Osteopaths use their highly trained sense of touch, called palpation, to assess the tissues of the body for dysfunction and with their hands manipulate these tissues to bring about better movement, blood and nerve supply in order to facilitate healing.
Osteopaths are trained to recognise and treat many causes of pain. Osteopathy lays its main emphasis on the structural integrity of the body, and is unique in the way the patient is assessed from a mechanical, functional and postural standpoint, and the manual methods of treatment applied to suit individual needs.
Osteopathy was developed in the late 1800s by Dr A.T. Still. He believed that the body had the inherent ability to heal itself. He theorised that healthy functioning of the body is dependent on structure, so any imbalance could impair its ability to recover from, and remain resistant to, disease or injury. Through observation and experimentation, Dr Still developed osteopathy, a manual treatment applied directly to the tissues in a manner designed to correct the subtle imbalances within the body’s structure.
What to expect
At your first visit to the osteopath, a detailed case history will be taken from you. As well as discussing your presenting symptoms, you will be asked questions about your medical history, and about any illnesses, operations or accidents which have happened to you. Your work and any sporting activities will also be discussed. This is important so that the osteopath can build a complete picture of your health and understand the kinds of stresses and strains that your body has gone through.
The next step is the examination, for which it may be necessary to remove some of your outer clothing.
The examination will usually involve a simple series of movements of the affected body part to establish the range and quality of movement. Other parts of the body may also be examined, since pain or dysfunction in one part of the body can affect function elsewhere. An example of this could be when a foot problem causes mechanical changes in the knee or hip. Sometimes it may also be necessary to examine the cardiovascular, respiratory or neurological systems, much of which can be conducted manually without the need for complex equipment.
The next part of the examination involves palpation. This is where the osteopath uses his or her sense of touch to examine the tissues of the body. The osteopath will be assessing muscle tone and flexibility, soft-tissue pliability, and range and quality of joint motion.
Once the examination is complete, the osteopath should reach a diagnosis and formulate a treatment plan. Treatment techniques include soft-tissue work to improve blood circulation and flexibility, joint manipulation to improve mobility and to influence nerve function, and cranial osteopathy which is especially useful for treating babies and young children. Many of the techniques we use are similar to those used by chiropractors and physiotherapists, some are different. Osteopathic treatment should not be painful. The osteopath will ask for your feedback during treatment and alter the technique if necessary.
At the end of the first treatment the osteopath will explain to you the findings of the examination, what the diagnosis means and the likely prognosis. You may also be given exercises to do at home to speed recovery and aid rehabilitation. The osteopath will also advise you about returning to work and sport if necessary.
For a relatively uncomplicated condition, it is likely that only a small number of treatments would be required. For more complex, chronic problems, more treatment may be necessary. There are some conditions, such as arthritis, which are progressive and unfortunately cannot be reversed. Many patients find that their symptoms can largely be kept at bay by receiving occasional treatment every so often.
For a small number of patients, it may be that the osteopath decides that their condition is not amenable to manual treatment, and so will refer accordingly. Osteopaths are trained to recognize when this is the case. In other cases, the osteopath may require further investigation such as x-rays or M.R.I. scans before treatment can commence. Again, the osteopath will refer appropriately for this.