So let’s start with the broadest question of them all…
What is Osteopathy?
As some of you may have seen, I tried to address some of this question through my blog “Brief History of Osteopathy”. I’ll be honest with you, it took a good 2 years in University before I started to truly understand what Osteopathy is.
One of our insuring bodies, the Institute of Osteopathy, defines Osteopathy as…
“...a gentle and effective hands-on approach to healthcare, based on the principle that the way your body moves influences how it functions.”
In actuality it is more of an ethos than anything. It encompasses a lot of different ideas, understanding about how the body works and hopefully the rest of this blog will help you to get a better understanding of Osteopathy.
So, what stands Osteopathy apart from other treatments?
The great benefit to Osteopathy is that it allows treatment to be tailored for the individual.
No body or person is the same, so why make treatment the same?
It is also holistic. This means that instead of focusing on just one small issue, it looks at the body as a whole. We’re a complex machine and all the pieces are part of a bigger working whole. Although this attitude is by no means unique to Osteopathy, our principles set us apart from other professions.
The rule of the artery is supreme ---
the flow of fluids around the body is important to promote health of tissues and unity in the body.
The body has it's own medicine chest ---
the body has the capacity to heal itself (within reason) provided it has the right environment to do so.
The body is a unit ---
The body is a whole, this encourages hollistic thinking.
E.g. A patient has hip pain - an Osteopath would not just look at the hip, they would also consider the knee, how the patient is walking, any lower back issues, underlying systemic issues affecting healing etc etc...
Structure and function are interrelated ---
the structure of a joint, for example, will adapt to how it is being used (it's function) but it could also be said that the function of a joint is developed due to it's structure. Osteopathy looks to understand this balance in the individual's body and how it can be used to help a patient.
My attitude to Osteopathy is that it helps you to get a different perspective, and possibly a new method of helping the problem, that you may not have encountered previously. That said, there are lots of different treatment styles that work differently for each person, so it can often be a question of trying it and if it doesn’t work for you, your Osteopath should be able to help get you in the right direction.
Are there different types of Osteopath?
As with every profession, there are variations within it. Osteopathy can be used and interpreted in many different ways.
There are structural, classical – a more traditional and holistic outlook, craniosacral – working with the skull and the sacrum and even animal Osteopaths. Beyond that, there are Osteopaths who have also studied other things, eg Naturopathy, dry needling, nutrition etc. which can all be incorporated into their Osteopathic work.
All Osteopaths start with the same basic training and then there are options to develop or specialise certain skills.
Following on from this, one of the most FAQs I get as an Osteopath is…
What is the difference between an Osteopath, Chiropractor and/ or Physiotherapist?
This is a trickier question than you would think as I have only studied the one so am not necessarily qualified to state the exact differences between each profession. HOWEVER, my general answer to this question is “ETHOS”. We are all trying to help you achieve a similar goal, we are just using different methods to get there.
Physiotherapists are generally more exercise and rehabilitation based.
Chiropracty and Osteopathy were discovered at around the same sort of time, however, the differences between them are more of a spectrum. There are some that will practice in very similar manners and some that will be complete opposites. In general, Chiropractors seem to focus more on the spine and joints, whereas Osteopaths tend to focus more on the body as a whole. This is by no means an extensive definition!
Different people will benefit from different treatment styles so it can sometimes be worth trialling things, just because Chiropracty or Osteopathy didn't work for you that time, doesn't necessarily mean you should rule them out altogether!
What are the indicators to get treatment and what could we help?
The best way to find out would be to ring up an Osteopath and have a chat. We can usually get a pretty good impression over the phone but often it is better to see for ourselves what is going on. The Advertising Standards Agency states that Osteopathy can help with these problems –
generalised aches and pains
joint pains including hip and knee pain from osteoarthritis as an adjunct to core OA treatments and exercise
general, acute & chronic backache, back pain (not arising from injury or accident)
uncomplicated mechanical neck pain (as opposed to neck pain following injury i.e. whiplash)
headache arising from the neck (cervicogenic) / migraine prevention
frozen shoulder/ shoulder and elbow pain/ tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) arising from
inability to relax
minor sports injuries and tension
and this list is growing!
There may be things not on this list that you have been treated for with Osteopathy, this is really good, unfortunately, what we can advertise to treat is limited by what Advertising Standards allow us.
As Osteopaths, we are given a thorough education about anatomy, more specifically muscle and joint related but it’s all interconnected. Even if, however, you have other medical issues, it does not necessarily mean that you cannot be treated at all. The best way to find out would be to just give someone a call!
What evidence is there regarding Osteopathy?
There is a group called the National Council of Osteopathic Research that was set up for the very purpose to help build the research based evidence for Osteopathy. They have done sterling work and built up a collection of papers demonstrating the efficacy of Osteopathy.
One of the main difficulties of researching Osteopathy, however, is that it is very “individual specific”. Getting a rigorous and controlled test going is subject to the fact that there is a lot of human variation in the field of Osteopathy. This can often mean that there is a lot more anecdotal and word of mouth based evidence, which does not necessarily go down quite as well with the scientific community.
Is there any quality assurance for patients?
On top of the evidence base that is continually building, Osteopaths have been a registered profession since 1993. This means that there is a registering body setting down standards that a person must adhere to in order to become an Osteopath. It also means that it is a protected name so you must be on the register to call yourself an Osteopath.
In order to qualify, an Osteopath needs to have studied a specific degree course for a minimum of 4 years, in which they must complete a number of hours in a clinic watched over by tutors, thus gaining practical experience. They must also have the relevant insurance in place in order to be allowed to practice.
How do you choose/ find an Osteopath?
As every Osteopath is registered, you can always go to the General Osteopathic Council’s register, type in your postcode and there will be a list of Osteopaths nearby.
Either that or simply doing an internet search should bring up any in your area.
The most common way my patients usually rely on is word of mouth so ask your friends, family or even your GP for any recommendations! There might be more in your area than you thought but you should never feel coerced into having Osteopathic treatment, it is your choice as the patient.
Is it available on the NHS?
Osteopathy is recognised by the NHS as being able to diagnose and treat independently. Unfortunately at this time, Osteopathy is usually only available privately. We are currently working as a profession to make it more mainstream and build up the evidentiary and NHS support so that it can hopefully be more widely available in the future.
You may find that if you have private health insurance, or you are seeking treatment after an accident, your insurance will cover the cost of treatments. Usually all it will involve is a small summary of what you have had done and proof of payment but check with your insurance provider if you are unsure.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of my "demystifying" series, hopefully you'll get an even better idea about Osteopathy!