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What is osteopathy?
Osteopathy is a form of manual medicine or manipulation, in other words using the hands with muscle and joint manipulation techniques. Osteopaths work best treating chronic muscle and joint problems – in other words long-term, persistent or intermittent symptoms such as pain.
Osteopaths may refer for X-rays but they don’t use drugs and rarely use machines like ultrasound. For more information about osteopathy, visit the Australian Osteopathic Association website: www.osteopathic.com.au
Where did osteopathy originate?
Andrew Taylor Still a medical doctor disillusioned by allopathic medicine came up with the principles of osteopathy. He focused on improving circulation through the body by improving structural mobility. The first osteopathic college, the American School of Osteopathy, was established in Kirksville, Missouri, USA in 1892. Research by Korr and Denslow gave scientific credibility to the ideas of Andrew Taylor Still.
What training do osteopaths have?
Osteopaths are government registered health practitioners and currently all training is at university level. Osteopathy is a five year full time University course and includes a Master degree with an emphasis on anatomy and the skilful application of hands on manipulative techniques.
I practice evidence-based medicine (EBM) and run an evidence-based practice. The aim of EBM is to apply the best available evidence gained from the scientific method to clinical decision making.
I completed my training in 1985 at the Pacific College of Osteopathic Medicine in Sydney NSW, and after successfully completing a registration examination at the University of NSW was registered by the NSW registration board to practice osteopathy in Australia.
Training does not finish with graduation and over the many years that I have been in practice I have maintained my education by regularly attending seminars and courses.
What is the philosophy of osteopathy?
Osteopathic medicine places a high degree of importance on the body’s ability to be self-regulating and self-healing and on the interrelationships between the various regulatory mechanisms within the human body. The different parts of the body are inter-connected and inter-dependent and when one system fails then it affects another.
Osteopaths believe that with the correct treatment and guidance this healing process may be assisted and accelerated to restore health. Treatment aims at influencing the movement of muscles, joints and blood and facilitating normal nerve supply.
Another of the main principles of osteopathy is that structure governs function. For example after a muscle is torn or sprained the muscle will develop scar tissue as a temporary structure as part of the natural process of healing. Sometimes if the body does not remove the scar tissues naturally or if the area is not treated at the time, the fibrous change remaining in the muscle becomes a problem. The fibrous tissue is a change in the structure of the muscle and this usually makes the muscle weaker, shorter and restricts joint movement. Movement is an important function and without it there may be problems with the transport of fluids around the body, locomotion and using the body in a natural way. Any of these problems may eventually lead to symptoms such as pain.
Other examples of structure governing function include: a stiff round shoulder posture and thoracic kyphosis influencing diaphragm and rib movement which is essential for respiration; muscle tension reducing blood flow to and through a muscle and causing headaches; joint dysfunction in the spine decreasing movement and reducing local blood flow in the area with resulting nerve irritation; a defective vein in the leg resulting in poor drainage and swelling in an ankle.
The muscular and skeletal systems form the largest parts of the body and muscles and joints are subject to significant high levels of strain and injury. For these and other reasons osteopathy places a high degree of emphasis on the musculoskeletal system and techniques which treat joints and muscular dysfunction. A change in the structure of a muscle, tendon or ligament can not only affect joint movement but can also affect the function of blood vessels, nerves and organs. The structure governs function principal is relevant in many different situations in the body.
Manipulation works directly by physically removing scar tissue from an injured area and indirectly by ensuring the area has a good blood supply and adequate drainage. A good blood supply is essential for allowing ‘repair’ cells to access the damaged tissues. Healing occurs most efficiently when there is adequate drainage from the damaged area for waste products and old cells to leave.
Wholism (holism) is a philosophy which looks at whole systems rather than parts. Andrew Still was one of the first to apply wholism in medicine. He said that the body’s structures were interrelated and the body’s function and therefore it’s health was dependant on the integrity of these physical structures.
Wholism is about considering all the factors which contribute to illness – mental stress, poor nutrition, unhealthy habits, bad posture, faulty exercise, occupation, environmental factors, the unwanted effects of medication, or an untreated injury. It is usually a combination of several factors. It is important to remove the cause or aggravating factors and assist the body to get better with appropriate treatment.
Examples of wholism include: the mind causing physical illness in the body; loss of range of movement at one joint causing stress at another; and chemicals in the environment causing disease in the liver.
Osteopathic treatment is aimed at enabling the body to adapt effectively to acceptable amounts of physical and mental stress. It is not an attempt to change posture, for example to straighten out a scoliosis. Postural correction is more difficult as a person gets older because the muscles and fascia are less elastic and less adaptable. It is possible to modify posture in the short term with manipulation. But the structure of our body is genetically determined and the long term influence of manipulation for correcting posture is negligible. Ongoing good use and remedial exercise are the best options for maintaining a good posture.
In conclusion the principles of osteopathy are: