Our body is composed of many different systems and mechanisms. The belief in osteopathy is that these include self-healing mechanisms which can be encouraged and assisted by treatment. Osteopathy is considered to be an alternative, or complementary therapy. It involves treating problems by stretching, manipulating and massaging the skeleton and muscles. Treatment encourages the body to heal, helps muscles relax, encourages blood to flow into the tissues and helps increase joint mobility. Muscles, bones, ligaments and connective tissue are all connected and work together in the body. If there is a problem in one area, it can impact upon the others, such as headaches as a result of tight neck muscles.
Photo of the skeleton and muscles in the body
Examples of the types of complaints which could be helped by osteopathy are
- Back pain.
- Joint pain.
- Sporting injuries.
- Posture related pain, e.g. in late pregnancy.
During your first visit, a thorough history of your health complaint will be taken, as well as questions asked about your general health and any medication you are taking. You will be examined, so may need to undress. A gown and towel will be provided if necessary. Should you wish to bring somebody with you, this is acceptable. The practitioner will be looking for any weak areas, tightness, pain or areas with restricted mobility. If they consider it inadvisable for them to treat you, they may advise you to consult your doctor, and will provide a letter outlining what they believe is the problem. You will receive a clear explanation of what issues they find, and they will discuss a treatment plan with you. The benefits and any risks will be explained to you, the number of treatment sessions you will need, and the cost of treatment. The first visit may last an hour, but subsequent visits will be for 30-40 minutes.
The treatment will consist of the practitioner using their hands to stretch joints, encourage joints to move in the way they should, massage and possibly ‘thrusts’ whereby sharp movements are given to the spine eliciting a clicking noise. They will explain what they are doing, and ask for your consent. Treatment should not be painful, but there may be some tenderness afterwards. You may be instructed to do some exercises in between treatment sessions. Throughout your treatments, your treatment will be reviewed and altered if necessary. Your agreement will be sought for any changes. Osteopathy is not always available on the NHS. You will need to consult your G.P.to determine this. Should you have private medical insurance, you may be able to claim treatment. Prior to your first visit, the clinic will be able to provide you with information about the osteopaths, the clinic, what a treatment will involve and affordable payment methods. They will be happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have.
All osteopaths are required to register with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC). You are entitled to a high standard of care, and all osteopaths are required to
- Make your care their priority.
- Treat you with dignity and respect.
- Involve you in decisions about your care.
- Respond promptly to your concerns.
- Respect and protect your private information.
Back pain is a common complaint which osteopaths deal with. It can arise due to different reasons, including damaged joints or discs, osteoarthritis (where there is wear and tear) or a muscle sprain. Various techniques may be employed. Massage of the supporting muscles would help the muscles to relax. Counter strain, when the osteopath finds the position where the pain is at its peak, then would slowly bring the patient to the position of maximum relief, then to a neutral position. Thrusts are used to reduce restricted movement, and soft tissue mobilization involves rhythmic stretches, deep pressure and traction techniques upon the muscles supporting the spine. A study1 confirmed that osteopathy ‘significantly lowers lower back pain’. The effect was greater than that of the placebo effect, and lasted for over 3 months.
Arthritis can cause pain, inflammation, swelling and stiffness in the joints of the body. Common forms are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout. It is commonly due to wear and tear in the joints, and usually affects older people but can affect children. The joints affected can be the knees, hips, spine, back, toes, hands and neck. An individual treatment plan would be devised, involving gentle stretching and manipulation of the joint, and massaging of the muscles. Advice may be given on diet and lifestyle, and exercises which may help.
Treatment of pain in the feet or ankles would usually involve examining the muscles and joints of the legs and back to see if the problem arose in this area. Massage and manipulation would be used to give more flexibility in the joints and muscles. Knees can easily suffer damage through injury or strain. The problem could potentially originate in the hips. The muscles may be tight or the joint may be inflexible. Several conditions can affect the shoulder joint. Arthritis, frozen shoulder, and a rotator cuff injury are all common causes of pain in the shoulder. Neck pain may be a result of poor posture, arthritis or possibly a trapped nerve. Osteopathy has been shown to be effective in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome2. Treatment improved the severity of symptoms and the impact upon the patients’ quality of life.
When assessing you, the practitioner will be looking at your body holistically in order to determine the root of the problem in order to decide upon the best treatment for you as an individual.
- Licciardone, J. et al. ‘Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment for Lower Back Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta- Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials’. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2005 6;43.
- Blanche-Maelle, F. et al. ‘Osteopathy Improves the Severity of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Pilot Randomised Sham-Controlled Study’. European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2012 24:8 p944-949.