What is Osteopathy?
Osteopathy works with the structure and function of the body and is based on the principle that the well-being of an individual depends on the musculoskeletal system functioning smoothly. Osteopaths are highly trained healthcare professionals who are experts in the musculoskeletal system (joints, muscles, ligaments, connective and associated tissues) and its relationship to other systems in the body.
Osteopaths use a wide range of gentle hands-on techniques (including touch, physical manipulation, stretching and massage) that focus on relieving tension, stretching muscles and mobilising joints, thereby enhancing the blood and nerve supply to tissues to help the body’s own healing mechanisms. The osteopath may also advise on exercise, posture and lifestyle changes to help you relieve or manage your pain, keep active and maintain the best of health. Research has shown that manual therapy such as osteopathy, especially in conjunction with exercise, can have beneficial effects (especially for back pain) helping you to return to ordinary movement and activity.
Osteopaths practice a safe and effective form of prevention, diagnosis and treatment for a wide range of health issues. With Osteopathy, each person is treated as a unique individual, not as a disease entity. An osteopath aims, where possible, to restore a state of balance without the need to resort to the use of drugs or surgery.
Regulation of osteopaths
Osteopathy is a regulated healthcare profession under statute (similar to Doctors, Nurses, Paramedics and Physiotherapists) and the title is protected under law. Osteopaths must register with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC).
A brief history on the origins of osteopathy and the osteopathic approach
Classically, Osteopathy is a philosophy, science and an art formulated over 100 years ago by a frontier physician and American Civil War doctor called Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917). Osteopathy developed when general 19th century patient care left much to be desired and the medications administered killed patients as often as they cured them. Still wished to place the treatment of disease on a more rational, scientific basis. He was influenced by the Hippocratic view of medicine (emphasising the treatment of the human as a unified whole, as opposed to a collection of isolated parts).
After intense study and reflection, Still's moment of clarity came in 1874 when he created a system of medicine that emphasised:
1. The treatment of physical disease – through a detailed knowledge of anatomy coupled with palpatory diagnosis and manipulative treatment, together with;
2. The importance of health and wellbeing (including physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health) and the avoidance of negative habits (including alcohol and drugs).
Still called his radical approach to treatment "Osteopathy" from the Greek ‘osteon’ (meaning bone) and ‘pathos’ (lit. to suffer) reasoning that the bony structure was a starting point from which to understand the cause of disease and dysfunction. His view was that the physician does not cure disease, it was their job to correct structural disturbances so the body can run correctly and heal itself. He added that “To find health should be the object of the doctor. Anyone can find disease.”
Philosophically, Still believed that Health is a natural state of harmony and that a healthy state exists as long as there is a normal flow of body fluids and nerve activity, with illness often being caused by mechanical impediments to this. Therefore, another basic principle in Osteopathy is 'the rule of the artery" where self-healing is maintained by good blood and lymphatic flow to the tissues, coupled with effective drainage of waste products.
Osteopathic principles include the fact that the human organism is perceived as a living being, comprising of Mind, Body and Spirit with a normal tendency toward self-healing and self-repair. The human body has a vital force (or Viz Medicatrix Naturae) that can be nurtured through healthy living (including correct diet, sleep and exercise) or diminished through poor lifestyle, injury or disease – very similar to the Chinese concept of Qi. Osteopathy has many common themes with the Classical Chinese concepts of health and disease, and the two systems complement each other very well.
Still was adamant that students and colleagues were expected to “Form your own opinions and select all the facts you can obtain. Compare, decide, then act. Use no man’s opinion: accept his works only” urging his students to study, test and improve on his ideas. With this in mind, Glaswegian, J Martin Littlejohn (1865 - 1947), John Denslow (1906-1982) and Irvin Korr (1909-2004) introduced concepts of neuroendocrinology and neurophysiology to Still’s 19th century outlook on physiology and pathology. Korr went on to integrate the relationship of the spinal cord to the musculoskeletal and sympathetic nervous systems to patient pathology.