What is osteopathy?
What exactly is osteopathy? Isn’t it about bones?
How do you differ from a physiotherapist, chiropractor or myotherapist?
I get asked this by most of my patients at some point. The answer can be sometimes a bit confusing, as all manual therapies do have an element of overlap. However, this is MY interpretation of what defines and separates us from other therapies.
Note: my identification of differences does not equal an attitude of superiority. I believe that there is room for all therapies that patients derive assistance or relief from.
I simply enjoy the osteopathic principles and find them logical, effective and useful, so will talk about them here! I am after all, an osteopath! Osteopathy, to me, is an idea and a philosophy. It is about how to best treat a person, rather than a condition.
We treat all kinds of complaints, including those of the musculoskeletal system, vascular system, nervous system and visceral (organ) systems. The hallmark (overused yet underrated!) catch-cry of a lot of osteopaths is that we are holistic – ie, we treat the whole person. (I’ve personally always wondered why the word holistic gets to drop the w, but I digress.)
The technical part of this definition? We hold Bachelor and Master’s degrees, study for five years at university, learn all of the science-y stuff that you would expect a healthcare professional to know (such as physiology, anatomy and pathology) and are legally required to be registered with AHPRA, the same agency that registers nurses, physiotherapists, optometrists, dentists and other allied healthcare practitioners in Australia.
Osteopathy, to me, is an idea and a philosophy. It is about how to best treat a person, rather than a condition.
I interpret the “holistic approach” as a way of taking a step back, taking into consideration all body parts affecting an injury, any mental or emotional hurdles that person may be experiencing, as well as any broader medical conditions that may be contributing to their pain. From there, I will usually apply manual therapy such as stretching, massage and manipulation (plus lots of others), followed by advising my patient on how to manage their condition at home.
Osteopaths apply this philosophy to musculoskeletal problems.
For instance, if you were to see me with a sore and swollen ankle after rolling it while playing sport, I would be likely to assess not only the ankle itself, but all of the tissues that attach to the ankle or influence its strength and position.
More specifically, my assessment of a patient such as this would include looking at the ankle, feet, knees, hips and lower back. I would be checking if the patient had a longer leg, rotated hips, weakness of leg muscles, flat feet, tight calves, knock-knees, slouched posture (plus others!). All of these findings could cause a person to compensate with their ankle, increasing the amount of work that the ankle has to do. That game of sport could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the rolled ankle might be an indication of a broader dysfunction that may need to be addressed to prevent recurrence.
Osteopathy isn’t kooky, it’s a healthcare modality that aims to help with pain and function by addressing the structure and strength of a body. Pretty logical if you ask me!