Osteopathy is a drug-free, non-invasive manual therapy that aims to improve health across all body systems by manipulating and strengthening the musculoskeletal framework.
An osteopathic physician will focus on the joints, muscles, and spine. Treatment aims to positively affect the body's nervous, circulatory, and lymphatic systems.
Manual medicine means that both diagnosis and treatment are carried out with the hands.
Osteopathy is a complementary therapy. It is used alongside conventional treatment to improve health. However, osteopathic physicians are also qualified as medical doctors (MDs), and they have more training than other complementary therapists, such as naturopaths. They specialize in osteopathy.
Osteopathy is one of the fastest growing healthcare professions in the United States (U.S.).
Fast facts about osteopathy
- Osteopathy uses a drug-free, non-invasive form of manual medicine that focuses on the health of the whole body, not just the injured or affected part.
- The osteopathic physician focuses on the joints, muscles, and spine.
- Osteopathic intervention can help treat arthritis, back pain, headaches, tennis elbow, digestive issues, and postural problems.
- Treatment can also assist with sleep cycles and the nervous, circulatory, and lymphatic symptoms.
What is osteopathy?
Osteopathy takes a holistic, whole-body approach to healthcare.
It uses manual 'hands-on' techniques to improve circulation and correct altered biomechanics, without the use of drugs.
An osteopathic physician does not concentrate only on the problem area, but uses manual techniques to balance all the body systems, and to provide overall good health and wellbeing.
Diagnosing and treating conditions using these techniques is called Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM).
Techniques include stretching, gentle pressure, and resistance, known as osteopathic manipulative medicine.
An osteopathic physician may also issue prescription medicine and use surgical methods to support the holistic, manual treatment.
Many osteopathic physicians also serve as primary care physicians in fields such as family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics.
Osteopathy can provide relief and treatment for a wide range of conditions.
- foot, ankle, hip, and knee pain
- back pain, neck pain, and sciatica
- hand, shoulder, and elbow pain
- tennis and golfer's elbow
- postural problems due to pregnancy, sports injury, driving or work strain, or digestive issues
Osteopathic physicians can also detect conditions that are not treatable through osteopathy, to refer patients to other specialists.
What to expect
People visiting an osteopath should ensure that their doctor is accredited by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and licensed to practice.
Ask to see this documentation if it is not already on display in their practice.
An individual may have a referral from a primary care physician, or they may refer themselves.
Self-referring patients should inform their regular doctor, to ensure that ongoing care is consistent.
Osteopathy is patient-centered. An initial consultation will take place before any active treatment or management begins.
During this consultation, the osteopathic physician will discuss the patient's health problems, listen, and take case notes. The session will last approximately 45 minutes.
The osteopathic physician will physically examine the patient, who may need to remove some clothing to carry out the diagnosis. Patient privacy should be respected during this process.
The examination may take 1 to 2 hours.
The patient will be asked to demonstrate simple stretches and movements to help the osteopathic physician make an accurate analysis of their posture and mobility.
The doctor will also assess the health of the joints, ligaments, and tissues, using a highly trained technique of touch known as palpation.
The osteopathic physician will propose a treatment plan to meet the patient's needs.
This will include the number of sessions likely to be needed, although this number may change depending on the patient's response to treatment.
Osteopathy emphasizes self-healing, so an osteopathic physician may also advise dietary changes, home exercise programs, and lifestyle adjustments.
The manipulation and hands-on work are gentle, but due to the physical work being carried out, a patient of osteopathy may feel sore for the first 24 to 48 hours.
What will it cost?
The cost will vary, depending on the clinic, the insurance plan the patient has, and the state in which they live. Many insurance plans will fund osteopathy for appropriate conditions.
It is worth asking the insurer if there is a limit per session or an overall limit for outpatient complementary therapies.
Is an osteopathic physician the same as a chiropractor?
A chiropractor can also treat the back, but their focus is more likely to be on the position of the spine and joints, with the aim of improving nerve function and healing ability.
A chiropractor is more likely to "pop" or "crack" the joints. An osteopathic physician does not usually do this. A chiropractor will focus on a specific problem area, while an osteopath looks at the body as a whole. An Osteopathic physician is a medical doctor with specialized training in the fast-growing approach to healing and wellness.
Osteopathy can benefit the musculoskeletal framework and other systems.
Osteopathy and back pain
Many people approach an osteopathic physician with back pain, but preventive treatment is also possible.
Today's increasingly sedentary lifestyle means that the average American will spend over href="http://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/30/health/americans-screen-time-nielsen/index.html" target="_blank">10.5 hours per day in front of a screen. This can lead to poor posture and musculoskeletal problems.
Treatment involves gentle and subtle manipulation, especially of the muscles and soft tissues. The doctor may stretch or massage the muscle.
If there are signs of a displaced disk or other serious condition, the osteopathic physician may recommend doing some imaging tests and direct the patient toward conventional treatment.
An osteopathic physician can help prevent problems by pinpointing potential sources of referred pain in good time.
They may suggest dietary modifications and changes to workplace ergonomics, such as seating and desk position.
Prevention advice can involve:
- stretching exercises
- lifting techniques
- stress reduction
These techniques can help improve posture and reduce pain. Learning to lift with the legs, or example, and to stretch before exercise can reduce injury.
Lifestyle changes can dramatically improve health and reduce ongoing health risks and costs.
Preventing injury means more time keeping active, less time off work, and freedom to enjoy the benefits of healthful living.
Osteopathy and sleep
Pain and discomfort can lead to a lack of sleep or restless nights.
This can make it harder for the body to function adequately, and reduce the ability to cope with pain.
Studies have shown that osteopathic treatment can reduce sleep apnea in infants under 4 months old, but further research is needed to confirm this.
Other body systems
Osteopathic treatments can positively impact the nervous, circulatory, and lymphatic systems, to improve body function and overall health.
Some osteopathic techniques may enhance lymphatic health and bring about internal improvements in the body without needing invasive surgical treatment.
As with all treatments, osteopathy can involve some risks.
After treatment, it is common for a patient to feel stiff, rather like after exercising, for 24 to 48 hours. Some patients may have a headache for a short while.
If these occur, the patient should speak to their osteopath or their physician.
More severe adverse effects may need emergency medical treatment.
These include stroke, prolapsed disk, pain radiating to a limb, nerve damage, muscle weakness, and bladder or bowel problems.
Most of these risks are rare, but patients should be aware of them before they begin treatment.