What is osteopathy?


Osteopathy is taking a deeper, holistic approach towards the body, posture, whilst integrating the links between lifestyle, environment, health and well-being. Osteopathy can be applied to the management of muscular-skeletal issues (please see section “Muscular-skeletal concerns”).

Osteopathy focuses on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of musculoskeletal disorders, and the effects these conditions have your general health and lifestyle.

Osteopathy is a system of manual treatment to the spine and other parts of the body and its aim is to restore impaired blood and nerve supply to muscular skeletal structures. Osteopathy looks at musculo-skeletal pain in relation to the whole person and body.

Osteopathic medicine is a unique form of medical care that was developed in 1874 by Andrew Taylor Still, M.D., D.O. Dissatisfied with 19th century healthcare, Dr. Still founded a philosophy of medicine based on ideas that date back to Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine”, and which focuses on the unity of the body. Dr. Still pioneered the concept of wellness and identified the musculoskeletal system as a key element of health.

Osteopathic manual practitioners take a whole person approach to caring for patients. They regard the body as an integrated whole. Osteopathic medicine holds that true health involves complete physical, mindful and social well being, rather than merely the absence of disease. The body is viewed as having a capacity for health that the osteopathic manual practitioner can help the individual fulfil; therefore, treat the whole patient, considering other factors and habits in addition to physical symptoms.

The musculo-skeletal system is an important system in the body. Freedom of movement and adequate support allows a healthy skeleton, which not only protects the organs but it can influence their function and health. It helps us internally and externally, helping us with motion, movement, communication and normal function. Functional osteopathy becomes particularly useful here as the body’s own natural movements are encouraged with gentle motions by the osteopathic manual practitioner, to help improve natural function.

The aim of osteopathy is to address problems in the body frame, making it easier for the body to function normally and reducing the chances of problems occurring in the future. An osteopathic manual practitioner uses different modes of treatment depending on the nature of the symptoms and root cause.  All treatments aim to help the body function at an optimal level. An osteopathic manual practitioner may also advise on posture, lifestyle and management.

Osteopathic manual practitioners use scientific knowledge of anatomy and physiology and clinical relevance. British trained osteopathic manual practitioners spend a minimum of 4 years training in anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, biochemistry, pathology and clinical examination of muscular and skeletal disorders. A British trained osteopathic manual practitioner knows enough about pathology to recognise conditions that should be referred to a medically qualified practitioner and will do so when necessary.

How does osteopathy work?

Osteopaths work with their hands using a wide range of manual techniques according to the individual’s age, physique and particular problem. Techniques range from:

  • Soft-tissue stretching techniques to release muscle tension
  • Gentle articulations to realign and improve joint mobility
  • Mobilisations and gentle manipulation to increase the range of movement of a joint
  • Neuromuscular release techniques, which allow a contracted muscle to release and free a restricted nerve supply
  • Lymphatic drainage techniques to improve circulation throughout your body and enhance your immune system

Health advice and exercises may also be given to help to reduce your symptoms and improve your health and quality of life.

What can I expect from osteopathic treatment?

A first examination with an osteopath, for example, will include a full case history, an examination of your musculo-skeletal system and other clinical tests (e.g. of the nervous system), a differential diagnosis, treatment if appropriate, and possible prognosis and outcome.

After the actual treatment, you will feel a change: more mobile and fluid and with less pain. In some instances, your body may feel slightly more painful or inflamed as osteopathic manual practitioners harness the body’s own healing mechanism by increasing mediators of inflammation to aid healing. So you may feel slightly worse for 24-48 hours.

How many osteopathic treatment will I need?

It depends on how severe and complex your condition is, if you are able to make the lifestyle changes suggested, and carry out the exercises recommended by your osteopathic manual practitioner. You can rest assured that your osteopathic manual practitioner will discuss your options with you, and only advise you to make appointments that are necessary. Your osteopath should be able to give you an indication of the approximate amount of treatments needed after your first visit.

For some acute conditions your osteopath will expect to see significant improvement and pain relief within fewer treatments. Problems that you have neglected or chronic conditions may require more regular osteopathic treatments.

It must be emphasised that each individual is unique therefore some people will require more or less osteopathic treatment before their symptoms improve. The ideal objective is for your total recovery with no recurrence of the problem. If your problem does not seem to be resolving within these sessions, you may be referred to your GP.

What should I wear for my osteopathic appointment?

Patients are generally advised to wear underwear that they feel comfortable in or shorts. It will be more beneficial for an osteopathic manual practitioner to be able to examine a patient’s whole body. This enables for a more accurate diagnosis and more effective treatment. Women will remain in their bra and underwear but if someone does not wish to undress a pair of shorts and a vest would be fine.

Does insurance cover osteopathy?

Most insurance companies cover osteopathy. Please check with your insurance provider for further information.

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