• What is osteopathy?

    Osteopaths don’t simply specialise in back pain but a wide variety of musculoskeletal injuries and conditions.

    Osteopathic care aims to treat the body’s musculoskeletal system by treating not just the symptoms of the patient, but looking for the root cause of their medical problems.

    Osteopaths work to restore your body to a state of balance, where possible without the use of drugs or surgery.  Osteopaths use touch, physical manipulation, stretching and massage to increase the mobility of joints, to relieve muscle tension, to enhance the blood and nerve supply to tissues, and to help your body’s own healing mechanisms.  They may also provide advice on posture and exercise to aid recovery, promote health and prevent symptoms recurring.

    The therapy is a distinctive whole body approach that balances all of the body’s systems to provide overall positive health. It utilises nutrition and lifestyle modifications to effect changes in a person’s health. The philosophy of osteopathy is based, in part, on the belief that the body has a built-in self-regulatory system and is able to repair itself. Osteopaths are of the opinion that the movement of body fluids is critical to health maintenance and that nerves play and important part in this body fluid movement.

  • How does osteopathy work?

    Osteopaths place particular emphasis on correcting spinal lesions because of the very close relationship between the spine and the central nervous system i.e. the brain, spinal cord and spinal nerves. As these same nerves also supply the organs of the body, altered spinal mechanics can adversely affect organ function and disease states can occur.

    Your nervous system controls and co ordinates the functions of your entire body, including those functions of which you are consciously aware (e.g. movement, touch etc) and those that occur independent of your conscious thought (e.g. liver function, hormone production etc).

    The most common cause of decreased nerve function and associated pain are spinal lesions. You may not be aware that you have them or the impact that they are having on your health. A chronic lesion prevents your nervous system from performing its trillions of tasks to its optimal level, and therefore reduces your overall health and well being.

    The term lesion is used by many practitioners to describe the combination of physical changes that occur in these areas of poor joint function. These changes include abnormal joint movement patterns, muscular imbalances, nerve irritation, inflammatory changes and, ultimately, degeneration of the joint structure.

  • How did it start?

    The principles of osteopathy were formalised by an American, Andrew Taylor Still, 120 years ago. Along with orthodox medicine, osteopathy shares a single famous father, Hippocrates. There are also strong links with the philosophy of holism in particular, as it addresses “the whole person”.

    A.T.Still – Father of Osteopathy

    Osteopathy is not a particularly apt name. The natural association with the Greek word “osteon” (bone) might lead you to assume that it was only concerned only with bones. In fact, the principle aim is that of restoring and sustaining structural integrity to joints, muscle and connective tissue called fascia.

    Andrew Taylor Still, born in 1828 in Virginia, USA, trained as a doctor according to the system of medical education available at the time. As time went on he followed a different path from many of his peers, eschewing alcohol and the habit of contemporary physicians of administering crude drugs at their disposal in heroic quantities. This drove him to seek new methods of treating sickness. The outcome of his research was the application of physical treatment as a specialised form of treatment for which he coined the name ‘Osteopathy’.

  • How do I know if an Osteopath is fully qualified?

    The Statutory Register of the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) was opened in May 1988. The term ‘Osteopath’ was protected in law in May 2000 and can only be used by registered osteopaths. To qualify, your osteopath will have undergone a 4-5 year accredited course at an established osteopathic institution. This training and qualification ensures that your osteopath is safe and competent to practice. Patients now have the same safeguards as they have when visiting their GP or dentist.

  • What can I expect when I visit an osteopath?

    When you visit an osteopath for the first time, a full case history will be taken and you will be given an examination. You will normally be asked to remove some of your clothing and to perform a simple series of movements. The osteopath will then use a highly developed sense of touch, called palpation, to identify any points of weakness or excessive strain throughout the body, before going on to give you treatment. This usually takes an hour. Any follow on treatments usually take half an hour.

  • What is the treatment like?

    Osteopaths work with their hands using a wide variety of treatment techniques. These may include soft tissue techniques, rhythmic passive joint mobilisation or spinal adjustments that improve mobility and the range of movement in the spine, joints and muscles. Gentle cranial techniques are also widely used, particularly when treating children, the elderly or acute patients.

  • How many treatments will I need?

    Osteopathy is patient centred, which means treatment is geared to you as an individual. Different people respond to treatment in different ways, therefore the results of osteopathic care can vary from person to person. Your osteopath should be able to give you an indication after your first visit. For some acute pain, 2-3 treatments may be all that is necessary. Chronic conditions such as arthritis of the hip or knee may need ongoing maintenance. An average is 4 – 8 sessions.

