What the Heck is Osteopathy?
by Paige Okun, 'The Feeder' writer When we first moved to Singapore, I struggled with terrible neck pain and tried everything from muscle relaxers and traction to physical therapy to rest and stability. Finally, my child's pediatrician recommended that I visit an Osteopath. I had absolutely no idea what this was, but was ready to try anything. And, to my amazement after one session, I felt better. After six sessions, plus some at-home exercises, I was pain free. I loved the non-invasive, drug-free therapy, where I could take an active role in my own health.
Over the years, I've visited Osteopaths for all manner of muscle aches, pains, and pulls. And I realised recently, that while I consider these practitioners miracle workers, I wasn't even exactly sure what the discipline of Osteopathy is. So, I sat down with Ryan Unsworth from Calibrate Health for a chat. What is Osteopathy & How is it different from Physiotherapy and Chiropractic Care? Osteopathy is a discipline involving manual therapy and looking at the body as a whole, rather than just treating an individual injury. In Osteopathy, the context of the injury determines the treatment. So we look at blood supply, breathing, lifestyle, everything together to facilitate the body healing itself. This very specialised hands-on practice involves stretches and joint manipulation, muscles, and nerves. The therapist will also give exercises to do outside the clinic. Involving the patient is very much a part of the process. Communication is critical and I tailor an individual approach for each patient’s needs. There is no magic pill, no one stretch solves everything. Wellness is a combination of factors. We ask questions like, "how is the body functioning as a whole?" and "does the body function well?" I’m actually trying to get away from calling people patients. The idea of going to a clinic or being a patient is associated with something being wrong. People tend to see me when there is pain. But, I'd like to change that be part of people's wellness plan. It is way easier to treat someone who isn’t in pain. We can help people function better by looking at their bodies and can make changes before a problem arises. For instance, we work with athletes to improve strength and balance in general. Sometimes people can’t use their full strength because they don’t have stability. I like working with people to see how they can improve biomechanically to reach their optimum.
What is the biggest misconception about Osteopathy? There are a few misconceptions including that we only deal with bones because of the prefix "osteo," which often gets simplified to just back pain; that we only treat people in pain and that we are an "alternative" therapy. Of course we can help you heal from an injury or chronic pain. But we also help people with prevention and even enhancing performance and function. So is it “Western” medicine or alternative therapy? Osteopathy begins with studying evidence-based (Western) medicine. We do the first few years of medicine, learning Anatomy, Physiology, Neurology, Pathology, Embryology, Nutrition and Biomechanics. You need to understand how the body works and how all the systems are connected in order to make changes. I don’t use techniques I can’t explain. In practice, we then draw from this knowledge, with our range of experience and different disciplines which may be relevant. How much training do you need? Is there a certification process? Minimum 4 years of full-time training to become certified. What's interesting about Osteopathy is that it can include many different ways to look at the same problem. You do see certain trends depending on where they have studied. Often English and Australian Osteopaths are more structuralists, they look at how muscles, fascia, joints, lymphatics and nerves relate to one another, and try to influence these systems. This is how I was trained. French-trained Osteopaths will often work in visceral manipulation and cranial-sacral therapy with gentle manipulations of the skull, viscera, spinal column and sacrum to try to influence the central nervous system. In the United States, Osteopaths must be a medical doctor, but generally will incorporate more naturopathic therapies where the focus is letting the body heal itself. But, often don't do hands-on manipulations.
What can Osteopathy cure and when should you see an orthopaedic surgeon? This really depends on the individual. There are certain things we cannot do like repair completely torn muscles or ligaments; they usually require surgery. We can't heal tumours, cancer, or systemic illness. It's important to identify this so we don't waste time in getting people the help they need. Often before I start working with someone, I will refer them to a doctor or specialist to get cleared. We have to understand our own limits and trust those we refer to. Do you work with kids? And, what types of things would you treat in children? We do. With kids it can be things like hip dysplasia. And of course posture is important— computers, phones, video games—all of those devices can cause posture issues. We need to work with kids on getting them to build and develop good habits of movement and posture and to raise awareness on how they are sitting to prevent injuries later. Why did you want to become an Osteopath? I've always enjoyed working with my hands, as a kid my hobby was taking apart bikes. I loved design technology and woodwork. My family was always in healthcare, so growing up I thought work was about helping people. My mum actually told me about Osteopathy; I followed an Osteopath for a day and I was set on that. I've been working in the profession for 8 years. What are the Top Things people can do for preventative care to maintain health and wellness?
Make sure you have sufficient movement every day. Movement is important for the body to regulate itself. Your body relies on movement to distribute nutrition and it's critical for blood flow and tissue regeneration.
Do things you enjoy. When your mood is high and you feel happy, you feel aches and pains less. When you are in a depressed state you feel pain quicker. Take care of your relationships with family, friends and peers. If you feel purpose in your life, you will generally feel better.
Eat healthy. Nutrition is a building block for all your systems. How we fuel ourselves matters for overall wellbeing.
Get some good sleep. If you don’t have good sleep things break down.