Osteopaths assess and treat people of any age from the elderly to the newborn and from pregnant women to sports people.
To qualify, an osteopath must study for four to five years for an undergraduate degree. This is similar to a medical degree, with more emphasis on anatomy and musculoskeletal medicine and includes more than 1,000 hours of training in osteopathic techniques. By law, osteopaths must register with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC). It is an offence for anyone to call themselves an osteopath if they are not registered. The British Medical Association's guidance for general practitioners states that doctors can safely refer patients to osteopaths.
Although osteopaths treat many conditions but often most people think of us as 'back specialists'. Back pain is what many osteopaths treat a lot of the time. Osteopathic treatment does not target symptoms only, but treats the parts of the body that have caused the symptoms. Osteopaths have a holistic approach and believe that your whole body will work well if your body is in good structural balance, Imagine, for example, a car that has one of its front wheels not quite pointing straight. It may run well for a while, but after a few thousand miles, the tyre will wear out. You can apply this example to the human body, which is why it is so important to keep the body in good balance.
We use a wide range of techniques, including massage, cranial techniques (sometimes referred to as 'cranial osteopathy') and joint mobilization and this breadth of approach allows us to focus on every patient's precise needs.
Your medical history
Before we start to treat you, we will make a full medical assessment. We take time to listen to you and ask questions to make sure we understand your medical history and your day-to-day routine. We'll ask you about things like diet, exercise and what is happening in your life, as these may give clues to help our diagnosis.
We may feel your pulse and check your reflexes. We may also take your blood pressure and refer you for clinical tests, such as x-rays, if we think you need them.
We usually look at your posture and how you move your body. We may also assess what happens when we move it for you and see what hurts, where and when.
Using touch, we may also find the areas which are sensitive or tight and this helps us to identify what's going on. When we have done this, we can diagnose your condition. We may sometimes feel that osteopathy is not appropriate for you and refer you to your GP or another specialist such as an orthopaedic surgeon.
Osteopaths use a wide range of gentle manipulations, depending on your age, fitness and diagnosis. Treatment is different for every patient but may include techniques such as different types of soft tissue massage and joint articulation to release tension, stretch muscles, help relieve pain and mobilise your joints.
Sometimes, when we move joints you may hear a ‘click’. This is just like the click people get when they crack their knuckles.
We may discuss exercises that you can do to improve your posture and movement in your workplace and everyday life.
The most common conditions that we treat are:
However, patients have found osteopathy helpful for many other conditions. If you want to find out more, any osteopath will be happy to talk to you.
What should I wear?
As with any medical examination, you will probably be asked to undress to your underwear, so please wear something you are comfortable in.
Can I bring a friend or relative?
Yes – if you wish, you can have someone present throughout your consultation and treatment.
Does it hurt?
Some soft tissue treatment may cause discomfort during treatment. Your osteopath will tell you what to expect, and will want you to let them know if you are in pain. You may feel a little stiff or sore after treatment. This is a normal, healthy response to the treatment.
Do I need to see my doctor first?
You do not need to see your doctor first if you are paying for your own treatment. However, some insurance companies require you to see your doctor first. Osteopathy is available on the NHS in some areas - and national guidelines say it should be available everywhere for low back pain.
Trouble with your back does not simply produce pain in the back. Often it may cause symptoms in more remote areas such as the buttocks, groin, hips, and legs (commonly called sciatica).
Problems in the spine and neck can also cause symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, clicking jaw, pins and needles and many more. Indeed research has shown that problems related to the back may affect over 60% of the UK’s population at some stage in their lives.
Osteopaths are trained professionals who are skilled in diagnosing problems, including those which may require further investigation if necessary. Around 30,000 people currently consult osteopaths every working day with more than seven million consultations carried out every year (General Osteopathic Council).
NICE guidelines (the National Institute of Clinical Excellence) recommend manipulative therapies including osteopathy for the treatment of low back pain.
Osteopaths use a wide range of gentle manipulations, depending on your age, fitness and diagnosis. Treatment is different for every patient but may include techniques such as different types of soft tissue massage and joint articulation to release tension, stretch muscles, help relieve pain and mobilise your joints. Sometimes, when we move joints you may hear a ‘click’. This is just like the click people get when they crack their knuckles.
