I am asked to describe what I do almost every day—not my job, but what osteopaths truly do. One of the probable responses, if I conducted a survey of the general population, would be, “They crack people’s backs, don’t they?” Or “I’ve never heard of one of those” Many people believe that osteopaths are simply spinal manipulators or a part of another manual therapy, but in reality, we have been quietly treating patients for many years.
Here’s a little history: American physician Andrew Taylor Still coined the word “osteopathy”. The name derives from the Greek words for bone (osteon) and suffering (pathos). In the USA, osteopaths are MDs, medical doctors who have aligned themselves with the traditional medical community and who can perform surgery in addition to their osteopathic practice.
Osteopathy is a method of treatment that acknowledges the vital connection between the physical structures of the body and how they function. Osteopaths employ a variety of techniques, including manual therapy, manipulation, joint mobilisation, soft tissue massage, non-direct techniques, exercise prescription, movement therapy, patient education, and lifestyle counseling, to improve wellbeing with a focus on the skeleton, joints, muscles, nerves, circulation, connective tissue, and internal organs as a whole.
Although there is much more to osteopathy than just the procedures used or clicking someone’s back, many other manual therapy professions utilise the concepts and practices that were developed within the field of osteopathy.
Here are five features that set osteopathic practitioners and their treatments apart:
- Over the course of 4-5 years, osteopaths complete comprehensive training that includes at least 1,000 hours of clinical training. Numerous people pursue extra education to provide specialised treatment, and an increasing number have PhDs. Osteopaths are adept at evaluating and diagnosing patients without a referral from a general practitioner, making them primary healthcare providers. People, particularly physicians, are often amazed at how in-depth our training and practise are.
- We learn from academic and clinical training that the area of a person’s pain cannot be the same as the location of the problem; before discussing treatment options with a patient, we examine a variety of anatomical structures to determine how the symptoms developed. The concept and method of interpreting the data we gather from the patient’s history and examination are two of the most significant distinctions that set osteopathic treatment apart. We act as body detectives, putting the pieces together to determine the best course of action for addressing issues through hands-on therapy, corrective exercise, and lifestyle guidance.
- Osteopaths acquire a more comprehensive knowledge of the human body. Even if we have had thorough training, a holistic view of the human body is still necessary. Understanding how our mind, habits, beliefs, and behaviours can have an impact on the rest of the body is a key component of holistic health. For instance, consider how vision issues might result in neck or shoulder pain or how a long-forgotten ankle sprain can result in hip pain years later. While we may forget these insignificant events from our lives, the body retains memories, which the osteopath must link to the patient’s current symptoms. Many patients will remember or sing the childhood ditty “Your neck bone connects to your head bone” when they see how all the factors in their health timeline are linked.
- If that sounds like a new age, osteopathic treatment engages with a person’s anatomy to help eliminate the barriers so that a person’s intrinsic ability to repair itself can take place. A plaster cast or air boot, for instance, does not mend a broken ankle; rather, it offers support while the body uses its innate capacity to restore and heal itself.
- As independent healthcare providers, osteopathic care has always been centred on a holistic approach to health, which is essential for improving health and wellbeing. Osteopathy was decades ahead of its time, as seen by the number of recent books, TV shows, and podcasts from conventional doctors advocating the virtues of a person-centred or functional medicine approach to treatment.
Osteopathic treatment focuses on methods for wellbeing rather than merely treating disorders. For instance, some of the most healthy patients I see have complicated multifactorial disorders, but they frequently lead fulfilling lives despite their health or illness. Others, who experience relatively minimal flare-ups, struggle to get by each day due to a history of unrecognised and untreated issues.