Osteopathy is a method of assessing, treating and preventing a wide range of health problems. Osteopaths use a combination of movement, stretching, targeted deep tissue massage and manipulation of a person’s muscles and joints to improve function, relieve pain and aid recovery.
The body has the natural ability to maintain itself and, by helping this process, an osteopath can promote restoration of normal function. The principle of osteopathy is that the wellbeing of an individual relies on the way that bones, muscles, ligaments, connective tissue and internal structures work with each other.
An osteopath will take the time to understand their patient, and their unique combination of symptoms, medical history and lifestyle. This helps to make an accurate diagnosis of the causes of the pain or lack of function (rather than just addressing the site of the condition) and from that to formulate a treatment plan that will achieve the best outcome.
Osteopaths frequently work alongside other health professionals, such as GPs, nurses and midwives as well as alternative medical practitioners. Osteopathy works well to complement other medical interventions including surgery and prescribed medication.
The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) advises that GPs can safely refer patients to an osteopath for treatment. Osteopathy is available on the NHS in some areas of the UK.
Structural Osteopathy and Cranial Osteopathy
Most osteopathic training is commonly described as "structural". Treatment involves largely mechanical techniques such as articulation, traction and massage. Sometimes treatments also include HVLAT (High Velocity, Low Amplitude Thrusts), commonly referred to as "clicking". Some people love this, some hate it - and if you hate it, there is always an alternative. With structural techniques, the patient is usually very aware of what's going on.
"Cranial" techniques tend to be learned on post-graduate CPD training. Treatment involves very subtle techniques which can often feel to the patient as though very little is happening. This is because the practitioner is working with very subtle movements within the body - usually responding to what the body wants to do and allowing movement, rather than forcing the body into movements it seems reluctant or unable to do.
The use of structural vs cranial techniques can depend on several factors, including the nature of the patient's injury or their preference for treatment type,
Safety and Regulation
Osteopaths are regulated by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC). It is against the law to call yourself an osteopath unless you are qualified and registered with the GOsC. The minimum qualification for an osteopath is completion of a four or five year degree, which includes at least 1000 hours of supervised clinical practice. Many osteopaths also study for masters degrees. They must then continue to update and expand their knowledge by logging a minimum of 30 hours per year of continuing professional development. GOsC can remove an osteopath from the register if they fail to maintain a strict code of professional practice. You can check whether an osteopath is registered by visiting the GOsC website. (www.osteopathy.org.uk)
Osteopathy is very safe. It is estimated that between 1 in 50,000 and 1 in 100,000 patients will suffer a reaction to osteopathic treatment that is serious enough to require further medical treatment or does not resolve within 48 hours.
Conditions treated by osteopaths
Although osteopaths are well known for treating back pain, the practice of osteopathy can help relieve the symptoms of a wide range of conditions, including sports and other musculo-skeletal injuries, neuromuscular conditions, some digestive conditions, headaches and sleep problems.