FAQs about Osteopathy


Osteopathy FAQ

What is osteopathy?

Osteopathy is an established recognised system of diagnosis and treatment, which lays its main emphasis on the structural and functional integrity of the body. It is distinctive by the fact that it recognises that much of the pain and disability we suffer stems from abnormalities in the function of the body structure, as well as damage caused to it by disease.

Osteopaths specialise in correcting areas of poor joint function in the body called lesions, and the effects these have on the rest of the body, thereby helping to restore harmony.

How does osteopathy work?

Osteopaths place particular emphasis on correcting spinal lesions because of the very close relationship between the spine and the central nervous system i.e. the brain, spinal cord and spinal nerves. As these same nerves also supply the organs of the body, altered spinal mechanics can adversely affect organ function and disease states can occur.

Your nervous system controls and co ordinates the functions of your entire body, including those functions of which you are consciously aware (e.g. movement, touch etc) and those that occur independent of your conscious thought (e.g. liver function, hormone production etc).

The most common cause of decreased nerve function and associated pain are spinal lesions. You may not be aware that you have them or the impact that they are having on your health. A chronic lesion prevents your nervous system from performing its trillions of tasks to its optimal level, and therefore reduces your overall health and well being.

The term lesion is used by many practitioners to describe the combination of physical changes that occur in these areas of poor joint function. These changes include abnormal joint movement patterns, muscular imbalances, nerve irritation, inflammatory changes and, ultimately, degeneration of the joint structure.

How did it start?

The principles of osteopathy were formalised by an American, Andrew Taylor Still, 120 years ago. Along with orthodox medicine, osteopathy shares a single famous father, Hippocrates. There are also strong links with the philosophy of holism in particular, as it addresses “the whole person”.

A.T.Still – Father of Osteopathy

Osteopathy is not a particularly apt name. The natural association with the Greek word “osteon” (bone) might lead you to assume that it was only concerned only with bones. In fact, the principle aim is that of restoring and sustaining structural integrity to joints, muscle and connective tissue called fascia.

Andrew Taylor Still, born in 1828 in Virginia, USA, trained as a doctor according to the system of medical education available at the time. As time went on he followed a different path from many of his peers, eschewing alcohol and the habit of contemporary physicians of administering crude drugs at their disposal in heroic quantities. This drove him to seek new methods of treating sickness. The outcome of his research was the application of physical treatment as a specialised form of treatment for which he coined the name ‘Osteopathy’.

In 1892 A T Still organised a school in Kirksville, Missouri, for the teaching of osteopathy and it was from these small beginnings that osteopathy was brought to the UK around the turn of the century. The first school of osteopathy in the UK was set in London in 1917 and over time other schools and colleges followed. Today there are around 3,000 osteopaths in the UK performing over six million patient consultations a year.

What kinds of problems can osteopathy help with?

Back pain postural changes in pregnancy & after birth sleeplessness driving/work strain arthritic pain sports injuries headaches & migraines neck & shoulder problems trapped nerves & sciatica joint pain digestive menstrual problems stress postural work strain birth trauma.

What can I expect when I visit an osteopath?

When you visit an osteopath for the first time, a full case history will be taken and you will be given an examination. You will normally be asked to remove some of your clothing and to perform a simple series of movements. The osteopath will then use a highly developed sense of touch, called palpation, to identify any points of weakness or excessive strain throughout the body, before going on to give you treatment. This usually takes an hour. Any follow on treatments usually take half an hour.

What is treatment like?

Osteopaths work with their hands using a wide variety of treatment techniques. These may include soft tissue techniques, rhythmic passive joint mobilisation or spinal adjustments that improve mobility and the range of movement in the spine, joints and muscles. Gentle cranial techniques are also widely used, particularly when treating children, the elderly or acute patients.

How many treatments will I need?

Osteopathy is patient centred, which means treatment is geared to you as an individual. Different people respond to treatment in different ways, therefore the results of osteopathic care can vary from person to person. Your osteopath should be able to give you an indication after your first visit. For some acute pain, 2-3 treatments may be all that is necessary. Chronic conditions may need ongoing maintenance. An average is 4 – 8 sessions.

Many people find that their headaches, back, neck, arm or leg pain either significantly diminishes or goes away after only 1-2 sessions. The effects of treatment are not always immediate and normally take a few days to be felt. Others find that they experience a more general sense of well being. They comment that they seem to have more energy, sleep better, concentrate better and generally have a greater ability to resist disease. We often see this type of response in children.

