In this article I am gong to embrace the question – what is Osteopathy?
In many countries people consider Osteopathy to be a blend of Physiotherapy and Chiropractic or something of a similar nature. In some cases this may be true. But it does not paint an accurate picture.
Osteopathy approaches the body from a very different philosophy. We try to see the body as a whole, functional unit, working together as one system. Osteopaths are trained to see the problem from its originality.
Andrew Still (the founder of Osteopathy) was a revolutionary. He was so far out there with his ideas and treatment style, he completely shattered the existing concept of medicine.
This is what he had to say when contemplating the question – ‘what is Osteopathy?’.
Osteopathy is, first and foremost a philosophy. The whole edifice of Osteopathy rests upon an observable truth unexplained by any known scientific law - organic nature strives to express health. (Lewis, 2012: 152).
In other words our human bodies have absolute know how to regenerate and repair. We can make ourselves better.
This is the attitude of Osteopaths, to come alongside the person, to guide and encourage their bodies into a place where they can start to self repair.
For me a defining summation, again from A. Still, which changed my approach to the question ‘what is Osteopathy?’, is this:
It is only reasonable to look for ‘fermentation of fluids’ when they are delayed too long in the cellular system. A closing of cells, upon which is a withholding of their fluids and contents, will be quickly followed by fermentation. Fermentation leads to a collapse in the cells. A sluggish circulation, from any cause, will result in poor oxygenation to the surrounding tissues”. (Lewis, 2012: 114).
So called disease, results from disturbances of the body’s fluids and forces. This sets up a sequence of knock on effects in the muscles, glands, digestive organs and every other part. Just like the ripples in a pond into which a stone has been thrown. (Lewis, 2012: 141).
Basically, at any point in the body, if there is a restriction, compression, blockage or general disturbance to any fluid based structure – the result will be stagnation at the site of this disturbance. When you have stagnation you have death.
Osteopathy teaches us to recognize the early symptom signs and with that information consider the anatomy to find the cause. Often the blockage or disturbance is no where near the primary complaint.
Osteopathy also trains us to ask the right questions. Most people have no idea that a symptom they have learned to live with for years is actually a contributing factor to their primary complaint.
Often fixing the initial issue or block will actually lead to the patient’s primary complaint resolving itself. Often the primary complaint does not actually need ‘treating’ (by that I mean hands on treatment).
For example I have helped many shoulder complaints by simply treating the liver. I never touched their shoulder, except to examine it.
Here is a modern definition of Osteopathy, taken from the British School of Osteopathy.
Osteopathy is a primary health care system, complementary to other medical practices. It is suitable for almost anyone and can contribute to the treatment and management of a wide range of conditions. Osteopaths primarily work through the neuro-musculo-skeletal system, mostly on muscles and joints, using holistic and patient-centered approaches.
A core principle behind osteopathy is the idea that the body is an integrated and indivisible whole, and contains self-healing mechanisms that can be utilized as part of the treatment. No part of the body works, or can be considered, in isolation. Relevant psychological and social factors also form part of the process of patient diagnosis”. (British School of Osteopathy, n.d).
You can see they also make mention of my two previous points. 1) The body can heal itself. 2) The body is inter-connected and any body part cannot be treated in isolation.
Like a Physiotherapist and a Chiropractor we use our hands to both diagnose and treat, we use extensive questioning to gauge and identify the nature of the injury and we all use a lot of overlapping techniques such as manipulation, mobilization, stretching, massage, trigger point therapy, strapping to name a few.
But this is where any further comparisons stops. Osteopathy is a completely different form of health care therapy to any other.
I would like to mention two big areas within Osteopathy that are utterly unique and not considered in any other therapy. These areas are Visceral Osteopathy and Cranial Osteopathy. Read their respective articles from the drop down menu above. They are extremely relevant in answering the question – ‘what is Osteopathy?’.
Organ Osteopathy is Osteopathy for the organs. It is unprecedented how vital and impacting this particular form of treatment is. Restoring gut health to kick starting detoxification.Read more
Cranial Osteopathy is Osteopathy specifically for the head and spinal cord. It can help massively with trauma, whiplash, fatigue and stress. Great for babies.Read more
It has taken me 7 years to answer this question. Literally 7 years of pondering, finding myself and finding where I stand in the world of healthcare. A world dominated by the drug carousel called the medical system.
My belief is that the body is constantly in motion, everything to do with the body is moving. The nerves stretch and the fluids inside the nerves move to generate a nerve impulse. The blood and arteries move.
The organs, every single one, have their own independent rhythm and movement. We breath, our lungs expand, as do our ribs. Our bones have a certain rhythm as they manufacture our blood and change shape dependent on forces.
The brain is full of a fluid called cerebro-spinal-fluid (CSF). This has its own rhythm too as it pumps around the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves. Even our emotions, which when stripped down to the core basics are just hormones and chemicals – they all have motion.
So every structure, whether it be muscles, bones, ligaments or organs are surrounded by and are filled with fluid. They all have a movement. The basic cell vibrates to its own frequency. The cellular exchange of fluid between cells, which is constantly occurring, is motion. All these different rhythms create a harmony, a sense of vitality, an overall buzz.
When I put my hands on a body I try to tune into to this vitality, this motion. Does the body feel alive or tired? Is it straining or is it pulsing strongly? Is it slow or fast? I can sense how active the body is and here lies the key.
If any area in the body has reduced movement, is impeded or is struggling to perform its job properly, then it will create tension in the surrounding structures that are in contact with it. This tension, that spreads out from the structure that is in dysfunction, can be felt. It is like lines or waves of hardness that pulls the hand to that area.
If I was to hold a simple piece of string in the air without a weight at the bottom and you felt it, you would be able to move it without much resistance. It will have a certain springiness or give to it. If I was to then put a weight on the bottom of this string and you then felt it again. It would feel different, tighter, less flexible. You would probably say “it feels tense”.
This is exactly what I feel when I search the body. A line spreads through the body that is more tense/heavy than that of the other tissues I am feeling. As an Osteopath I try to train myself to follow that line. I believe these lines will lead me to the most important problem in the body.
I then treat this structure and restore the motion to it. The negative effect this structure had on the surrounding tissues will also correct itself. Osteopathy is simply using my hands to find these rhythms and then fix them if they are struggling.
Osteopathy is an understanding, a philosophy, upon which someone enters into. With that understanding and a profound knowledge of anatomy that person can come along side someone and offer assistance to stimulate their natural self regeneration.
Osteopathy is not a defined set of rules. It is not a case that a person has symptom A so therefore they are treated with technique B (that is the medical model).
Osteopathy is totally organic and takes into consideration only what the presenting person comes in with.
No one person is treated the same because no one person has had the same journey in life.
Osteopathy always tries to express health. It is not a therapy that treats just symptoms.