Osteopathy is defined as a holistic mode of manual medicine, and is best known as an effective treatment for musculo-skeletal complaints. Osteopaths are often consulted for lower back pain, neck pain, sciatica, headaches, arthritis, muscle and joint strains.
This therapy can also assist with the treatment of menstrual problems, postural strain during pregnancy, repetitive strain injury, chronic fatigue, digestive problems, poor circulation, sports injuries and breathing disorders. Put simply, optimizing structural balance allows physiology to do its job.
Osteopathy was developed in 1874 by American physician and surgeon, Dr Andrew Taylor Still. Dr Still’s theories differed dramatically from popular medical opinion of the time (which was far from today’s medical science) in that he publicly criticized the inappropriate use of patent medicines and advocated treatment of the individual rather than the disease.
Osteopathy was the result of ten years of extensive research and clinical observation, prompted by an 1864 outbreak of spinal meningitis which claimed the lives of three of Dr Still’s children. This began Dr Still’s search for a better way to apply medicine in an age when many patients were given drugs that were poorly researched and treatments that were in many ways worse than the disease itself. Dr Still was at first ridiculed by his peers, however as a result of his success with patients, he established the American School of Osteopathy in 1892.
Today there are over 40,000 osteopaths worldwide and osteopathic practitioners are registered primary health care providers in all states and territories of Australia.
Key principles and philosophy
Osteopathy is based on the theory that the human body operates as a total functional unit with all parts interrelated and structure being closely associated with function. Damage to one part of the body can have an adverse effect on other systems or organs. Osteopaths emphasise and work to support homeostasis; the body is a self-regulating mechanism.
This in-built ‘repair kit’ will perform best when the musculo-skeletal system is mechanically sound, allowing sufficient circulation of blood and other body fluids, nervous system conductivity, optimum function of internal organs and adequate production and delivery of the body’s natural nutrients.
The principal therapeutic hands on approach of osteopathy is called osteopathic manipulative therapy (OMT), and may include passive range of motion techniques, soft tissue massage, muscle stretching techniques and gentle manipulation of joints. Passive or slow release techniques are also commonly used, making the therapy safe for babies, small children and elderly patients. This includes techniques such as muscle energy technique (MET) , myofascial release and osteopathy in the cranial field.
Osteopathy is designed to treat the whole person. To this end, osteopaths also consider psychological factors, nutrition, exercise and stress reduction strategies. If another form of treatment is more appropriate the patient is referred accordingly. The aim of all osteopathic treatment is to restore the body’s natural ability to heal itself using biomechanical principles in conjunction with lifestyle improvements and a healthy diet.
Osteopathy in Australia is often confused with chiropractic, however the two professions have different training institutions, professional associations, registration boards/acts, philosophies and treatment applications.