Osteopathy was developed in the American mid-West in the 1870s by physician Dr A.T.Still as a reaction to the basic methods of medicine practised at that time (blood-letting, mercury & surgery without anaesthetic). Dr Still recognised what is now an accepted (‘scientific’) truth, i.e. that the body has its own self-healing, self-regulating & self-adjusting mechanisms which maintain a state of health until something happens to compromise these mechanisms.
Modern Osteopaths seek, through questioning and examination, to build up a picture of what adaptations an individual’s body has made to all the physical, mental and physiological stresses that it has had to absorb over time, and how this adaptation (or ‘compensation’) may be expressed as physical tension and symptoms. Using a highly-trained and developed sense of touch (‘palpation’), Osteopaths can identify areas of altered tissue quality and tension throughout the body which may have lead the body’s ability to compensate to break down, and hence have resulted in symptoms. Some of these factors may be distant to the area that is symptomatic.
Osteopaths are also trained to recognise when symptoms may indicate a serious pathology outside the scope of osteopathic treatment that requires referral for further investigations or for other forms of treatment.
Osteopathic treatment is aimed at improving restrictions in the body’s tissues in order to allow it to adapt or compensate more successfully i.e. with less pain and better mobility. This can involve different techniques, many of which are shared with other disciplines (e.g. massage, mobilisation, manipulation, cranio-sacral techniques, advice on diet, lifestyle changes, exercises etc.). What makes them ‘osteopathic’ is the way in which they are integrated within a rationale of influencing the body’s self-healing, self-regulating and self-adjusting capabilities through physical means.
Osteopaths do not apply a ‘prescriptive’ approach, e.g. a shoulder problem in one person will not necessarily be treated in exactly the same way as a shoulder problem in someone else, since the conditions that the body has had to adapt to (in terms of genetics, physical injuries, occupations, operations, accidents etc.) are different in two individuals. Also, because compensations in one area of the body may result in increased physical strain in another area, Osteopaths may assess and treat more than the symptomatic area – for example for a knee problem, an Osteopath may assess and treat the foot, ankle, hip, pelvis and spine, since all may have mechanical, muscular, neurological & circulatory influences on knee function.
The Advertising Standard Authority’s CAP code limits those conditions which Osteopaths can advertise that they treat to those that can be supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence – you can check the list here
In summary, Osteopathy assesses and treats physical restrictions within the body which have arisen as a result of adjustments and compensations to all aspects of life, from the process of birth to the continuing effect of gravity in old age and everything in between. By treating these physical restrictions and offering appropriate advice, Osteopaths aim to help the body to adapt better and enable the individual to feel more comfortable in their own skin, whatever age, gender, occupation, ethnicity, health or fitness level they may be.
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