What is Osteopathy, and what does an Osteopath do?

Our Osteopath’s work alongside a team of practitioners in nutrition, Pilates and Physiotherapy as well.
Ben has been working at the Fitstuff Clinic over many years and has a particular interest not only in sports injury treatment, but also helping those suffering with chronic headaches and neck pain. Originally qualifying as a Sports Therapist before completing his BSc (Hons) degree in Osteopathy at the London School of Osteopathy, Ben became registered with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) in 2008 as a fully qualified Osteopath.

Yet understanding what Osteopathy treatment exactly entails can often be difficult, particularly when considering it in relation to physiotherapy and chiropathy. In celebration of International Osteopathic Health Week which runs all this week, Ben takes a look at the practice of Osteopathy and its approach to illness and injury.

What’s the difference?

We are often asked by clients during our treatment sessions what the difference is between an Osteopath, a Physiotherapist and a Chiropractor? Whilst I can’t give the view of a Physiotherapist or a Chiropractor, I will try to set out below where the confusion starts and, in the most straight forward terms possible, define what an Osteopath is and how Osteopathy could help you.

To begin with it should be noted that all three have their certain similarities. Often the confusion stems from the fact that each practice is concerned with manual physical therapy of the musculoskeletal system. The difference is that each form of therapy is based on its own individual philosophy, which turn gives varying considerations during diagnosis and ultimately treatment.

Taking a holistic approach

Yet even this isn’t a straight forward answer! With so much cross-over between all three professions it’s important to bear in mind that therapy of any kind is a personal preference, and that just because one form of treatment works for one person, it doesn’t always mean it will be as beneficial to someone else.

Looking first at the fundamental definition of Osteopathy, the term “Osteo” means “related to bone”. This implies that Osteopathy is a study of the bones (or the skeleton); which isn’t wrong, but it doesn’t give the full picture. Osteopaths do work with the skeleton but importantly they also work with all structures that are associated with the skeleton. In short musculoskeletal. We consider the well-being of an individual to be dependent on the system of skeleton, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues all functioning together and will take all these elements in to account when treating.

Rather than simply looking at treating the injury, the fundamental philosophy of osteopathy is concerned with what has affected the health of the entire bodily system, rather than solely treating the medical condition.

Treatment can range from focusing on the common; muscles, ligaments and tendons; to the less common like organs (visceral osteopathy is a separate study and anyone practicing it must have obtained additional qualifications, as with cranial osteopathy). All of these are worth considering collectively as they can influence the cause of an injury and equally be the key to addressing its underlying issue.

Physical manipulation is key to developing movement and stimulating blood flow to encourage the healing process.

Physical manipulation is key to developing movement and stimulating blood flow to encourage the healing process.

Why consider all the options?

Because Osteopathy draws from as broad a picture as possible, the approach that each Osteopath may take to reach a diagnosis and then administer their treatment can vary, as mentioned above. I believe this to be the best but also the most frustrating factor of the Osteopathic profession. Whilst it can lead to different diagnosis’s which can each be right in their own way, it nevertheless allows for individual thought, open minded decision making and the greatest possible chance of finding a solution to even the most complex of problems.

Whilst this creates variety between Osteopaths, their methods are always based upon some core principles that have been taught and followed for centuries, and all osteopaths in the UK are regulated by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC). An Osteopath’s job is to restore the patient to their best possible function, they achieve this by trying to correct any structural problems within the body. By attaining a balance between the skeleton, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues, and by enhancing the blood and nerve supply to these tissues, it allows the patient’s own healing mechanisms to be more effective.

The process

Because Osteopaths consider this range of systems and how they interlink, the first step is to take as comprehensive a case history as possible. We’re interested not only in the present issue, but an individual’s past history of health and any on-going trends that might be able to be identified.

This is then followed with a physical examination that focuses on identifying any weaknesses, restrictions of movement or tenderness both in and around the injury. Basic movements patterns may also be looked at to aid this assessment and this information coupled with your case history enables a diagnosis to be given.

With this information treatment can then begin, and the focus of an Osteopath is restoring the natural function of the bodily system so that it can begin to heal itself. This is achieved primarily using touch, massage, stretching techniques and physical manipulation which not only encourages movement but stimulates blood flow to encourage the healing process.

A range of potential

Common to popular opinion, Osteopaths do not only treat back ailments and can consider a range of issues throughout the upper and lower limbs, and neck. At Fitstuff Clinic we regularly see patients with many of the following issues:

  • Stiff and painful spinal joints
  • Muscle injuries
  • Ligament and tendon problems
  • Headaches
  • Sports injuries
  • Postural fatigue and breakdown
  • Peripheral joint problems (Knee, ankle, foot, elbow etc)
  • Stress related issues

Our treatment is often sort by runners, triathletes, swimmers as well as those in martial arts. However beyond traditional sports injuries, we also treat many common everyday issues that can arise with children, the elderly, manual workers, office professionals and during pregnancy.

If you want to see how Osteopathy can help you, contact us today. Our Osteopath’s also work alongside a team of experienced practitioners in nutrition, Pilates and Physiotherapy who can compliment the holistic approach of Osteopathy to help aid your recovery to full health.