Osteopathy is an established, recognised system of diagnosis and treatment that lays its main emphasis on the structural integrity of the body. It is distinctive in the fact that it recognises 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.

Osteopathy uses many of the diagnostic procedures used in conventional medical assessment and diagnosis. Its main strength, however, lies in the unique way the patient is assessed from a mechanical, functional and postural standpoint and the manual methods of treatment applied to suit the needs of the individual patient.

Osteopathy does more than just address problems of the musculo-skeletal system. The British Medical Association in its report Complementary Medicine: New Approaches to Good Practice describes osteopathy as a ‘discrete clinical discipline’. Osteopaths use a wide variety of approaches to treatment and can bring relief or improvement to many conditions affecting, for example, children, the elderly, sportsmen and women, or to problems which arise during or after pregnancy.

A thorough knowledge of the basic medical sciences followed by an extended period of clinical training is central to the osteopath’s ability to make a differential diagnosis and to distinguish conditions which are amenable to osteopathic treatment from those which are not.

Osteopathy is based on the theory that many of the body’s health problems are due to misplaced vertebrae which hinder the body’s own self-healing process. Therefore, by realigning these vertebrae the body’s natural substances are released to heal the specific symptom. Like other holistic therapies, osteopathy works on the premise that good health requires proper equilibrium and as such will take into account all the details of a patient’s lifestyle, such as environment, nutrition, posture, and so on.

Osteopaths place great importance on ‘lesions’ which occur when a joint becomes jammed and therefore restricted within its natural scope of movement. Lesions in the lower back can cut off circulation which may lead to disease, they can also cause disc damage and inflamed nerves. These lesions do no necessarily show up on an X-ray and therefore are often missed by GPs who rely greatly on X-rays for their diagnosis.

As an addition to osteopathy, a student discovered that there is a gentle movement in the joints of the cranial bones and that when these bones become misaligned and restrict this movement, for reasons such as a birth defect or a blow to the head, then this can lead to disease. It is through this discovery that cranial osteopathy was developed, and just like osteopathy it involves the manipulation of the cranial bones.

A first visit to an osteopath will take the best part of an hour and subsequent visits will take approximately 45 minutes. The Osteopath treats the individual and not just the disease, and will therefore take a detailed case history from you to make himself aware of any outside influences that could cause the symptoms. The osteopath will note how you walk and your general posture and will examine the patient in their underwear in sitting, lying and standing positions. He/she is looking for any damage to the body’s framework and will point out any interesting postural abnormalities, such as having one shoulder higher than the other or other uneven angles.

The osteopath may use blood and urine tests to aid diagnosis and will pay close attention to certain areas with palpation (use of the hands). There are several techniques that the osteopath may use to treat the patient’s condition, such as spine cracking, soft tissue technique which is similar to massage, osteopathic manipulative therapy which is used to restore movement in the musculo-skeletal system, or movement of the joints to restore muscle alignment. The technique will depend on the diagnosis of the health problem.

The osteopath will most likely give advice on posture, nutrition, exercise and relaxation in addition to the manipulation treatment.

Osteopaths are independent practitioners and therefore a letter of referral is not necessary, and the cost of treatment can vary. Private health insurance often includes osteopathy now and will allow a certain amount of money to pay for osteopathic treatment if it is recommended by your GP.