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Osteopathy: What is Osteopathy Used For?

Osteopathy is a therapy based on the belief that illnesses can result from problems with the body’s structure and that health will return when these problems are put right. Osteopaths use their hands to gently move the spine and joints (technique called mobilisation) and to perform thrusting techniques (manipulation) to restore the correct structure. Osteopathy is an effective treatment mostly for musculoskeletal problems, especially back pain and neck pain. It is closely related to, yet different from chiropractic, and thought to be safer, because it tends to be gentler.

How Osteopathy Works

Osteopathy was founded by an American doctor Dr Andrew Taylor Still in 1874. The main role of this therapy is to aid the body’s own ability to heal itself. Osteopaths are convinced that the structure and the function of the body are closely related and that problems of one body part (or organ) affect other areas of the body. According to the theory, the spine must be correctly in line to allow free flow of blood and lymph through the body. This free flow is necessary for good health. A spine that is out of alignment causes ill health. Hence, putting the spine back into line can cure illness.

The first time the patient visits an osteopath they will take a history of their medical problem and do a thorough physical examination. Then, the osteopath will ask the patient to make some simple movements and will use touch to find faults in their musculoskeletal system.

The osteopathic treatment involves several manual techniques including gently stretching and moving muscles and joints to free them up, fast thrusts to get the spine into line as well as other techniques such as massage.

Usually, 6 to 12 treatment sessions will be needed after the initial treatment, with a session once or twice a week. This could be less for short-term (acute) problems or more for long-term (chronic) conditions.

Conditions Treated with Osteopathy

Osteopathy is best known as a treatment for musculoskeletal problems, particularly back, neck, head, shoulder, heal, ankle, knee and foot pain. In addition, it is frequently used for treating sciatica, repetitive strain injury, postural problems (e.g., caused by pregnancy, work strain or wrong driving position), sports injuries (including tennis elbow), neuralgia, whiplash and carpal tunnel syndrome. Osteopaths also claim to cure many other medical conditions that are often not related to musculoskeletal problems, though reliable scientific evidence is lacking. These include arthritis, asthma, baby colic, digestive and circulatory problems, depression, headaches, insomnia, migraines and many others.

Potential Health Risks of Osteopathy

Osteopathy is a reasonably safe treatment that is gentler and safer than chiropractic. However, some degree of discomfort is not unusual. Most likely, it is also safe for pregnant women and children to see an osteopath. But, osteopathic spinal treatments are not suitable for patients with advanced osteoporosis, infection of the spine or neoplasms or those with bleeding abnormalities.

Does Osteopathy Really Work?

While most parts of the osteopathic approach seem to make sense, some do not have a logical scientific basis. This is particularly true of the claim that spinal alignment is the cause of all diseases. As a result, osteopathy is often also used for various non-skeletal conditions such as asthma, circulatory and digestive problems as well as insomnia, although there is no convincing scientific evidence that it works for these conditions.

Where to Find More Information:
The Institute of Osteopathy
General Osteopathic Council