What it is Osteopathy
Osteopathy is an established, recognised system of diagnosis and
treatment that lays its main emphasis on the structural integrity of
the body. It is distinctive in the fact that it recognises much of
the pain and disability we suffer stems from abnormalities in the
function of the body structure as well as damage caused to it by
Osteopathy uses many of the diagnostic
procedures used in conventional medical assessment and diagnosis.
Its main strength, however, lies in the unique way the patient is
assessed from a mechanical, functional and postural standpoint and
the manual methods of treatment applied to suit the needs of the
Osteopathy does more than just address
problems of the musculo-skeletal system. The British Medical
Association in its report Complementary Medicine: New Approaches
to Good Practice describes osteopathy as a ‘discrete clinical
discipline’. Osteopaths use a wide variety of approaches to
treatment and can bring relief or improvement to many conditions
affecting, for example, children, the elderly, sportsmen and women,
or to problems which arise during or after pregnancy.
A thorough knowledge of the basic medical
sciences followed by an extended period of clinical training is
central to the osteopath’s ability to make a differential diagnosis
and to distinguish conditions which are amenable to osteopathic
treatment from those which are not.
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history of Osteopathy
Osteopathy was developed over 100 years ago by a Union Doctor in the
American Civil War called Andrew Still. He had always cleared his
own headaches by cracking his neck and he reasoned that the spine
was the source of good health, so rather than offer drugs, he began
to investigate the manipulation of the joints which he believed
would release the body's abilities to heal itself.
How does it work?
Osteopathy is based on the theory that many of the body's health
problems are due to misplaced vertebrae which hinder the body's own
self-healing process. Therefore, by realigning these vertebrae the
body's natural substances are released to heal the specific symptom.
Like other holistic therapies, osteopathy works on the premise that
good health requires proper equilibrium and as such will take into
account all the details of a patient's lifestyle, such as
environment, nutrition, posture, and so on.
great importance on 'lesions' which occur when a joint becomes
jammed and therefore restricted within its natural scope of
movement. Lesions in the lower back can cut off circulation which
may lead to disease, they can also cause disc damage and inflamed
nerves. These lesions do no necessarily show up on an X-ray and
therefore are often missed by GPs who rely greatly on X-rays for
As an addition to
osteopathy, a student discovered that there is a gentle movement in
the joints of the cranial bones and that when these bones become
misaligned and restrict this movement, for reasons such as a birth
defect or a blow to the head, then this can lead to disease. It is
through this discovery that cranial osteopathy was developed, and
just like osteopathy it involves the manipulation of the cranial
What does treatment involve?
A first visit to an osteopath will take the best part of an hour and
subsequent visits will take approximately 45 minutes. The Osteopath
treats the individual and not just the disease, and will therefore
take a detailed case history from you to make himself aware of any
outside influences that could cause the symptoms. The osteopath will
note how you walk and your general posture and will examine the
patient in their underwear in sitting, lying and standing positions.
He/she is looking for any damage to the body's framework and will
point out any interesting postural abnormalities, such as having one
shoulder higher than the other or other uneven angles.
The osteopath may use
blood and urine tests to aid diagnosis and will pay close attention
to certain areas with palpation (use of the hands). There are
several techniques that the osteopath may use to treat the patient's
condition, such as spine cracking, soft tissue technique which is
similar to massage, osteopathic manipulative therapy which is used
to restore movement in the musculo-skeletal system, or movement of
the joints to restore muscle alignment. The technique will depend on
the diagnosis of the health problem.
The osteopath will
most likely give advice on posture, nutrition, exercise and
relaxation in addition to the manipulation treatment.
Osteopaths are independent practitioners and therefore a letter of
referral is not necessary, and the cost of treatment can vary.
Private health insurance often includes osteopathy now and will
allow a certain amount of money to pay for osteopathic treatment if
it is recommended by your GP.
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Which patients consult an Osteopath?
A survey of osteopathic practice throughout the country
revealed that approaching a quarter of patients attend an osteopath
with their doctors’ approval, over 10%, in fact, being formally
referred by their GPs or Consultants.
The main survey findings
• The UK’s 2500
practising osteopaths give over 6 million consultations a year.
• Of these almost 15%
had never consulted an osteopath before.
of patients are women; 42% men. Pregnancy
puts a strain on the low back but it could also reflect the fact
that many women have two jobs - paid work and looking after the
home - and both can give rise to the problem.
• Almost a quarter of
patients are in their forties. Many patients are losing their
physical fitness at this time in their lives and are more prone to
injury when taking physical exercise.
• Almost a half of
patients complain of low back trouble. Back pain is one of the
major ills of modem society resulting in 100 million working days
being lost each year. The lumbar spine is a vulnerable link in our
bodies but there can be no doubt that problems are compounded by
bad posture and the largely sedentary lifestyle that people lead.
• One in five patients
considered that their problem was related to work. One in ten
attribute it to some sporting activity and a similar number
incidents within the home.
Source: 'Osteopathy &
Medicine Today' Osteopathic Information Service
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What it can help
Osteopathy has earned worldwide respect as a treatment for back
pain, although it is also used for other problems such as
menstruation pains, allergies, headaches, digestive disorders and
breathing difficulties. For a list of research studies relating to
Osteopathy, click here.