What are the clicking sounds you get with an osteopathic adjustment?

An “adjustment” is a procedure employed by osteopaths to restore proper movement patterns to a joint and reduce any irritation of the nerve structures around the joint.

These techniques are called high velocity low amplitude thrusts (HVLATs) and often cause a cracking noise to be heard in the joints. This noise is a release of gas into the synovial fluid inside the joint. As the joint is gapped by the osteopath, the pressure decreases inside the joint and the dissolved gas is released. This technique frees off the joints very quickly as muscles holding the joint restriction in place let go. Although it is a painless procedure, it is common to experience some muscle soreness for 24-48 hours after an adjustment.

Is it safe?

Yes, in the right hands. Osteopathic care is remarkably safe when carried out by registered osteopaths. Practitioners employ a variety of different techniques and apply the most appropriate technique for each individual circumstance.

As osteopaths do not prescribe medication or perform surgical procedures we have an excellent safety record as patients avoid the potential side effects of medication and surgery.

Osteopathic adjustments are not for everyone. Some people dislike the sensation of an adjustment and would rather have gentler techniques used. They are also not suitable for certain types of people such as the elderly, babies, and those with particular health/emotional issues. Your osteopath has been well trained to know when it is inappropriate to use these techniques. This is why a full-case history and examination is so important before commencing treatment. Osteopaths are also trained to recognise conditions which require referral treatment elsewhere.

Is “cracking” my neck or back myself a good idea?

NO. You cannot control the direction or joint level being moved. You may feel temporary relief but this occurs at the expense of further joint irritation and imbalance. Osteopathic care insures the proper joints are adjusted with the correct movement. If you feel the need for relief, consult you Osteopath rather than self manipulate.

Does it hurt?

The answer to this question is generally no……………..but a small percentage of people occasionally experience mild discomfort after treatment. This is more common in the early stages of care and generally diminishes after two to three days.

There are two main reasons why this sometimes occurs:

1. The muscles, ligaments and joints of your body have been gradually changing over time, becoming weaker and tighter. As they begin to respond to osteopathic care they need time to adapt to changes associated with the corrective process. This short term discomfort is similar to how you may feel when if you resume an exercise program, or if you were to work physically hard in a way your body was not used to. In some ways this discomfort is a positive sign because it indicates the body is changing as a result of the treatment process.

2. Sometimes the area of the body we need to work in is inflamed (particularly in the early stages of care). This can make any activity involving that part of the body uncomfortable. We always use techniques that allow the body to get the greatest possible benefit whilst trying to minimise any irritation to this inflammatory process. This is one reason why it is important to follow any home instructions we may provide, particularly those relating to the use of ice versus heat! If you happen to experience this type of response during your care please mention this to your practitioner but try not to feel too alarmed. Incidentally, it is quite common for the improvement in your problem to be an up and down process. Some days you will feel very little change and others you will feel almost back to normal only to experience some discomfort the next day (this is particularly the case with longstanding problems). Try not to be discouraged by these ups and downs. Be wary of pushing your body too hard during the times when it feels stronger than it really is. Stay focused on both your recommended schedule of visits and your home care recommendations.

What qualifications do osteopaths have and how can I know they are safe?

It takes 4 years, full time study at university to obtain the necessary qualifications to become a registered osteopath. Course content is similar to a medical degree, involving extensive study of medical science including anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, biomechanics, neurology, radiology, paediatrics, obstetrics & gynaecology, pathology, diagnosis and orthopaedics. We also study the extensive and sensitive manual art of osteopathic palpation and techniques and must complete 1 year of clinical observation followed by 2 years of clinical experience.

All osteopaths must be registered with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) before being allowed to practice. A Registered Osteopath has demonstrated to GOsC that they are a safe and competent practitioner, that they have adequate malpractice insurance and have agreed to abide by its Code of Practice. All osteopaths are required to update their knowledge and skills with at least 30 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) on an annual basis.

Can I have osteopathy on my private medical insurance?

At Soma, we are registered with all major healthcare providers including BUPA, Standard Life, Aviva, HSA, Cigna, Medisure and First Assist to name the main ones. Many other private health insurance schemes will also give benefit for osteopathic treatment. You may need to get a GP referral for some policies. Simply contact the helpline of your insurance company who will explain the methods of claim for your individual policy.

What’s the difference between an osteopath, a chiropractor and a physio?

There are probably more similarities than differences as we are all ‘musculo-skeletal experts’ and treat mostly the same kinds of conditions. To make matters more confusing, all osteopaths will develop their own styles and techniques so that treatment between different osteopaths will also vary.

