Osteopathy is a holistic approach to diagnosis and treatment where practitioners use touch and manipulation of the musculo-skeletal system to improve well-being.
What can Osteopathy treat?
Osteopathy can help treat:
- back pain
- conditions associated with pregnancy including heartburn, aches and pains, indigestion, constipation and sciatic pain
- complaints in babies and young children, some of which are attributable to mechanical strain acquired before or during the birth process
- poor posture
- sports injuries
- rheumatic pain
- period pain
- breathing problems in children with Down’s Syndrome
- myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and associated problems
Osteopathy (from the Greek osteo meaning bone and pathos meaning disease) was founded in the 1870’s by Dr Andrew Taylor Still, a doctor in mid-western America who became convinced that the body could not thrive unless it was structurally sound.
Osteopathy works according to the principle that much pain and disability stems from abnormalities in the function of body structure as well as damage caused by disease. If the musculo-skeletal system is correctly aligned and working well, the tissues of the body will be healthy and the circulatory, lymphatic and digestive systems will function properly. Most significantly, the body’s self-healing mechanisms could restore normal function.
An osteopath will be concerned about why there is a fault in the musculo-skeletal framework to begin with as well as with the physical problems themselves and will look for the reasons behind the problems. Lifestyle and mental and emotional health are thus seen as important factors influencing physiological health.
Practitioners use touch and manipulation of the musculo-skeletal system to restore or improve mobility and balance, thereby enhancing well-being.
The cranial approach, sometimes referred to as ‘cranial osteopathy’, developed from the discovery in the Thirties that small tolerances of movement exist within the human skull. From this, an approach to diagnosis and treatment has evolved in which the osteopath’s highly-trained sense of touch is used to identify and correct disturbances and limitations of tissue mobility, not only in and around the joints of the skull but throughout the body. The technical approach used involves gentle, but specifically applied adjustments to the movement of body tissues and is essentially a very safe method of diagnosis and treatment. Osteopaths using this approach also use orthodox clinical investigations in their diagnostic process and can help a wide range of conditions including migraine, dizziness, the effects of difficult or prolonged deliveries in babies and children as well as orthopaedic and spinal conditions for which other osteopathic techniques would be inappropriate.
There are at present no formally recognised specialists or specialities in osteopathy but some osteopaths have a special interest or choose to concentrate on certain approaches.
Consultation and treatment
Osteopaths assess a patient from many stand-points: mechanical, functional and postural. During the initial consultation, an osteopath will ask about symptoms, medical history, past injuries, whether you are taking medication (including homeopathic and herbal remedies) as well as about lifestyle, work and emotional health. Standard medical tests such as X-rays or blood tests are also carried out where necessary.
The osteopath will then use his or her hands to examine your muscles for stresses and strains and will ask you to bend in various ways while feeling your spine.
Treatment is tailored to suit the needs of the individual patient and may consist of soft tissue stretching, rhythmic passive joint movements or high velocity thrust techniques to improve the range of movement of a joint. Gentle release techniques are often used, particularly when treating children or elderly patients.
Remedial exercises to adjust posture or advice on diet and lifestyle may also be given. An osteopath is trained to recognise when a problem is not treatable by osteopathy – for example, if there is evidence of pathology – and will then refer you back to your GP.
The first consultation usually lasts 30-60 minutes; subsequent sessions may last between 20-45 minutes. One visit may be enough but six to eight sessions are average.
The average cost of treatment is £20 to £30. Some private health insurance companies pay for osteopathic treatment so check whether your policy covers it.
It is not possible to conduct osteopathy on yourself.
How to find a practitioner
An increasing number of GPs have been offering osteopathy on the NHS. Alternatively, contact the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) or any of the main osteopathic organisations for details of local osteopaths. Osteopathy is the first of the professions previously outside conventional medical services to achieve statutory recognition. In 1993, the Osteopaths Act was passed to establish a single governing body, the GOsC, which has a statutory duty not only to regulate but also to develop and promote the profession of osteopathy.
The GOsC also has a duty to safeguard patients by ensuring that a high standard of ethical and clinical practice will be achieved by working in partnership with professionals. Through that partnership, it is hoped that all osteopathic bodies and institutions will develop a wide understanding of the implications of statutory regulation and the duties of the GOsC under the law.
Osteopathy is very safe. However, it is important to give the practitioner a full medical history as some conditions require caution, the use of gentle techniques and close co-operation with the patient’s medical practitioner. These conditions include:
- bone cancer or any bone or joint infection
- badly prolapsed discs
- recent fractures and whiplash injuries
- rheumatoid arthritis
- osteopathy is not suitable for those in the first three months of pregnancy.