This is by far the most common response when I say what I do. My usual reply is something along the lines of, “yes, but so much more. Put simply it’s a bit like in between a physio and a chiropractor.”
A more in depth answer would be that osteopathy is a system of medicine that aims to relieve pain and improve the function of the body by concentrating on the connection between the structures of the body (bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and connective tissue) and their function. Osteopaths consider the body as a whole this means that if for example a patient has knee pain. The osteopath will look at the foot, ankle, hip and low back as well as the knee because if the other joints are not working properly they may be affecting or actually causing the pain in the knee.
To help people who are in pain osteopaths use a combination of massage, articulation, manipulation and often prescribe exercises. Many osteopaths may use other treatment techniques such as acupuncture, kinesotaping, cranial and visceral osteopathy. Osteopaths often give general health advice which could be related to diet, exercise, sleep and other health related lifestyle choices.
Osteopathy began in the latter half of the 19th century in America. Frontier Dr Andrew Taylor Still coined the term ‘osteopathy’ in 1885 which he created from the two Greek words ‘osteon’ meaning bone and ‘pathos’ meaning suffering or disease, as in the word myopathy which means muscle disease. He developed a set of principles which all osteopaths aim to follow.
The five major principles of osteopathy are:
- The body is an integrated unit
- Structure and function are reciprocally inter-related
- The body possesses self-regulatory mechanisms, have the inherent capacity to defend, repair and remodel itself
- The rule of the artery is supreme
- Rational therapy is based on consideration of the first 4 principles
The first principle is based on the concept that the human body is a system of systems which must work together to achieve optimal health and wellbeing. On a musculoskeletal level, if one joint is not working properly then this will have an effect on neighbouring joints.
The second principle simply means that everything is designed a certain way for a specific purpose. If the structure changes then this will affect the function, and if the function changes then this will affect the structure.
The third principle is talking about the immune system and that the body has the ability to adapt itself to cope in its surroundings. The best example of this would be people who go to the gym and use heavy weights will increase their muscle mass to cope with the load they are putting on their body.
The fourth principle stresses the importance of the circulatory system. Without it nothing could function. The circulatory system is the best way to transport everything our body needs and everything it doesn’t need to stay alive.
The final principle states that osteopaths must base their thought processes on the previous principles when diagnosing and treating patients.
Osteopaths are considered to be primary care practitioners, this means that they are able to take a full medical case history, examination and can then diagnose their patients accordingly. All osteopaths train for 4 to 5 years and by law must be registered with the General Osteopathic Council.
When a patient goes to see an osteopath they can expect a detailed case history and examination so that a diagnosis can be discussed and a course of treatment agreed upon. The amount of treatment that a patient needs will vary depending on their complaint. If after a couple of sessions the patients’ symptoms have not improved then the osteopath will often refer the patient to their GP or another health professional for further investigation and treatment.