Generally though, most chiropractors tend to treat the spine only with HVLA techniques. They also routinely use x-rays for diagnostic purposes. Typically patients may require a long course of regular treatment. Physio’s on the other hand tend to prescribe rehabilitative exercises routinely. Most NHS physios do very little ‘hands on’ techniques, however, some private physios will do more ‘hands on’ work. There may also be a long wait for physio on the NHS by which time acute conditions may have become chronic.

Osteopaths treat the whole person and take other areas of the body into consideration rather than just the area in pain. We look for the underlying cause of the problem rather than just apply a ‘band aid’. We diagnose with our case history notes, clinical examination and palpation. We treat with ‘hands on’ techniques, exercise prescription and postural rehabilitation. At Soma, we also work in conjunction with pilates instructors, massage therapists, acupuncurists and podiatrists.

Cranial Osteopathy FAQ

What is Cranial Osteopathy?

Cranial Osteopathy is a refined and subtle type of osteopathic treatment that uses extremely gentle techniques to release strain patterns and tensions throughout the body. It is called cranial because treatment often involves gentle touch to the head, although other parts of the body such as the spine and tailbone are usually also involved in treatment.

How does it work?

All the body’s systems are interconnected. The skeleton supports the muscles, the internal organs are supported by the body’s structure, nourished by the blood system, revitalised by the respiratory system, linked through the nervous system, and so on. Where tension occurs in any one area, the effect will continue through the body, affecting other systems.

During treatment, the osteopath is feeling for a subtle rhythmical shape change that is present in all living body tissues called involuntary motion. The 26 bones in the skull are intricately joined in a way that allows the involuntary motion of the brain it protects inside to express itself. By contacting this motion through the bones of the skull, the osteopath can feel for any disruption in its normal movement pattern that may have come about following trauma or impact such as a difficult birth, road accidents, falls and head injuries. Usually the body is able to compensate for such events, but sometimes an accumulation of several strains and stresses can disrupt normal involuntary motion, and symptoms start to show.

Who can it help?

Cranial osteopathy is suitable for all ages and conditions. As it is extremely gentle treatment, it is even suitable for newborn babies to the very elderly. It is also a fantastic way of helping women deal with the physical and emotional challenges of pregnancy.

What is paediatric osteopathy?

Paediatric osteopathy uses gentle manual techniques to bring about profound changes within a child’s body, using non-invasive but highly effective rebalancing procedures. These allow the different body systems ‘ the nervous system, the immune system, the muscular system and the circulatory system ‘ to work effectively and harmoniously. The bodies of babies and small children have an innate drive towards normal function, and often need only the slightest easing of tension to release the mechanical stress suffered, and improve function.

What can be treated?

Paediatric osteopathy has been shown to be effective for many common problems experienced by babies and children, as they grow and adapt to life, and many health visitors and midwives now recommend paediatric osteopathy for a variety of reasons. If we treat what seem to be relatively minor problems in infancy, future health is less vulnerable. A simple metaphor is that a twisted sapling becomes a bent tree. If the body works in a way that is not in harmony to itself, the disturbed function will result in long term negative changes. Walking with a particular gait as a child may not be life-threatening, but could put a child at risk of future joint problems.

The skill of the paediatric osteopath is to alleviate tension or stress in the tissues, muscles and functioning of the body, which brings about a profound change. By restoring balance to the body systems ‘ circulatory, immune, lymphatic, muscular, endocrine, respiratory ‘ the child’s response to the daily exposure to viruses, bacteria and pollutants is more effective.

What is the difference between a cranial osteopath and a cranio-sacral therapist?

Cranial Osteopathy was developed in the 1950s by an American osteopath called William Garner Sutherland. He developed and refined his techniques and taught them to other osteopaths from this time onwards. His work inspired many osteopaths most notably Rollin Becker DO and more recently James Jealous DO who has developed the Biodynamic approach to Cranial Osteopathy, using knowledge of the embryological development of the human being to enhance our understanding of the unfolding human form and the forces of self-healing that remain within us throughout our lives.

The main difference with cranio-sacral therapists is in the training and depth of understanding of human anatomy. Osteopaths who use cranial techniques have received the same basic training as other osteopaths (i.e. a full-time 4 year BSc), but have chosen to continue extensive post-graduate training in this particular field. In other words, you have to be an osteopath before you can treat people with cranial osteopathy. This is not the case for cranio-sacral therapists.