Osteopathy is a manipulative technique in which the bones, muscles, ligaments and nerves are restored to their proper alignment and functioning. It is probably the most widely used of the complementary therapies, and certain States in the USA consider an osteopath to have equal training to a doctor.
Osteopathy was devised by an American doctor, Andrew Taylor Still, at the end of the 1800s. In principle, Still felt that the disease process occurred because of structural misalignments. He postulated that when vertebrae slip out of position the nerves around them become oversensitive and affect surrounding tissue. This in turn affects blood circulation, and since the blood carries substances to protect against disease, the blocked circulation leads to illness. His theories can be well supported because poor structure may obstruct blood flow, nerve conduction and, from an Eastern perspective, Qi or energy flow.
A treatment session, which lasts about half an hour, involves using various manipulative techniques depending on the condition being addressed. You may be asked to take up a variety of positions while the practitioner pushes, pulls and applies pressure to your back, head, arms or legs in a number of ways. It is not usually painful but may sometimes feel a little uncomfortable. The number of treatment sessions needed will depend on the severity of the problem.
Many people consider osteopaths to be ‘bone crackers’ but this is simply not the case. Osteopathy is geared towards work on soft tissues and blood flow through manipulation. This rarely includes ‘cracking’ the spine. Many people only think of an osteopath when dealing with a structural problem such as an ache or a strain, particularly of the back and neck. There is no doubt that osteopathy is probably the best form of manipulative medicine for such structural problems but that is not where it ends. Osteopaths, often in conjunction with other forms of complementary medicine, can deal with all health problems, including headaches and migraine, digestive complaints, respiratory difficulties such as asthma, glue ear and sinusitis, and gynaecological conditions. Osteopathy may even be able to prevent surgery in some cases of injury.