The word itself comes from the Greek – osteo: bone, pathos: disease. The practice began in America in the 19th century when army doctor Andrew Taylor Still began looking at the power of the body to heal itself.
Still was disillusioned with the medicine of his day, having watched helplessly as three of his children died of meningitis. He wanted to discover the cause of disease rather than just treating symptoms, and stumbled on the idea that ‘bones out of place’ could damage the blood and nerve supply, causing illness. He began to study anatomy and the mechanics of the musculo-skeletal system, and harnessed the concept of drugless medicine – so osteopathy was born.
Osteopaths look at the body as a whole when they treat you, and try to find out where there are problems in your muscles, joints and skeleton. For example, an imbalance in the pelvis following a fall might cause lower back pain, while stiffness in the shoulders and ribs from poor posture or injury could make breathing even more difficult for someone with asthma.
Tension and inflammation in the spine can affect the whole nervous system. Osteopaths will often focus on posture and the flexibility of the spine to overcome such problems. If the whole body framework of muscles, joints and bones is aligned and in full working order then other parts of the body, like the nerves and brain, will not be under undue pressure. The digestive, circulation, lymph and other systems will benefit too.
Osteopathy is frequently referred to as treatment/manipulation of bones - especially the back and spinal column. However, osteopathy is more than that. Osteopathic treatment examines movement restrictions, treating the body as a whole with the aim of improving mobility and reducing inflammatory processes.
The principle is that the body can heal itself and is self-regulatory - therefore if one joint is blocked or a muscle is tense it will affect other parts of the body. These restrictions in the articulations and soft tissues are called Osteopathic lesions. An osteopath will look at the entire body and its range of movements not necessarily directly manipulating the joint- in any event an osteopathic lesion is not a bone out of place. By manipulation an osteopath will help achieve the normal equilibrium. Osteopathy is a holistic therapy, which means that the whole body is treated.
Osteopathy can be used for a wide range of problems from chronic back, neck and shoulder pain radiating into arms or legs, headaches and migraine, digestive and intestinal problems, skin problems such as acne and psoriasis and many more.
Your GP or the General Osteopathic Council should be able to advise you on finding a registered practitioner in your area. The Council can be reached on 0171 357 6655 or through its web site. You should always check that anyone you consult is fully qualified before making an appointment, and if for whatever reason you are not happy or comfortable with your practitioner after the initial session don't make another appointment.