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Chinese Osteopathy (Zheng Gu – Tuina)

Good judgement comes from experience, and lot of that comes from bad judgement.
Will Rogers


Osteopathy is based on the principle of mobility: The mobility of blood, lymph and energy, the mobility of the joints, of cranial sutures and the mobility of the cerebro-spinal fluid. Lack of mobility, stagnation, or stasis, inevitably leads to malfunction, pain, inflammation and disease.

The western-trained or oriental-trained osteopath can evaluate the cause of a dysfunction through careful palpation, evaluate and correct an underlying dysfunction using only his or her hands. This dysfunction can be either structural, visceral, cranial, myofascial, lymphatic or a combination of several or all of the above.

Osteopathy was founded in 19th century by Andrew Taylor Still. Still was a very eccentric and colorful figure. He studied medicine under the direction of his minister-physician father, Abram Stills. He read medical texts and exhumed Indian corpses to further his medical and anatomical knowledge. There is no record of Stills attending medical school, and in the early 1880’s Still was charged for practising medicine without a licence. Even though Still could produce no medical diploma, stating that all records of his medical studies including his school were destroyed in a fire during the civil war, he was exonerated and managed to get himself registered as a physician most likely due to intervention of his physician and surgeon brother, E.C. Still.

In 1864, four members of Still’s family including, three of his children and several of his patients, tragically died from a spinal meningitis epidemic. Following this unfortunate incident and the inability of orthodox medicine to save his family, Still spent the next 10 years looking for a new treatment.

Even though Still was raised as a Methodist, he embraced Spiritualism, the belief that the living could communicate with the dead. In 1903 Still attended a spiritualist convention in Iowa, met the father of American spiritualists Jackson Davis, and was introduced to magnetic healing. Davis, in his first volume of a five-volume series, The Physician, writes that perfect health is that state where the immortal spirit is circulating harmoniously through every organ, tissue and ramification of the organism. Davis also believed that the human body had the innate capacity to heal itself. Jackson Davis and the spiritualist movement introduced Still to natural healing and the concept of a Vital Force which modern osteopaths call the primary respiratory mechanism or the expression of the breath of life.

In his book entitled Vital Magnetism-the Life-Fountain (1875) Edwin Dwight Babbitt argued that spinal manipulation could cure headaches, muscular complaints, rheumatism and paralysis.

In 1871 Dr. Wharton Hood, a university-trained surgeon, published a book in both England and the U.S. based on his experiences as a bone-setter’s apprentice, in which he describes the “bone-setters” technique that constituted the Art of overcoming, by sudden flexion or extension any impediments to the free motion of the joints…. This coupled with pressure upon any painful spots further influenced Still in the use of manipulative medicine.

In 1843, Waterman Sweet, a famous American bone-setter, published a book entitled Views of Anatomy and Practice of Natural Bone-setting by a Mechanical Process different from all book knowledge which provided insight into the craft of bone-setting.

Sometime after 1880, Still began to advertise himself as Dr. A.T. Still the Lightening Bone-setter, claiming on an early business card that he could cure headache, heart disease, facial and arm paralysis, lumbago, sciatic and rheumatism.

Thus, by fusing elements of magnetic healing, bone-setting, and spiritualism into a single discipline, Still created what is today the respected practise of osteopathic medicine. In 1881 Still founded the American School of Osteopathy which dispensed degrees in the new science of Osteopathic medicine.


Similarities between osteopathic medicine and Chinese medicine

Osteopathic medicine and Chinese medicine share common views of the human organism in terms of health, disease and medical theory.

Both medicines embrace the concept of a Vital Force or Life Force permeating all humans and extending throughout the universe itself. For the osteopaths, this Life Force is the primary respiratory mechanism - the breath of life: For practitioners of Chinese medicine it is a universal energy called QI.

Both medicines believe that free and unrestricted movement of this Vital Force and blood are necessary for good health, and life itself, and that stasis of blood and energy inevitably lead to inflammation, degeneration of tissues, organs and joints, leading to ill health and almost certainly a premature death.

Both medicines believe in polarity as the engine of life, the Chinese with their concept of yin and yang; the osteopaths with their belief in a balanced autoimmune nervous system: the sympathetic nervous system (yang) and the parasympathic nervous system (yin).

Both medicine are manipulative therapies, zheng gu and tuina for the Chinese. Both correct structural imbalances, both also prevent stasis in organs, tissues and joints.

Both osteopathic and Chinese naturopathic medicine (yang shen fa) are based on the holistic concept of caring for whole patient, his work, his habits, his environment, his emotional life, his diet, and his play.

Both medicine are concerned not only with the patients immediate illness (symptoms), but also the circumstances that may contribute to and sustain this illness.

Both medicines prefer to detect and to avert the disease process before it becomes clinically manifest. 

Practitioners of Chinese medicine will use tongue and pulse diagnoses, abdominal and meridian palpation to ascertain and correct the subtle imbalances in the homeostatic mechanism of the meridian. The osteopathic practitioner will use different tools but have exactly the same therapeutic goals in mind. Using segmental relationships between musculo-skeletal, fascial and osteoarticular or cranio-sacral examination techniques, the osteopath will often predict which organs are involved in the disease process long before clinical symptoms appear.

Both disciplines arrive at the same conclusion regarding structure and function.

Both disciplines, whether they rely in the governance and flow of Qi, or the inherent motility and mobility of anatomical structures are diagnostically and therapeutically effective.

Both disciplines have much in common regarding acupuncture points and spinal sequential organ relationships. Acupuncturists will palpate, massage, needle, heat or laser these alarm or ashi points. Osteopaths, using massage, myofascial release techniques, the balancing of reciprocal tensions, or some other method will closely monitor the response of these ashi. Trigger, or Chapman reflex points.

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