Osteopathy - What, How and Why
- by Linda Green
14 April, 2020
A question I get asked all the time is 'What is Osteopathy?' Well, I think it means different things to different Osteopaths. Here I'll talk to you about The Spectrum of Osteopathy and My Kind of Osteopathy.
The way each Osteopath works is completely unique to them. There is a whole spectrum of different 'types' of osteopaths that's not been clearly defined, that is, both the term osteopath and all of it's plethora of genres. Although our philosophy remains similar across the board, we each have our favoured methods of assessment and treatment.
In my opinion there is a spectrum of different types of Osteopath that starts from the more 'gentle' end to the more direct. Plus, there's osteopaths who have added other forms of therapy to their repertoire that aren't necessarily 'osteopathic techniques' but still follow osteopathic philosophy.
Gentle and Direct Techniques
Osteopaths may use an array of techniques including soft tissues massage and manipulation and/or cranial-sacral therapy to aid your recovery.
Cranial Osteopathy is a very gentle form of manual therapy, but can actually be extremely powerful in reducing symptoms.
At college we are introduced to using cranial techniques, also known as 'cranio-sacral therapy'. Some osteopaths decide to use this way of treating alone, but then others use it in combination with other techniques; some don't use them at all.
The term implies that it's only the head (cranium) and sacrum (triangular shaped bone at the very bottom of the spine that, with the two ilia form the pelvis) but you can use these skills on any part of the body to change the tissues (we use the term tissues to cover all basis: ligaments, tendons, fascia, muscles, joints, bone).
Cranial osteopathic techniques tune into the inherent involuntary mechanism (IVM) that drives the cerebral spinal fluid around the brain and the spinal cord. The IVM is one of our automatic functions, like breathing, the beating of our heart. We palpate (feel with our hands) the subtle movement the IVM, assess its health (rate, rhythm, mobility) and quietly unwind to encourage a change in the IVM to benefit health. Some people simply can't tolerate more direct techniques, I use cranial sacral therapy alone or I'll use it alongside other techniques too. Some practitioners use this type of therapy on babies and children. It really depends on what you need on the day you attend the clinic. It's a very gentle form of therapy.
Direct Manual Therapy
The more direct techniques like massage or manipulation might be aimed right on the tissue that needs to change. As there are many different types of massage, I prefer to use the term 'soft tissue' treatment. Massage itself can be light, deep, along the muscle fibers, across the fibers, we can use frictions to break down scarring, trigger point release to establish a healthier muscle tone. Put into the pot 'functional positional release' and 'muscle energy techniques' and you have a bunch of soft tissue techniques (STT). Use of each depends on what your tissues need, and how your tissues respond, and how they make you feel.
Manipulation? Sounds scary...
Manipulation is a high velocity low amplitude (HVLA) thrust to a joint to make it cavitate or 'pop', releasing the joint, increasing its mobility, reducing surrounding muscle tone and thereby improving the ability to flush the area of inflammation and fluid. It quickly gets a joint moving. It's completely safe when administered by a professional (like me) and should not be painful. There is a number of criteria you must meet to safely receive a manipulation and I make sure of that before doing it. Plus I always gain your permission first and explain exactly what I'm going to do before I do it.
Basically, if an area of tissue is tight we loosen it up. If it's inflammed or congested we mobilise to flush fluid out. Techniques to influence neural gliding may be warranted, because nerves need to be slippery and mobile to function optimally too. We get things moving when you can't. We have a whole tool box full of techniques to suit every body. Through treatment, we stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which relaxes us. It's the system that is necessary for healing, digesting, calming. thereby creating an environment for the body to mend itself.
Some Osteopaths have the skills to work on the viscera (organs) and some are brave enough to treat tiny babies. Some enjoy working with movement and gait analysis, some have huge experience in sports injuries. We're all so different.
Why See An Osteopath?
If you are in any kind of pain anywhere we can help you. It doesn't matter your age or the the injury. It's also completely safe if you're pregnant to have osteopathic treatment. We have a solid degree behind us (I did a 4 year Bachelors degree while most recently students need to gain a 5 year Masters degree). We also need to sustain a high level of continued professional learning throughout our career to maintain our registration with the General Osteopathic Council.
If you are in any kind of pain anywhere we can help you
Our degree was very medical. We learned all of the clinical examinations a doctor has to perform and covered all topics including anatomy and physiology (to a highly detailed standard), sociology, psychology, pathology, nutrition, sports injuries, neuroscience, neurology..the list goes on. We started to learn hands-on techniques from week two and worked in the colleges clinics from the end of year two. We had to gain over 1000 hours of clinical experience before they let us free.
My Kind of Osteopathy
After listening to your story and taking a thorough case history, I will assess you to diagnose your pain. I treat your symptoms to make you feel better. I will also treat the tissues that you might not feel are the problem but that are causing the body to compensate and result in pain. I will see where there might be areas of weakness, or over-dominant tissues which will need to be addressed with exercises that I will guide you through.
I spent years failing at this; thinking I could fix someones low back pain..it doesn't work
Often your symptoms are not where the problem actually is. I spent years failing at this; thinking that I could 'fix' someones low back pain by rubbing and manipulating the sore joint in their low back week on week. It doesn't work alone. Yes, it makes you feel better, but why is that joint not happy in the first place? Is it because of your alignment? Could it be your foot on the right side isn't functioning well so that's making your low back have to compensate? It is for this reason that I started to delve into the biomechanics of the body and gait analysis. I love it. It inspires me and excites me.
I became a Pilates teacher because I knew that would be the best thing that would benefit my patients and the wider community. I've learned many other movement modalities too, and am still learning. I love teaching efficient movement.
I aim to find out the actual root cause of the problem, which doesn't always come easily. The body is wonderfully complex after all.
Tools I use: Direct techniques most of the time as they work most of the time, including soft tissue massage and manipulations/mobiisations. I use visceral and cranial techniques occasinally. Will always unwind fascial restrictions. Sometimes I'll do medical acupuncture. It depends on what you need.
I'll always give you homework to do!
I class myself as a movement teacher and osteopath, with many tools under my belt and years of experience, and I really want to help you.