Osteopathy – What is Osteopathy

Osteopathy is a patient-centred medical approach that focuses on the whole person and considers their physical, psychological and social environment. Doctors of osteopathy (DOs) are trained to evaluate the musculoskeletal system and can treat patients with a variety of symptoms.

Several studies suggest that osteopathic manipulation may reduce interoceptive processing and thereby alleviate symptom intensity. The NE-O model has been developed to optimize the use of osteopathic care in NICU newborns.


The roots of osteopathy go back to the late 1800s and a Missouri medical doctor named Andrew Taylor Still. Unsatisfied with the medicines of his time, he realised that diseases are mainly due to the body’s misalignment and malfunctioning. He developed a method of manually manipulating the human body, focusing on the musculoskeletal system. He also discovered that if the body is given the right conditions, it is able to heal itself.

As a result, he developed a whole new approach to medicine – the philosophy of Osteopathy. Still’s philosophy was that the osteopathic physician’s job is to help patients use their bodies better (move, breathe, decrease stress etc) and that if the body is in good health then it can heal itself of many diseases and conditions.

He also realised that the musculoskeletal system is intimately linked to every other part of the body. He was one of the earliest people to consider the body as a whole and was therefore a holistic physician.

In 1892 Still founded the American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri. It was the first osteopathic school to admit women which is a legacy that is carried on today. The philosophy and techniques of osteopathy are now practised worldwide.

Osteopathy is a scientific, therapeutic discipline that uses hands-on treatment to treat patients of all ages. The osteopathic physician is trained to understand the whole person and uses the principles of osteopathy to assess, diagnose and treat illness.

Osteopathy is unique among medical disciplines in that it focuses on prevention of disease and promotes wellness. During their four years of undergraduate study, osteopathic students learn to practice holistic patient care. They are taught to use their ears to listen to their patients, their eyes to see the whole person and their hands to assess, diagnose and treat. Upon graduating, DOs serve a year of clinical experience in family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics-gynecology and surgery. This ensures that osteopathic physicians are fully qualified to perform primary care as well as specialty care. It is this combination of knowledge that makes an osteopathic physician truly special.


Unlike many medical approaches that focus on symptoms, osteopathy considers how the whole body functions. Osteopaths, called DOs, receive special training in how the structures of the body interact, especially the musculoskeletal system. They know that when these parts work together well, the entire person works well. DOs are also trained to recognize a variety of stressors that can impact the musculoskeletal system, and they help patients develop strategies to cope with these issues.

In the late 1800s, American medical doctor A.T. Still found that the body’s musculoskeletal system plays an important role in health and illness. He discovered that structural abnormalities decrease the ability of the nervous and circulatory systems to function, and he developed manual methods for correcting these disturbances. He observed that when these manipulations helped the body’s innate self-regulating and healing mechanisms, patients recovered from their illnesses often without the use of drugs or surgery.

Still’s observations led him to believe that the human body is a continuum of structure and function, and that every part affects every other part. He called this relationship the “body-field.” His philosophy was that the natural tendency of the human body toward health is stronger than any external forces that may affect it. The osteopathic physician seeks to stimulate this inherent self-regulating and healing process in order to treat existing disease and prevent new imbalances from developing.

A DO’s knowledge of the interrelationship between structure and function, as well as their extensive training in osteopathic manipulative treatment, allows them to identify and resolve factors that hinder these natural processes. These biological hinderances can include restricted and repetitive movement patterns, chronic stress and poor nutrition, among others.

The CAO offers a principles-based classical osteopathy education that is rooted in an understanding of osteopathic thinking, diagnosis and treatment. While the osteopathic approach to treating painful joints is well known, this is only a small part of what osteopathy really is. The true goal of osteopathic medicine is to help the patient recover its inherent vital energy (*1) and return to the state of optimal health in which he or she was born, so that it is better prepared to face the stresses and strains of life and maintain good health.


Osteopaths use a wide range of hands-on manual techniques to massage, stretch and move joints and soft tissue. These include effleurage, petrissage, percussion, frictions and lymphatic drainage. They may also use gentle manipulation of the cranium, known as craniosacral therapy.

The osteopathic philosophy is that the structure of the body, particularly the bones and muscles, influences the function of the circulatory and lymphatic systems, as well as the nervous system. If these structures are not functioning properly, it can reduce the body’s ability to cope with stress or to heal itself. The osteopathic approach is to restore the body’s natural balance and help it heal itself.

For more than 100 years, osteopathic physicians have believed that problems in the spine can send nerve signals to all parts of the body, causing them to be unable to perform their normal functions. This theory led them to develop osteopathic techniques of adjusting the body’s position to relieve pressure on nerves, arteries and veins, and promote circulation so that the organs can perform their functions.

Another key osteopathic principle is that the body’s musculoskeletal system is closely linked to the rest of the bodily tissues. The osteopathic physician is trained to feel this linkage and treat the whole person – not just the symptoms.

The osteopathic physician also understands that your mind and emotions play an important role in the overall health of your body. A DO will take into account your medical history, lifestyle and family environment when designing a treatment plan.

Osteopathy is not a substitute for traditional medicine. It can, however, be used as a complementary treatment for many common ailments. For example, osteopathic manipulation can help you get back to your regular activities more quickly after an injury or surgery, and it can be used to ease the pain and discomfort of chronic conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. It can even help you to quit smoking or control your blood pressure or cholesterol. And it can improve your outcomes when taking prescription medications such as NSAIDs and opioids for musculoskeletal conditions.

Conditions treated

Osteopaths have extensive training in the musculoskeletal system – your body’s network of nerves, blood vessels and lymphatics which physically support the internal organs. This means that osteopathy is not only effective in treating back and neck pain – it can help many other conditions too.

The osteopathic technique known as ‘manipulative treatment’ involves gentle manipulation of the bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments (known as your musculo-skeletal system). This is done using soft tissue massage and mobilisation. The osteopathic physician may also use other techniques such as manipulation of the jaw or the cranium (known as craniosacral therapy).

A key principle is that the structure and function of your body are interrelated. The musculo-skeletal system supports the nervous and circulatory systems, and provides a foundation for self-regulation, self-healing and health maintenance. Osteopaths recognise that each individual is unique and therefore the treatment approach varies from patient to patient, taking into account their age, lifestyle, state of health and general wellbeing.

Your osteopathic doctor will take a full medical history and perform a conventional physical exam, including vital signs, neurological evaluation and assessment of the cardiovascular, pulmonary and digestive systems. The osteopathic examination is performed with the patient in light, comfortable clothing and either sitting or lying down. Osteopaths are trained to evaluate your musculo-skeletal system and to identify areas of weakness, strain or excessive pressure.

Osteopathic treatment is effective in a wide variety of conditions. These include back pain of varying severities, changes in posture during pregnancy and postural problems due to work or driving, arthritic pain and minor sports injuries. In addition, osteopathic treatment can be helpful in managing the symptoms of some chronic illnesses such as asthma and fibromyalgia.

Osteopaths are regulated by law to ensure that they hold a robust body of evidence to support the claims made about their treatments. For this reason, they are unable to make specific claims about treating babies and children such as colic, reflux, unsettled behaviour, sleeping difficulties, nasal congestion or ear infections. However, the ASA has upheld complaints against an osteopath who published a webpage which was intended to be understood to imply that osteopathic treatment could help with these symptoms and conditions.

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