So, What is osteopathy?, and What does an osteopath do? That isn’t easy to explain in a few words because it is based on a set of principles about the self-healing mechanism of the body, rather than just a thing! I find the most succinct way to put it is we are like car mechanics for the body. We can ‘MOT’, service and help you repair your body but unfortunately, we cannot replace parts. We have to deal with what we have! Which is why general health and posture are so important. One of my lovely patients once called me a body whisperer which I think is a lovely way to put it!
For some people there may be no reason to seek help from an osteopath during their lives. I personally only heard about osteopathy in my early twenties when I went to a careers library trying to work out what job to apply for after completing my first degree! So, there isn’t always a need but we can be particularly useful for some people at some times in their lives, and you usually know when that is! We can’t help everyone all the time but most of you some of the time? I am very pleased to report that through a small recent survey we conducted it showed we had over 90% satisfaction rate for those that have visited us.
Do I need to seek any professional help?
Many simple/ minor musculoskeletal (muscle and joint) problems can resolve themselves with knowledgeable care and attention. However, if the problem is more complicated such as a severe or longer-term injury, and it doesn’t show any sign of improving within a week, it is not advisable to leave it to heal itself. The more time healing takes the more confused and exhausted your body can get. Your mind and body can then look for other ways to get around the pain, sometimes causing another long term issue.
Usually after an injury there is an initial twenty-four hours of acute pain, and sometimes shock, when your brain will want to protect the area. The healing process should then kick in. Inflammation is actually a part of the healing process so we do need it. However, we need to try and manage it. Like a fever, it’s good because it shows your body's immune system is active. We want enough reaction to heal but definitely not too much otherwise tissues can get re-traumatised.
An inflammatory process takes at least twenty-four to forty eight hours. That’s why many simple strains will stiffen after a few days then start to heal/ease after three to five days. If the natural healing mechanism doesn’t start to improve after a week or so the body tries alternative coping strategies like limping or trying to ignore the area. Although this might help short term it often causes more long-term problems. This is the time to seek professional help. Alternatively, it is just when you just know you need help!
Osteopathy is a small cog in a big health care wheel depending on which part of you needs help. Most Osteopaths work within the private sector but some do work within the NHS. Most NHS manual therapists are physiotherapists, mainly out of NHS tradition. Osteopaths, like other manual therapists, are able to provide a service for those that need professional advice and manual treatment, occasionally alongside medication to re-balance the body, but not yet needing further intervention such as Injections and/or surgery.
So, the next question if you have a musculoskeletal issue/pain who should you see?
- GPs are great at basic guidance and medication prescription. They can also refer for further tests such as blood tests, X-ray and sometimes MRI depending your area, and if necessary, refer on to see a musculoskeletal therapist such as Osteopath. Physiotherapist, Chiropractor, Orthopaedic consultant and/or Rheumatologist.
- Medical Specialists such as Orthopaedic Consultants and Rheumatologist have many years specialised experience and have better access to more detailed test from blood tests, X-rays and MRI, and knowledge to read them. However, they are still limited in their treatment options. Which usually are prescribing medication, referring to manual or other therapists, injections (usually steroid based) and/ or surgery.
- Manual therapist such as Osteopaths, Physiotherapists, and Chiropractors, know bodies but usually don’t have direct access to detailed tests. They usually just use clinical tests and knowledge to diagnose problems. Their treatment is usually based on advice, touch and or movement to help the body heal.
So how do Osteopaths compare to other manual therapists? Osteopaths like chiropractors are very well trained, with at least 4 years degree level training, although technically should have a master’s degree, which is why some chiropractors give themselves the title of ‘Dr’. We both have legally strict registration through regulators and compliance to adhere to, with a minimum of 30 hours continual professional development (CPD). Physiotherapist are also well trained but only do 3 years training and have less CPD requirements. All 3 professionals are specialist in the mechanics of the body.
So, who should you see? There is no right or wrong! We have subtle differences but not huge and quite hard to explain. Unless the individual practitioner has a specialist area appropriate for your need. Even within each profession there are varied styles and skills. So it’s often a personal decision, who you get on with and trust.