    Many people find that their headaches, back, neck, arm or leg pain either significantly diminishes or goes away after only 1-2 sessions. The effects of treatment are not always immediate and normally take a few days to be felt.

  • What are the clicking sounds you get with an osteopathic adjustment?

    An “adjustment” is a procedure employed by osteopaths to restore proper movement patterns to a joint and reduce any irritation of the nerve structures around the joint.

    These techniques are called high velocity low amplitude thrusts (HVLATs) and often cause a cracking noise to be heard in the joints. This noise is a release of gas into the synovial fluid inside the joint. As the joint is gapped by the osteopath, the pressure decreases inside the joint and the dissolved gas is released. This technique frees off the joints very quickly as muscles holding the joint restriction in place let go. Although it is a painless procedure, it is common to experience some muscle soreness for 24-48 hours after an adjustment.

  • Is it safe?

    Yes, in the right hands. Osteopathic care is remarkably safe when carried out by registered osteopaths. Practitioners employ a variety of different techniques and apply the most appropriate technique for each individual circumstance.

    As osteopaths do not prescribe medication or perform surgical procedures we have an excellent safety record as patients avoid the potential side effects of medication and surgery.

    Osteopathic adjustments are not for everyone. Some people dislike the sensation of an adjustment and would rather have gentler techniques used. They are also not suitable for certain types of people such as the elderly, babies, and those with particular health/emotional issues. Your osteopath has been well trained to know when it is inappropriate to use these techniques. This is why a full-case history and examination is so important before commencing treatment. Osteopaths are also trained to recognise conditions which require referral treatment elsewhere.

  • Does it hurt?

    The answer to this question is generally no……………..but a small percentage of people occasionally experience mild discomfort after treatment. This is more common in the early stages of care and generally diminishes after two to three days.

    There are two main reasons why this sometimes occurs:

    1. The muscles, ligaments and joints of your body have been gradually changing over time, becoming weaker and tighter. As they begin to respond to osteopathic care they need time to adapt to changes associated with the corrective process. This short term discomfort is similar to how you may feel when if you resume an exercise program, or if you were to work physically hard in a way your body was not used to. In some ways this discomfort is a positive sign because it indicates the body is changing as a result of the treatment process.

    2. Sometimes the area of the body we need to work in is inflamed (particularly in the early stages of care). This can make any activity involving that part of the body uncomfortable. We always use techniques that allow the body to get the greatest possible benefit whilst trying to minimise any irritation to this inflammatory process. This is one reason why it is important to follow any home instructions we may provide, particularly those relating to the use of ice versus heat! If you happen to experience this type of response during your care please mention this to your practitioner but try not to feel too alarmed. Incidentally, it is quite common for the improvement in your problem to be an up and down process. Some days you will feel very little change and others you will feel almost back to normal only to experience some discomfort the next day (this is particularly the case with longstanding problems). Try not to be discouraged by these ups and downs. Be wary of pushing your body too hard during the times when it feels stronger than it really is. Stay focused on both your recommended schedule of visits and your home care recommendations.

  • What qualifications do osteopaths have and how can I know they are safe?

    It takes 4 years, full time study at university to obtain the necessary qualifications to become a registered osteopath. Course content is similar to a medical degree, involving extensive study of medical science including anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, biomechanics, neurology, radiology, paediatrics, obstetrics & gynaecology, pathology, diagnosis and orthopaedics. We also study the extensive and sensitive manual art of osteopathic palpation and techniques.

    All osteopaths must be registered with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) before being allowed to practice. A Registered Osteopath has demonstrated to GOsC that they are a safe and competent practitioner, that they have adequate malpractice insurance and have agreed to abide by its Code of Practice. All osteopaths are required to update their knowledge and skills with at least 30 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) on an annual basis.

  • What's the difference between an osteopath, a chiropractor and a physiotherapist?

    There are probably more similarities than differences as we are all ‘musculo-skeletal experts’ and treat mostly the same kinds of conditions. To make matters more confusing, all osteopaths will develop their own styles and techniques so that treatment between different osteopaths will also vary.

    Generally though, most chiropractors tend to treat the spine only with HVLA techniques. They also routinely use x-rays for diagnostic purposes. Typically patients may require a long course of regular treatment. Physiotherapists on the other hand tend to prescribe rehabilitative exercises routinely. Most NHS physiotherapists do very little ‘hands on’ techniques, however, some private physios will do more ‘hands on’ work. There may also be a long wait for physio on the NHS by which time acute conditions may have become chronic.

    Osteopaths treat the whole person and take other areas of the body into consideration rather than just the area in pain. We look for the underlying cause of the problem. We diagnose with our case history notes, clinical examination and palpation. We treat with ‘hands on’ techniques, exercise prescription and postural rehabilitation.