the Rest of the World

Dr John Martin Littlejohn, a Scotsman, was the first professor of physiology at the ASO and also dean of the ASO. He established the Chicago College of Osteopathy in 1900. Teaching in theoretical subjects was extended and physiology was established as a central subject. The school flourished and developed into one of the most important scientific sources of early osteopathy. In 1913 Littlejohn returned to the UK and and in 1917 established the British School of Osteopathy where he taught until he passed away in 1947. He developed a theory of spinal mechanics, published many papers, and wrote two textbooks.

Until the 1960’s, all osteopathy schools worldwide taught osteopathic diagnosis based primarily on structural alignment and theories of spinal mechanics formulated by pioneers such as Littlejohn and Fryette. In the 1960’s Hugh Middleton of the BSO started a new approach based primarily on assessing the function of all joints and tissues of the musculo-skeletal system and correcting any dysfunction. Normal mechanical function leads to normal physiology and hence helps eliminate pathology (disease). It also became standard practice to identify the tissues causing symptoms, the pathology of those tissues, the pre-disposing factors, precipitating factors and maintaining factors. These factors include not only neurological, muscular and skeletal factors, but also the patients home, work and social environment, psychology, old injuries etc. This more holistic approach is very effective and is also more acceptable to regulators and other health professionals. In the 1970’s Laurie Hartman of the BSO developed a way of performing high velocity thrust manipulations with minimal leverages. Since the 1980’s he has taught his techniques and the functional approach to other UK osteopathic colleges. These are now taught at all British, New Zealand and Australian schools of osteopathy except for one small UK school.

Over time more osteopathic schools were started in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and more recently in other countries. Osteopathy courses in New Zealand, Australia and the UK are rigorously science based and teach a non-surgical, non-pharmaceutical approach based on the updated principals of osteopathy. Their graduates are primary care practitioners who see themselves as manual medicine or neuromusculoskeletal (NMS) specialists, complementary to all systems of medicine. They spend considerably more time training in osteopathic diagnosis and technique than their US counterparts, in addition to the study of anatomy, physiology, pathology, embryology, neurology, paediatrics, orthopaedics, rheumatology and psychology to a similar standard as medical schools. Some medical doctors undertake a postgraduate training in osteopathy.

Courses in osteopathy are currently offered by ten universities and colleges in Britain, eight in Canada, seven in France, five in Germany, three in Belgium, Russia, Spain and Australia (RMIT, Victoria University and Southern Cross University) and two in Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Argentina, Austria, Chile, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Sweden, South Korea and New Zealand (one at UNITEC in Auckland which has stopped taking new students, and a new course that started at the ARA institute in Christchurch in 2018). The qualifications conferred vary widely, and include: certificates, diplomas, bachelors’ degrees, masters’ degrees and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

February 2nd 2019


Philip Bayliss, Registered Osteopath, 43 Thames Street, St Albans, Christchurch, NZ. ☎️03 356 1353