Here’s a few of the subtle, mostly historical differences;
- Physiotherapists were established mainly after the second world war for rehabilitation as movement nurses. hence the NHS link. Modern day they are often relatively less hands on (approx 40-60%), but still most skilled at rehabilitation/ exercise prescription.
- Chiropractors in general are most focused on the skeletal/structural alignment and most skilled at short level manipulation techniques (cracking!).
- Osteopaths are interested in soft tissues and joint function, like physiotherapist. They are best at feeling soft tissue changes. In other words, getting their hands on and feeling the bodies changes. I’d approximate we are a 90% hands-on therapy.
One of my patients many years ago said “chiropractors are good at getting things moving but osteopaths are better at fine tuning”. I tend to agree!
So what does an Osteopath do?
Osteopathy are part of nature’s cure in other words we utilise nature’s own healing ability. We try and evoke your body’s own response to make a positive physical change. In other words, Osteopaths don’t fix you, we just help your body fix itself. That’s why I like to call it teamwork.
To do this we utilise our two strongest senses we have which are vision and touch, plus knowledge.
- We are trained to look at your body and see if it doesn’t look and or move right. It’s quite subjective as we are all different shapes sizes, tissue tone etc which is one of the reasons why our training takes so long. We can see if an area is under or over working, and then put into perspective of other parts of the body to try and re-balance the movement patterns.
- We are trained to feel soft tissue changes, when something feels different. Again ‘feel’ takes years to acquire, and then years to improve, but it can tell you a lot about the local soft tissues health and how it is communicating with your central nervous system/brain. If a joint area isn’t happy we can feel the soft tissue changes around it. We are all different so it’s always good to compare sides to provide some perspective of your normal. This is why we like to get our hands on!
- We are trained to know anatomy particularly the soft tissues and joint mechanics, physiology, neurology, pathology, pharmacology etc. The list goes on. Then we learn natural/ naturopathic healing solutions to heal such nutrition, hydrotherapy, mindfulness etc.
What I’ve realised over the years is we are so complex the more you learn the less you know. We don’t know everything and learning is endless. But at the end of the day everybody is basically the same but we are all different. A lovely saying I heard recently is we are on the same journey but in a different boat!
Ask any medical professional and they will tell you diagnosis, treatment and prognosis is rarely a simple process. There are always other possibilities and probabilities. I often say the more you know the less you realise you know!
That’s where knowledge, experience, perspective and a good judgement call comes into its own. Our diagnosis and treatment are always about team work.
It’s also worth noting that some people benefit from regular osteopathic treatment, sometimes monthly, six weekly, three monthly etc. Others just need help at certain times in life.
The benefit from seeing an osteopath regularly as they can manage an existing problem and or identify potential problems building up and make changes early to stop it getting too bad. At the end of the day prevention is better than cure. Hence the last set of emails with lots of posture and self help advice to try and get you physically fitter and more body aware. It also makes our jobs easier and can make osteopathic treatment more effective.
Are we expensive? Of course, I say no. If you look at our training, 4 years full time degree status with clinic experience. Statutory Regulated by the GOsC, 30 hours annual CPD training requirements and compliance under the Osteopathic Act 2000. We are regularly keeping up to date and learning. To be honest most osteopaths thoroughly enjoy what they do, and do it for the enjoyment not the financial rewards. We often have to inspire people to make often quite tough life changes to break bad habits. We are no less trained and regulated than other professionals such as accountants and or solicitors, and far less well paid! It’s just we deal with health and not finance! I know it sounds daft but it’s hard to put a value on health until you haven’t got it then it is everything! It is with you for better or worse when you wake up, during the day and asleep at night. It is your life, why make life harder than it needs to be. I’d say live it to the full, be proactive and tip health in your favour.
The bottom line is Osteopaths know the look, feel and changes a body has and tries to help you make the best of it. So you live life to the fullest for as long as possible???? It really is that simple.