If you are reading this guide, then you are probably interested in seeing an osteopath. Maybe you’ve already seen an osteopath but want to find out more about the type of treatment you are having. You are in the right place. Our patient’s guide to osteopathy will tell you everything you need to know about osteopathy and more.

Read on to find out about how osteopathy works, the different types of osteopathy, what osteopathy treats, the difference between osteopathy and chiropractic, and what to expect when you see an osteopath.

What is osteopathy?

Osteopathy is a holistic, drug-free system of treatment and diagnosis for a wide range of conditions. It is based on the principle that wellbeing depends on bones, muscles, connective tissues and ligaments functioning perfectly together. Osteopathy works on the theory that the body physically changes in trauma and illness. Osteopathic treatments involve manual manipulation to muscles and joints to restore them to normal.

Osteopaths use their hands to move, stretch and massage muscles and joints to restore function. The treatment has a positive impact on the body’s nervous, circulatory and lymphatic systems.

Different types of osteopathy include cranial osteopathy and visceral osteopathy. Let’s take a closer look at these treatments and how osteopathy can benefit you, with information from Sussex based specialist Bansel Osteopathy.

What is cranial osteopathy?

Cranial osteopathy is a very gentle technique which uses light pressure to release tension in the body. It is commonly the favoured technique for treating babies and children and can help with colic, feeding difficulties, excessive crying or screaming, poor sleep, low immunity, recurrent infections, dental problems, headaches, growing pains and behavioural problems.

What is visceral osteopathy?

Visceral osteopathy concerns the movement and quality of internal organs (also known as viscera and includes the stomach, liver, intestines, lungs etc.). Organs in the body, such as the stomach and liver, are suspended by ligaments. Discomfort in the back and other parts of the body can be mechanically or neurologically related to the restriction of an organ. Visceral osteopathyhelps to move and release tensions and tightness around organs.

What does a treatment with an osteopath actually involve?

Osteopathy is a patient-centred form of healthcare. This means an osteopath will listen to you and ask questions about your health., your medical care and any medication you are taking.

At your first visit, the osteopath will carry out a full examination in order to make a diagnosis. You may be asked to stand or lie on an examination couch. You may also be asked to perform simple movements so the osteopath can see how your condition is restricting you and causing you pain.

Your osteopath will examine the health of your joints, tissues and ligaments using their hands. Treatment is normally given at your first appointment, following the examination and diagnosis. The type of treatment you receive will be determined by your condition and will be given in accordance with the examination findings.

What health conditions can osteopathy help?

Back and neck pain is the most common reason people choose to see an osteopath. But, osteopathy can help with many other conditions, including:

  • Shoulder and arm problems
  • Pelvis, hip and leg problems
  • Sciatic pain
  • Pain associated with arthritis
  • Sports and other injuries
  • Muscle, tendon and joint pain
  • Headaches

While osteopathy is primarily seen as a treatment for musculoskeletal problems, patients have found osteopathy helpful for many other health problems and injuries, such as fibromyalgia, rheumatic pain, whiplash, circulatory problems and digestive problems.

Can anyone see an osteopath?

Yes. Osteopathy is suitable for babies, children and the elderly, as well as all ages in between.

Is osteopathy available on the NHS?

Osteopathy isn’t widely available on the NHS. However, osteopathy is available on the NHS in a limited number of areas. Your local clinical commissioning group (CCG) should be able to tell you if osteopathy is available in your area.

Are osteopaths regulated?

Yes. All osteopaths in the UK are regulated by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC).

Do osteopaths have to be qualified to practise?

Yes. The title ‘osteopath’ is protected by law. All osteopaths have to complete and pass their training, which takes 4-5 years at a recognised school, such as The British College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Practicing osteopaths have to be registered with the General Osteopathic Council. Osteopaths also have to commit to ongoing professional development and attend seminars and training courses to maintain their knowledge and standards of care.

How is osteopathy different to chiropractic?

Osteopathy and chiropractic are often confused as being the same thing. They are both manual therapies and people with neck or back problems may choose to see therapists in either camp. Both share a common philosophy and both are used to treat aches and pains in the body.

Both therapies use observation and touch in diagnosis and treatment, and both are regulated by law. The main differences between osteopathy and chiropractic are:

  • Chiropractic treatment tends to focus mainly on the alignment of the spine, whereas osteopaths look more at the body as a whole
  • Osteopaths treat a broader range of functional problems
  • Chiropractors may use diagnostic tools like x-rays or MRI scans
  • Osteopaths use a variety of techniques to influence the body’s own healing system, such as muscle and soft tissue work, and joint and ligament articulation and manipulation
  • Chiropractors use a variety of techniques to ‘adjust’ the vertebrae and stimulate optimum nerve transition
  • Osteopath appointments tend to be longer, as chiropractic adjustment techniques are quicker to carry out
  • Osteopath appointments tend to be more spaced out, whereas chiropractors tend to see patients more frequently

Ultimately, whether you see a chiropractor or an osteopath comes down to personal preference about your specific complaint and the type of treatment they offer. Always ensure the practitioner you see is registered with the General Osteopathic Council (osteopaths) or with the General Chiropractic Council (chiropractors).

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