Structure and Function are Interrelated

From the smallest cell to the largest bone, all of anatomy is alive and in constant dynamic, rhythmic motion. Blood flows, lymphatics drain and cerebral spinal fluid fluctuates. The heart beats and the ribcage expands and contracts with each respiration. Each and every organ gently moves as it functions. Each and every structure has its own inherent rhythmic activity. This is the living anatomy that osteopathic physicians feel with their hands. When this motion becomes impaired, the tissues will not function as they were intended. As a result of this altered motion, symptoms develop, and disease may even occur. Dr. Still described this process in the following way, “Disease is the result of anatomical abnormalities followed by physiologic discord.”

Dr. Still described the body as being like a machine. It has interrelated parts that need to be in proper position and to move correctly for optimal function. For example, taking a deep breath may be difficult if the ribs, diaphragm or parts of the spine do not move well. When breathing is impaired, lymphatic drainage (necessary for clearing congestion and inflammation) will also be impaired. This may contribute to the development of asthma or respiratory infections.

A dramatic example of how well osteopathic physicians understand the importance of the structure and function relationship is the influenza epidemic of 1917-1918. Approximately 30,000,000 people died worldwide. In the U.S., osteopathic physicians treated their patients with osteopathic manipulation and were quite successful in decreasing mortality from the disease. In fact, while hospitals run by MD’s reported a 30 to 40 percent mortality rate, osteopathic hospitals reported a mortality rate of less than one percent.