If you’re one of our patients, and you’ve asked me before, what exactly is an Osteopath? Today I’m going to answer that question for you. If you’re not one of our patients and you’d like to know what an Osteopath does, the rest of this article should clarify some misconceptions and inform you about the profession.
Now before I go on to tell you what an Osteopath actually is, let me take a few seconds and tell you what an Osteopath is NOT! If your doctor, your trainer, or another health professional has said to you, “an Osteopath is a combination of a Physiotherapist and a Chiropractor” they’re an idiot! Plain and simple. An Osteopath is a unique professional in the way that they think about the body. Their philosophy is what sets them apart from other allied health and medical professionals.
Disclaimer: This is for Educational Purposes Only
Let me take a quick intercession to inform you as to the nature of our advice. We are experienced, healthcare clinicians. We wish to share our experience with you on topics to do with your health. We may be a little colourful in doing so, but at the heart of what we do is in-the-trenches experience. Whilst we have achieved academic success and understand the evidence, we are not solely evidence-based. We are, however, EVIDENCE INFORMED.
We find that the evidence is usually 10-15years (at minimum) behind what we are seeing in the clinic. We see real people, with real problems, and we’ve made a great living out of offering real solutions.
If all you’re after is the researched evidence, you can find some on Google Scholar, or you can very easily look for more on Google. We want to give you real-life advice, most of which you may not find in the research.
There is no way that this document can replicate or replace expert assessment and guidance given by a qualified registered healthcare practitioner who has seen you personally. I am sure you’re aware that I have no knowledge of your personal medical history or how you take care of your body. If you require care from a qualified practitioner, you would be best served by seeing someone who can empathise with your situation and treat you accordingly.
I’m sure you understand that I disclaim any and all responsibility for anything you do as a result of reading this document. And by reading this article, you accept 100% responsibility for the actions of you or anyone under your care.
History of the Osteopath profession
Osteopathy was founded in the late 1800s by an American Physician and Surgeon, Dr. Andrew Taylor Still. He served in the Union Army as a surgeon during the American Civil War, during which, he lost three of his children to spinal meningitis. Frustrated that the mainstream orthodox medicine at the time was unable to save his children, he devoted the next 10yrs of his life in the pursuit of a better understanding of the body, disease, and health.
He went on to develop a philosophy for treating the human body as a whole system, looking at not only the elimination of disease but the constant search for health. Osteopathy grew and flourished in the USA, to the point of being a part of the mainstream medical model. The profession expanded its reach into Britain, Europe, Australia and now the far corners of the world.
Osteopathy uses Osteopathic Manipulative Technique (OMT) to treat various tissues that may contribute to the pain that comes with disease and dysfunction. OMT aims to improve movement. These techniques are varying and wide in nature and encompass the entire body, from muscles, bones, joints, blood vessels, nerves, internal organs and fascia.
Yet, it’s the philosophy of treatment, not the technique that defines what an Osteopath does. Osteopathy has shared many techniques that other professions claim as their own. Joint manipulation is the bread and butter, go to technique for Chiropractors. Yet Osteopaths were performing this for many decades before Chiropractic was even thought of.
Muscle Energy Technique (MET) is a common muscular release technique used by Osteopaths. Rebranded with a fancier name, Physiotherapists began using Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation or PNF as it’s commonly known by Physiotherapists once they found use and evidence for its application.
Fascia is the binding tissue that encapsulates and binds muscles, tendons, joints and organs together. It’s now in fashion with many Physiotherapists and Integrative doctors, yet it is found in the very earliest of Osteopathic literature. It is one of the first pieces of anatomy an Osteopath is taught about and a focus for the Osteopath for improving injury. The point is, techniques and anatomy and physiology are shared amongst the professions, albeit some do it better than others, but it is the philosophy and thought process of the Osteopath that sets them apart from the Physiotherapist or the Chiropractor or the Exercise Physiologist. It’s the philosophy in practice.
#1 The body is a holistic unit
The 1st principle that guides us, is that we believe the body is a holistic unit. We don’t like to isolate body parts. We don’t like to say, a muscle a bone a joint a nerve. We look at the injury within the whole system, and then we go and affect the system to help your injury.
#2 Structure and function are closely related
The 2nd principle that we follow, is that we believe that structure and function are closely related. We need to understand the mechanics of the actual movement problem that you have. We need to understand the way that the body moves, and the actual structure of the body and how it’s affected by movement, so that we can help you overcome that injury.
#3 Body’s ability to heal itself
The 3rd principle that we follow, is that we believe in the body’s ability to heal itself. So if we are able to overcome some of those obstacles, we move them out of the way so that the body can go and fix itself. We don’t fix anything, all we’re doing is that we’re helping you get better by moving some poor function out of the way so that the body’s own healing mechanism can be stimulated and come into play.
#4 Follow all the Osteopath principals
And the 4th principle, and this is an important one, is that if you don’t follow the first 3 principles, you’re not practising Osteopathy. You might be a Physiotherapist that says “well I use some of those techniques” or a Chiropractor that says “I do some of these things in my clinic.” That’s all well and good, and well done to those practitioners who have gone on to seek knowledge and improve their skill. But that would have been done out of their own volition and not because it was passed down to them through their education. It’s not part of their ingrained philosophy or their formal teachings.
In summary, An Osteopath is a registered health practitioner that looks at the body as a whole system, assess the mechanical structure and helps that mechanical structure heal itself by improving its movement. It’s a very effective system of treatment when it’s put into practice. One would hope that medicine heads in this patient-centric, holistic philosophy of improving health. Hope that clears up for you, Stay Strong!