Osteopathy is a system of manual medicine developed in the late 1800s in the United States by Dr Andrew Taylor Still.
Osteopaths are most interested in the musculo-skeletal system and how it effects our health, our mobility our pain and therefore our quality of life. When it comes to the actual treatment, no two osteopaths treat exactly the same way.
The basic tenants of osteopathy are that the body is a single unit, structure and function are inter-related, the body is always trying to heal itself, and good circulation is essential for healthy tissues.
In a practical sense it means you need to keep your joints as flexible as possible, your bones properly aligned, and your soft tissues supple and strong. (By soft tissues I mean your muscles, tendons, fascia and ligaments).
Modern medicine tends to separate the body into a multitude of systems. The various medical specialities each focus on one of these. Heart, skin, circulation, gut, gynae, orthopedics, neurology, etc. This creates extreme levels of expertise in particular areas but tends to veer away from the big picture. The interconnectedness of it all.
Osteopaths specialty is looking at how the various parts interact with, and effect, each other. Particularly, how the musculo-skeletal system effects pain, mobility, the nervous system and the organs, and visa versa.
The structure of your body reflects and effects its function. How well it moves has a huge effect on how well it works. For example, if you have a stiff hip, you will not be able to walk or stand on it as comfortably or for as long as you used to. Sooner or later it will start to hurt. The stiffer it gets, the worse it works and the more it hurts.
Stiff sore joints eventually become arthritic. Long standing arthritis will damage or destroy a joint.
Above and below
If a joint, say your hip, is stiff it has to effect the parts above and below it. The knee and the low back. So a pain in the knee may be caused by strain and stiffness in the hip above it.
If that’s the case, just treating the knee will not fix it because the problem is actually in the hip. Often if the hip gets sorted out the pain in the knee will disappear without any direct treatment on it.
Another example is the connection between your spine and your organs. Most of the nerves that go to your organs come out of your spine. If there is a problem in the spine at the point where a particular nerve exits, that nerve may be compressed or inflamed. This can effect how well the nerve works and if that happens the organ or muscle that nerve goes to may not function as well as it should.
This can effect any organ but typically effects the lungs, gastro-intestinal tract, indigestion and constipation, and reproductive systems, especially women’s, to give them troublesome periods and fertility issues.
Because information travels both ways in the nervous system, problems with organs can also refer pain to the spine or legs. When this happens the organ dysfunction needs to be addressed to make the back or leg pain to settle down.
‘The rule of the artery is supreme’ is one of osteopathy’s original sayings. Virtually all of our tissues require an endless supply of blood passing right by every cell, delivering oxygen and nutrients, and removing waste.
When this supply is compromised, tissue health declines. Two major factors in this supply of blood are the nerve supply to the blood vessels themselves and the external pressure exerted on those blood vessels by the structures around it.
Mobilize, realign, release
Osteopathy aims to mobilize joints, realign bones and release soft tissue tension, imbalance and strain. By normalizing the structure, we normalize the function. Structure and function. Quid pro quo.
In the States osteopathy is a part of the medical system. Your doctor is either an M.D., medical doctor, or a D.O., doctor of osteopathy. It may be hard to tell the two apart.
In Australia, New Zealand and Europe, osteopathy is distinct from the allopathic, medical profession. In Australia osteopathy is now a 5 year, double degree course offered at 3 universities.
Structural v Cranial
While osteopathy has many different ways of treating any given problem, there are 2 main camps of osteopathic treatment. Structural and cranial.
Structural osteopathy focuses on flexibility of the joints, the alignment of the bones and the suppleness and strength of the soft tissues. We are interested in the quality and range of motion of the bones and joints, and the quality of the muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia.
The whole point of a joint is movement. If a joint isn’t moving properly, it isn’t working properly. If it isn’t working properly, it will start to wear out and cause more pain and debility sooner than it otherwise would.
Structural osteopaths use gentle to moderately forceful techniques to mobilize joints and release soft tissue tension, imbalance and strain. Simple really but the effect can be profound.
This is the type of osteopathy I practice. It is the single most effective way that I know of to deal with the pain and debility caused by chronic and recurring muscle, joint and back pain. It works. I love it.
This is a much gentler form of treatment. If you’re used to structural treatment, this is going to seem like they’re not actually doing anything. If you prefer a very delicate approach this may be the one for you.
Does Osteopathy hurt?
Sometimes, but not much. Certainly not as much as putting up with the pain of your problem. We are working on and around areas that are already sore so it is likely that you will experience some discomfort.
Discomfort is OK Pain is not OK
I work to the rule that discomfort is OK but pain is not OK. When I am treating someone, I don’t go harder than they are comfortable with.
Aversion to pain
I have a natural and healthy aversion to pain. I treat my patients as if that was me on the bench. The old ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality is more suited to sport than osteopathic treatment. If someone is massaging or manipulating you and it hurts more than you are OK with, ask (tell) them to back off. Remember who is paying who here!
It is fairly common to get some after treatment soreness, similar to how you’d feel the day after doing some vigorous activity that your body’s not used to. It will usually only last for less than a day and it can be minimized with heat and stretching. The longer a problem has been there, and that could be years or even decades, the more likely it is to get a bit sore after the first treatment
Head to foot
When I treat I check my patients from head to foot with virtually every treatment. Never underestimate how much one part of your body can effect some other, even distant part. For example, tight unbalanced calves very often create a twist in the pelvis, which causes a twisting side bend in the low back. This strain often causes pain and stiffness.
Address the cause
If this is the case, it doesn’t matter what you do to the pelvis or low back, the symptoms will keep recurring until you fix the cause of the problem, in this case, the tight, unbalanced calves. (I see this particular problem every day that I’m at work, which means that you may have it too.)
Treatment Education Stretches
When people come and see me they don’t just get treated with hands on manipulative techniques. They also get educated.
Understand and do
If they understand the basic principles of what’s going on, and they do the stretches I recommend, they are almost always able to eliminate or reduce and better manage their pain and debility.
You can help yourself
You can help yourself if you know what to do and you know who to see.