When young, the body can adapt easily to the stress and strain it is put under. As it grows older (over 25 years!) it begins to lose some of the elasticity which gives the body the flexibility to cope and adapt. In particular this applies to the discs between the vertebrae and the joint cartilage. These require regular movement to ensure their maximum range and thereby increase local circulation and nutrition to the surrounding fluids and tissues.
Sports activities are a regular way of life for many of us now, and involve people from across all age groups from those who have an avid interest to those who just wish to keep fit; from the elite professional to the casual participant. Many of the injuries are the result of overuse i.e. playing too hard and too often e.g. tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, and biceps tendinitis, or from not warming up properly beforehand or from not warming down after exercise.
Sometimes incorrect equipment can lead to injuries – ill-fitting footwear can cause hip, knee and foot injuries (e.g. Achilles injuries). Reduced joint flexibility will affect the degree of performance and may result in injury if the player is unaware that they cannot perform to the same level as they used to, for example golfers who cannot turn at the waist as well as they used to, and the enthusiastic older footballer whose knees do not bend as well as they once did.
Young people especially are vulnerable in sport as their growing bodies are often expected to perform to high standards and are putting exceptional physical demands on themselves. The good news is that although sports injuries are common, those who are fit tend to recover more quickly and easily from their injuries.
An osteopath can help improve performance as well as treat the injuries being suffered. By using their knowledge of diagnosis and highly developed palpatory skills they can help to restore structural balance, improve joint mobility and reduce adhesions and soft tissue restrictions so that ease of movement is restored and performance enhanced. For those of you wishing to keep fit, the osteopath can help you keep supple and improve muscle tone so reducing the risk of injury to soft tissues unaccustomed to the extra work they are being asked to do. Advice on diet and exercise which will help you with your specific sport may also be offered.
Are you Fit for Work?
Occupational injuries account for many millions of working days lost each year in Britain. No matter whether your work is in the office or outside on the land you need to be able to cope with the individual demands made on your body by the style of work you do. Manual work inevitably carries the inherent risk of injury caused by heavy and often awkward lifting, overstretching, and periods of prolonged bending causing back and disc injuries, sciatica, and muscle strains.
In the office where desk work is more common, there are the dangers of 'computer hump' and 'mouse wrist', whilst frequent telephone use affects the neck and shoulders causing headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome etc.
Those who drive for a living need to be aware of their driving position as it affects not only their back, neck and shoulders but also can affect hips, knees and feet. Ask an osteopath for advice on the correct driving position for you and any exercises which may help.
For the Employee
Going to an osteopath demonstrates to your boss that you are taking an active role in trying to improve your health and reduce your injury. The osteopath will help you look at the style of work you are undertaking and help you find ways of improving the situation and how to prevent a recurrence of your injuries. You will be treated and offered advice on posture and lifting. An osteopath can also provide you with a fit note.
For the Employer
Osteopathic treatment will usually help to resolve work-related injuries earlier so that your workforce is more efficient and productive and it will reduce time off through ill-health. Some companies already benefit from using an osteopath as part of their care programme for employees thereby improving morale and increasing productivity.
Retirement can bring time for leisure, travel opportunities and interests to the older person. This is the chance to take up those sports and activities that you never had time for whilst working and bringing up your family, e.g. golf, gardening, badminton, fitness classes etc. The body, however, has changed. It has lost some of its elasticity and ability to adapt. It has also experienced injuries and postural stress during those years, often resulting in repetitive strain injuries, stiffness and degenerative changes.
The onset of health issues such as high blood pressure, digestive and circulatory disorders and arthritis have all begun to have a noticeable effect on the body's energy and ability to perform. Many grandparents also help working parents by caring for their grandchildren - a pleasure for many but also a strain on the older body.
Quality of life is especially important for this age group when there are increasing concerns about loss of independence and mobility.
Osteopathy can help greatly during this time. An osteopath will take a full case history so they can understand how the body has been affected so far. Then, after a full examination and assessment the osteopath will be able to offer treatment and advice to help improve mobility, circulation and immune function, and reduce joint stiffness so that the older person can enjoy a full and active life in retirement.
The treatment is usually gentle and aims to maintain health and prevent further injury. Dietary advice may also be given to help maintain healthy bones and joints.