Osteopathy is a system of diagnosis
and treatment which lays its emphasis on the mechanical structure
of the body. Treatment methods are principally manual, using the hands to improve mobility, drain inflammation, or stabilise an area, depending
on the diagnosis. Any problem within the mechanical framework of
the body can have
a knock-on effect on the organs within. So osteopaths believe that maintaining a healthy framework
can help patients with a wide range of conditions.
Osteopaths use their hands both to investigate
and to treat the underlying causes of pain. All osteopaths
are registered with the General Osteopathic Council. Every patient
is assessed individually and, providing osteopathic treatment will be safe and
appropriate, an individual treatment programme is devised. In most
cases improvements are seen within three treatments.
This statement is attributed to Dr A.T. Still, the man who started Osteopathy! The over-riding principle of Osteopathy is that our bodies normally fix themselves. If we cut ourselves, the cut gradually heals; if we get an infection, we feel ill for a while but then we recover. So the aim of the Osteopath is not to 'cure' you - your own body does that itself - but to remove those barriers that are stopping your body from putting itself right.
Another principle of Osteopathy is that the body is a single unit - all its parts are connected to each other and influence one another. Although we talk about individual "systems" of the body, this is for our convenience in teaching and study; no "system" can exist on its own and they all influence each other. This is why the Osteopath may end up working on areas of the body that appear to be completely unconnected with your problem - the aim is to enable your body to get on with putting itself right.
Because Osteopathy concentrates on creating the circumstances that will allow your body to get on with fixing itself, rather than on 'curing' a condition, it has the potential to help patients with a wide range of different underlying complaints - indeed, the aim of Dr Still was to reform the practice of medicine as a whole and he viewed Osteopathy as a complete system of healthcare.
This is what an Osteopath is liable to say (sometimes a little tetchily!) when asked how they treat a specific condition. Because we aim to help your body to be able to get on with fixing itself, treatment is specific to the individual patient rather than the condition itself. This means that every treatment is unique, because you are unique - two patients with identical conditions will receive different treatments because they are different people living different lives in different circumstances. It also means that there is no such thing as 'the osteopathic treatment for' any specific condition - treatment is as individual as you are.
Because we treat the patient rather than the disease, Osteopathy has, in theory, the possibility of being able to help in a lot of different circumstances - and when I say 'help', I don't mean 'cure'. Whilst some patients recover fully, others have long-term conditions which will never go away, but that doesn't necessarily mean Osteopathy cannot help. For example, some (but not all) patients who have Osteoarthritis feel osteopathic treatment helps them to stay as mobile as possible and some feel it helps to reduce the amount of pain-killers they need. In these cases, my aim is to maintain as much mobility as possible, and to keep the tissues around the joint as healthy as possible. That way, if a joint replacement becomes necessary the patient still has healthy muscles around it to use after surgery.
Similarly, it is possible that a patient who has asthma may find that osteopathic treatment working on their breathing mechanics helps their overall breathing despite the fact that the treatment isn't directed at the asthma itself. So the treatment might help the patient cope with their asthma symptoms even though it doesn't even attempt to 'cure' the asthma. As long as the patient is still breathing asthmatically the effect of treatment on the ribcage and diaphragm is liable to be temporary - but some patients still feel that a regular treatment (possibly every three months or so - or even further apart) gives them enough benefit to be worthwhile.
Because every patient is different, we can never guarantee to be able to help any patient. Sometimes I am surprised at how well a patient responds to treatment - at other times a patient who I expect to respond well doesn't improve at all. Forecasting how well a patient will repond is a notoriously frustrating business - all I can do is my best, both to help the patient, and also to avoid continuing to treat a patient who isn't gaining enough benefit to be worthwhile. That requires my patients to help me in assessing their progrss and whether treatment is worthwhile for them; Osteopathy is a partnership between patient and Osteopath, and only the patient can, in the end, decide how much treatment (if any) is worthwhile.