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The history of Orthopaedic Medicine/Orthopaedic Manipulative Therapy - a manipulated one?

More than one single professional group deals with therapeutic manipulations of the spine and the joints. Osteopaths, Chiropractors, Naprapaths, Physiotherapists (and Physicians) all share this interest. Each profession is also very clear about from where the bulk of its knowledge stems. A number of 'inventors' are to be found in the disciplines. Three of them are Americans, all without a formal university degree in Medicine and originally not satisfied with what traditional Medicine had to offer. Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917) came up with his system of Osteopathy in 1874. Daniel D. Palmer (1845-1913), the man behind Chiropractic, founded his system in 1894 and Palmer's colleague and former student, Oakley Smith (1880-1967), developed Naprapathy in 1906/7.

Physiotherapists working with Orthopaedic Manual Therapy (OMT), on the other hand, are not claiming American ancestry, nor does their body of knowledge and clinical skills originate from outside the medical profession. According to the IFOMT web page, England is credited as the cradle of OMT as 'there was a long tradition of joint manipulation being instructed to physical therapists by medical physicians'. The Orthopaedist Dr. James Mennell (1880-1957) was a pioneer, but the true Atlas figure of OMT/Orthopaedic Medicine (OM) is Mennell's successor - the Orthopaedist Dr. James Cyriax (1904-1985). The latter dates the birth of OM back to 1929.

This project aims uncover the roots of OMT/OM that can be traced in historical layers with more professional depth than, for example, James Cyriax was comfortable recognizing. In fact, in direct contradiction to the information on the IFOMT web page, it is very likely that a major portion of the theoretical and practical ideas behind OMT/OM came from Physiotherapists 'instructing medical physicians', and not the other way around.

This 'about face' makes it possible to raise questions that can help us understand how and why manipulations of the past are effective professional tools in trying to master the future. In the case of OMT/OM it seems that James Cyriax had to postpone the birth of OMT/OM to meet a new professional threat coming from North America. He had to replace the old patriarchal tradition of OMT/OM (read: physiotherapy) with a new one (read: medicine) that could help him deal with the scientific and professional aspirations of Osteopaths and Chiropractors who were invading England. In doing so Cyriax also turned the final page of a much older, yet similar history: the conflict in Europe between male Physiotherapists and Medical Doctors in the field of mechanical medicine. Thereby almost a century of history was erased from the history of Medicine, or more accurately: the very masculine history of mechanical medicine was downsized to a feminine one of much younger date.

Contact Information

Anders Ottosson

Box 200, 405 30 Göteborg,

Visiting Address:
D 445

031-786 55 09

Page Manager: Sara Ellis Nilsson|Last update: 1/14/2013

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