Osteopathy is “holistic manual medicine” which emphasises the human body’s ability to regulate and repair itself given optimum structure, nutrition and environmental conditions. Developed by a 19th century American physician, Dr Andrew Taylor Still, osteopathy draws strongly from the relationship between our anatomical structure and our physiological function.

Osteopathy could be described in simple, lay terms as “holistic manual medicine”. Osteopathy is a system of health care that focuses on diagnosis and treatment of the physical body’s structure in order to optimise physiological functioning. Manual palpation and Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy (OMT) are used in conjunction with biomechanical, orthopaedic and neurological clinical assessment.

Osteopathy is best know for treatment of musculo-skeletal disorders such as back and neck pain, sciatica, sporting injuries and postural strain, however it can also assist in the treatment of breathing disorders, otitis media, digestive problems and menstrual problems. Put simply, optimising structural balance allows the physiology to perform optimally.

The practice of osteopathy combines current medical knowledge with the osteopathic philosophy. Scientific plausibility and evidence-based outcomes have a high priority in patient treatment and case management. Osteopathy is a patient centred approach to health care rather than disease centred.

Osteopaths asses and treat the whole person, not just the symptomatic region. So for example if a patient presents with headache they will be structurally assessed from head to toe. This is because the primary cause may be remote from the symptoms.

The philosophy of osteopathy is based on four key principles:

I. The body is a functional unit composed of interrelating parts or systems.

II. The body has a tendency to homeostasis. The body’s natural tendency is to self regulate.

III. Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated. Changes to structure influence function and conversely changes to function influence structure.

IV. Rational treatment is based on the above three principles.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises the Osteopathic concept of somatic dysfunction as being scientifically proven, and the British Medical Association also recognises Osteopathy as a discrete medical discipline.

In Australia, Osteopaths are statutorily registered practitioners in all states and territories. Five years, full-time university training is required as entry level to practice. A Bachelor of Science and Masters in Osteopathy is the award.
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What do Osteopaths treat?

Conditions commonly treated by osteopaths include:

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  • Back pain (1)
  • Neck pain / Headache (2)
  • Shoulder pain
  • Occupational strain / postural strain
  • Sports injuries
  • Joint aches, pains and stiffness
  • Post-trauma / Post-operative rehabilitation
  • Muscular / Joint aches, pain and stiffness

Osteopathy can also assist with the treatment of:

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  • Chest pain and restriction associated with breathing disorders e.g: Asthma, respiratory tract infections (3)
  • Back pain associated with pregnancy
  • Otitis media (4)
  • Menstrual problems (5)
  • Digestive order
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Treatment is often in conjunction with a medical practitioner, dentist, podiatrist, natural therapist, or other health professional with the aim of freeing structural anomalies that contribute to metabolic disorders.
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What Happens at an Osteopathic Consultation?

The aim of a first visit to an osteopath is to develop a picture of the patient’s overall health status, how they developed the current condition and a plan of action to move toward their optimal health.
A complete medical history will be taken. Some questions may not seem to relate to the “sore part”, yet may help clarify how the condition has occurred or why it has not resolved.

This is followed by a structural assessment of the range and quality of several joint movements while the patient stands, sits, walks and bends etc. Outer clothing may need to be removed to show mobility and tissue responses. Neurological and orthopaedic tests help the osteopath to eliminate other possible causes and to differentiate the basis of the individual’s complaint.

Osteopaths are trained to manually locate points of restriction or strain in various parts of the body. Using palpation, or finely tuned sense of touch and movement, the osteopath assesses the spine, joints, muscles, and other soft tissues.

At this stage if any other information is needed; e.g. X-Rays or blood tests, the patient may be referred accordingly. Also if a particular condition requires the help of another health professional, the patient is referred to them. Osteopaths often treat in conjunction with a GP, dentist, podiatrist, naturopath or other health professionals.

Once a diagnosis has been made, a treatment plan will be discussed which may include manual therapy, exercise, dietary changes, or lifestyle modification. Treatment approaches are highly individualised and are a function of: current condition, past history and the ability of the patient to adapt to change. Allow approximately one hour for your initial consultation.

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1. Licciardone JC, Brimhall AK, King LN. Osteopathic manipulative treatment for low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. August 2005; http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2474/6/43/abstract/2. Baird RE, Cullom S,DeedmanR, Feeney J, Kellog J, Simming P. Osteopathic Manipulation and tension–type head aches. Am Fam Physician 1993 November 1;48(6):1023-4.

3. Michael M. Patterson, PhD. The Coming Influenza Pandemic: Lessons From the Past for the Future. of JAOA—The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. Nov. 2005 http://www.jaoa.org/cgi/content/full/105/11/498

4. Knott EM, Tune JD, Stoll ST, Downey HF. Increased lymphatic flow in the thoracic duct during manipulative intervention. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2005;105:447-456.

5. BoeslerD, Warner M, Alpers A, Finnerty EP, Kilmore MA. Efficacy of high velocity low-amplitude manipulative technique in subjects with low-back pain during menstrual cramping. J Am Osteopathic Association 1993 February;93(2):203-4

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