An osteopath is a physician who focuses primarily on the spine, joints and soft tissue of a patient to alleviate pain and improve the body’s circulatory, nervous and lymphatic systems. It is non-invasive and drug-free, relying purely on manipulation. The diagnosis and treatment are both done using the practitioner’s hands. It is a form of therapy that is known as a complementary medicine and works in conjunction with more conventional treatments.
How osteopathy can prevent and relieve pain
An osteopath will adopt a whole-body holistic approach to preventing or treating a patient’s condition. Using their hands, an osteopath will identify both the source and the cause of the pain during an initial diagnosis session which will usually last in the region of two hours. Even after diagnosis, the practitioner will not only focus on the area of pain but the whole body with the intention being to promote overall health and wellbeing. The process is called Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM).
As with any branch of medicine, an osteopath will prefer to adopt a “prevention is better than cure” approach. It can take many forms but usually includes a range of stretching exercises, making adjustments to the client’s posture, suggesting breathing exercises as a method of reducing stress and, where applicable, suggesting different lifting techniques.
- Realignment of musculoskeletal functions
One of the most common causes of pain is when the body is incorrectly aligned. It can be in the spine, often caused by poor posture or an injury caused by poor lifting techniques. Pain in the knees, hips and other areas of the leg can be caused by the patient having a poor gait causing abnormal movements which can result in musculoskeletal damage. Corrections will probably take several sessions to implement with the patient being given exercises to practice at home.
- The application of pressure and resistance
An osteopath will offer relief for many forms of pain, including lower and upper back pain, arthritis, tennis elbow and headaches. The treatment for most of these symptoms usually uses the application of subtle pressure, manipulation and the use of resistance. It can be used to break down fibrous tissue, for realignment, or even to encourage muscle growth.
- Assisting with improvements to sleep cycles
Any form of pain or discomfort can result in insomnia or a restless night’s sleep. Insomnia can have serious implications regarding the body’s ability to function and cope with daily activities. An osteopath can help relieve sleeplessness that is caused by chronic pain. Scientific studies have also suggested that osteopathy can also help with sleep apnea in infants, although further research is still required in this area.
- Improvements to the body’s systems
Osteopathic treatments have been proven to have a positive impact on the body’s circulatory, nervous and lymphatic systems. As a result, it improves overall health and wellbeing and helps the body to function correctly, continually. Some treatments to the lymphatic system have produced such remarkable internal improvements; invasive surgical procedures have not been required.
What to expect
Your first consultation with the osteopath will be to determine your overall physical conditional and to establish areas of pain or discomfort. The practitioner will then suggest a course of treatment that will concentrate on providing a “whole body” treatment program. Naturally, you should ensure that the osteopath is fully accredited and has all the relevant qualifications. This information should be displayed in their practice.
Some patients will be referred to an osteopath by their doctor while some may decide to refer themselves. If you are self-referring, it is highly recommended that you inform your doctor first. The osteopath will want to know about your overall state of health, and although the treatment will be pain-centred, everything will be factored into the procedure.
Treatment sessions typically last for between 45 minutes and an hour. Some patients may only require a single meeting, but most people need several sessions to address and correct any problems. Your osteopath will be able to tell you more about what to expect after your initial consultation.
Although the risks are minimal, the patient must be made aware of them before any treatment starts. The most common side effect experienced in the first 24 to 48 hours is stiffness, similar to as if you had been exercising. More severe side effects can include nerve damage, muscle weakness, along with bladder or bowel problems. In these cases, you should seek emergency medical treatment.