Keywords: osteopathic information; what is osteopathy; osteopathy explained; what is an osteopath; osteopathic philosophy; osteopathic principles; osteopathic treatment
Osteopathy is the philosophy of healthcare concerned with that which has compromised health.
What does this mean? A living organism such as a human being is a system which constantly renews, regenerates and reforms itself in order to maintain itself in life and health. This constant remodelling is the process by which a living organism maintains health. It renews, regenerates and reforms unceasingly not because of injury, disease or infirmity, but because it is alive. It is what living systems do.
This living organism is constantly being assaulted by life events, such infections, injuries and physical trauma, emotional trauma or stress, inappropriate nutrition, psycho-social issues, occupational issues, environmental issues and so on. If the sum total of these stresses of life at any one time exceeds the living system’s ability to maintain health, symptoms can result. These symptoms can be classified into diseases or conditions. Conventional healthcare seeks to identify and treat diseases or conditions. Osteopathic healthcare seeks to identify and remove those factors which might have compromised health in the first place, in order to free the system to regenerate itself. This is sometimes expressed by saying that osteopaths take a holistic approach to their patient’s care, treating the whole person rather than just treating an ailment.
Central to osteopathic training is a focus on looking at the whole person. Osteopaths assess a patient’s case in a conventional way, but learn also to develop a highly skilled sense of touch to detect changes in tissue quality not currently detectable by other means. With training and experience this specialised sense of touch helps to give a unique insight into the patient’s health as a whole, to identify what could be compromising the body’s ability to maintain health. This same acute sense of touch guides safe and effective treatment.
Osteopathic physicians trained in America where osteopathy originated are fully licensed, patient-centred medical doctors, practising the entire scope of modern medicine with full medical practice rights throughout the United States and in 44 other countries. Osteopaths trained outside the USA do not prescribe medication or perform surgery, but the philosophy guiding patient care is the same.
Osteopathy is the philosophy of healthcare concerned with those factors which could be compromising the body’s ability to maintain its own health naturally.
Osteopaths are first-contact practitioners, trained to undertake an initial consultation with any patient, at any age. People come for a wide range of advice, much more than many people think. They can come with any problem that other people might take to a medical practitioner, because perhaps they may not be happy with conventional care or simply because they prefer the osteopathic philosophy of healthcare. Some people consult their osteopath before seeking a medical opinion because they prefer the osteopathic approach.
Symptoms can be of any type and anywhere or everywhere in the body, they could be recent acute symptoms or a chronic long-term problem, and can affect people of all ages from the newborn to the elderly. Each case is assessed individually. The question is not just what is wrong, rather why has that person not been able to get better?
Osteopaths do not treat conditions; they treat people who have a condition, or might have been given the label of a condition. Osteopathic healthcare looks at the individual person to find ways of helping them deal better with what they have. The osteopathic philosophy is less concerned with what is wrong, osteopaths are more concerned with why it hasn’t got better as it should. It is the normal state to be healthy.
Despite that, people usually find it easier to describe their concerns in terms of conditions and diseases. With their children for example parents commonly describe their concerns in terms such as inconsolable crying and distress, colic, reflux, unsettled child, poor feeding, wind, sleeping problems, glue ear, painful ears, breathing difficulties, nasal congestion, recurrent infections, poor concentration, growing pains, disruptive behaviour, aggression, head pain, misshapen head, plagiocephaly, Down's syndrome.
For themselves, adults commonly talk about conditions, such as asthma or bronchitis. They can come describing problems with digestion, or bladder or bowel. They complain of injuries from sports, accidents or falls. They complain of whiplash, disc problems, frozen shoulder, rib pain, tennis elbow, neuralgia, sprains, joint problems, headaches, tension, arthritic and rheumatic pain. They might complain of problems with pregnancy or giving birth, difficulty relaxing or sleeping. They might have been given a diagnosis such as chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, polymyalgia rheumatica, fibromyalgia, vertigo, tinnitus, Meniere’s disease. They can complain of a wide range of symptoms which they say are stress related such as depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, or breathing difficulties, even panic attacks. They complain of problems with convalescence after surgery. These are only some of the huge range of problems which people bring.
Some osteopaths work closely with other health practitioners like dentists or ENT specialists dealing with dental and orthodontic issues or hearing problems. Some patients with long-term conditions find benefit; even if the osteopath is unable to alter the course of the disease, he or she might be able to help the person manage the disease better and live a more comfortable and contented life.
An osteopath will not necessarily be able to deal with every case; each case has to be assessed individually to explore whether there is capacity for the patient's system to make changes towards better health.
There are no large randomised blinded controlled scientific trials to demonstrate that osteopathy is effective in treating the huge range of problems that people bring. These trials cost millions of pounds each, they can take decades to complete and would have to be paid for by patients’ fees. Most medical trials are funded by the pharmaceutical industry and it is widely recognised that if a pharmaceutical company cannot make a profit from the result, the research is not done. Pharmaceutical companies do not make money from osteopathic care so there is very little funding. In consequence, there is very little scientific evidence to show that osteopathic care is effective for any particular case. There is evidence however to show that osteopathic care is safe.
An osteopathic consultation is the relationship between the patient & practitioner. The patient brings their unique genetic inheritance and history of life events, their worries, concerns and symptoms. The practitioner brings his or her genetic inheritance, his or her training, experience, skills and preferences, building that unique and special relationship between one human being and another.
Hence, each osteopathic consultation will follow the osteopathic philosophy, but may vary according to the particular needs of the patient at the time and the experience, skills and preferences of the practitioner.
Osteopathic care is safe and non-invasive. Evidence from UK indemnity insurance premiums shows that osteopathic healthcare is safer than conventional care. Osteopathic healthcare has been quoted as being about as safe as consulting an optician.
Millions of osteopathic consultations take place every year in the UK and all over the world with people who are pleased with the result and recommend it to their friends and families.
The Osteopaths Act 1993 restricts the title ‘Osteopath’ in the UK to those who are currently registered with the statutory body the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC). The Osteopaths Act however does not restrict osteopathic treatment, osteopathic techniques or osteopathic care. After several years of registration therefore, some experienced osteopaths withdraw their registration when they find that the limitations of statutory regulation are too restrictive for the patients they see. They continue to provide patients with the same quality of osteopathic care, but no longer under the title ‘osteopath’.
People in the UK who consult a practitioner who is either currently registered with the GOsC or has been registered in the past can have confidence in the quality of their training.