Happy Valentine’s Day: Osteopathy and Heart Health

Posted by on February 13, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Happy Valentine’s Day: Osteopathy and Heart Health


Think of the heart and most people think of pictures like those found on Valentine’s Day cards. That’s especially true every February, the month of love. Valentine’s Day is a time of year that we dedicate to the special person in our life. Even though we spend most of our time dealing with the emotions attributed to our heart, it’s not just the ups and downs of love that we should think about around Valentine’s Day, but the health of our hearts as well.


Heart disease and stroke will take one in three Canadians before their time. This equates to more than $20.9 billion every year in physician services, hospital costs, lost wages and decreased productivity. These are devastating realities that every health care practitioner must face each day. Every seven minutes, someone dies from heart disease or stroke in this country.


Dr. A.T. Still, the founder of Osteopathy,  had a lot to say about the heart, its function, all that supplied it and all that it supplied. “All are indebted to the heart for their material size, and all qualities of motion and life sustaining principles of the human body,”  he wrote. Every single piece of our complex human physiology needs fresh nourishing blood supply to survive. This system must be complete working order. It takes a finely tuned interactive system for us to sustain a fully functioning life.


Even though we are discussing the Osteopathic role in treating heart-related concerns, we must remember that we can never discuss the circulatory system in isolation. Dr. Still did not care just about the heart pumping blood around the body, but also the nerves that supply this organ with action. “I think much of the diseases of the heart are not of the organ but from a feeble supply of electricity that is cut off in the medulla or heart nerves, between heart and brain,” he wrote.


There are many concerns to a classically trained Osteopath, like those at Paths to Vitality,  when discussing the treatment of a nutrition-based disorder. Blood is the essence of everything we do and everything we are. Blood provides nutrients and oxygen to our cells. It transports hormones and immunological agents. Its importance to our vitality is immense.


The goal of an Osteopath is to evaluate the unique body we are treating and identify the obstructions present in the anatomy. It is imperative to zoom in and out with our intentions, thoughts and understanding of the underlying physiology. Globally, where are the lines of force acting on the underlying physiology?  How are they affecting the local group of segments and what traumatic effect have they produced on the focal element in our physiology? The essence of life depends on the efficiency of the vital forces found in our nerve function as well as fluid supply and drainage.


Dr. Still claimed that if an Osteopath truly understood anatomy and observed their diseased patient, “he will find one of three conditions; interference with the nerve supply, the arterial supply or the venous return due to pressure or wound.” In addition, he could be even more precise with his eventual diagnosis of all diseases of the heart. “Heart disease is never found without an impingement of the pneumogastric nerve at some point.” This is an extremely important point to the structure of our treatment goals and thought process behind adjustment. We are not swinging arms or legs freely around without purpose.


What distinguishes the Osteopath is the complete layered understanding of the normal anatomy and how we are going to remove life-robbing impediments. Osteopathy is not about relieving the symptom but adjusting the lesion to its normal and neutral functioning. We do not move right to left but right to neutral. We balance and stabilize through integration.


Dr. Still produced many very important concepts to our understanding of the human body. One such idea has been replicated since its inception. The rule of the artery is supreme still breeds truth. Dr Still says in his autobiography “The rule of the artery must be absolute, universal and unobstructed, or disease will result.” Treatment will never be without complication because all human forms are unique in their make-up and design. Pathological process may appear similar but no two cases of stroke or heart disease will ever be the same.


Dr. Still tried to teach this message almost 150 years ago. A complete understanding of Anatomy, including physiology, and an adherence to the principles will allow for a creative and reactive Osteopathic practitioner to provide the appropriate adjustment. We must remember that the physiology changes second by second under our fingers. An observant practitioner can see life return and trophic changes happen before their eyes. Blood and nerve energy provides our vitality. Disturbances in their activity reduces this natural healing process. “All nerves depended wholly on the arterial system for their qualities, such as sensation, nutrition, and motion, even though by the law of reciprocity they furnished force, nutrition, and sensation to the artery itself.” declared Dr. Still.


J.M. Littlejohn also studied the circulation of our life producing blood. He discovered that embryologically, our nervous system develops before our vascular system. He also presents the fact that the vessels of our vascular system emerge and mature before the existence of our heart. With this information he began to postulate an alternative contributing source for circulation. Through research he discovered that the heart force necessary to drive blood through the capillary system was insufficient. JM Littlejohn observed a muscular structure between the areolar tissue and the inner membrane of each arterial structure. With the existence of this contractile element, the peristaltic activity of the arteries, arterioles and capillary system does not rely solely on the heart for movement.


With this information he questioned the understanding of blood propulsion. He theorized that the capillaries are not the end of circulation but the beginning. “It is here that the pulsating rhythm of vitality has its origin, the heart functioning as a general centre, or reservoir within the continuous structure of the circulatory apparatus, in which the activities are coordinated, all influences combined and made to cooperate. Therefore, the heart is not a force-pump but a general cooperating centre, in connection with which the general vitality and life forces concentrate for distribution throughout the entire vascular and tissue system, and a reservoir for the reception and distribution of the blood.” This is a extremely powerful message that supports the thorough and holistic science of Osteopathy. By working diligently to support the structural tension lines and bring physiological balance, heart and artery function can correct and heal itself. John Wernham emphasized the long lever approach to deal with tissues conjointly and the importance of following a routine to ensure that nothing is missed. His objective was to provide restoration of the internal environment in preparation for effective and long lasting spinal correction. When precise and accurate in execution the approach will stabilize the patient by means of complete integration.



1) Still, Andrew Taylor. Autobiography of A.T. Still. 1897.www.mcmillinmedia.com/eamt/files/still3/st3ch14.html

2) Still, Andrew Taylor. Osteopathy: Research and Practice. 1910. Bibliolife. Kirksville, MO.

3) Littlejohn, J.M. Principles. Ed. John Wernham. Maidstone College of Osteopathy. 1984.

4) Littlejohn, J.M. The Foundamentals of Osteopathic Technique. Ed. John Wernham. JWCCO. 1998.

5) Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. www.heartandstroke.com

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