Osteopathy

Osteopathy is a manipulation technique that detects and treats problems with the muscles, nerves and joints.

An osteopath (someone who is registered to carry out osteopathy) will use their hands to find and treat damaged parts of your body using gentle stretching, massage and manipulation of the muscles and joints. They may also offer guidance on diet and exercise.

This treatment can help relieve problems like back pain, neck pain and headache. Osteopathy is suitable for almost anyone, including children, pregnant women and the elderly.

How does osteopathy work?

The main idea behind osteopathy is that the structure and function of your body are closely linked. This means that any problems or pain associated with the structure of your body could also have an effect on your internal organs.

Therefore, if problems with the structure of your body are corrected, it will ease pain on the outside of your body and help treat any illness inside your body.

An osteopath will try to identify what is wrong with the structure and function of your body and restore this to normal. Osteopaths do not use surgery or drugs.

Who can use it

Osteopathy is most commonly used to treat conditions caused by problems with the nerves, joints and muscles, such as:

  • back and neck problems - including neck stiffness, lower back pain and sciatica
  • carpal tunnel syndrome (a nerve problem affecting your hand and fingers)
  • sports or work injuries, such as repetitive strain injury
  • joint pain, for example in the shoulder, knee, ankle or elbow joint
  • arthritis
  • bad posture caused by work, driving or being pregnant

Is osteopathy on the NHS?

Osteopathy is only available on the NHS in some areas of the country and when it is available, you will need to be referred by your GP. Your GP may want to use osteopathy alongside more conventional treatments and medicines.

Diagnosing the problem

Osteopaths have a trained sense of touch and will use their hands to find areas of weakness, tenderness, restriction or strain within your body.

They will make a diagnosis and talk to you about whether osteopathy can help treat the problem, and if so, what sort of treatment programme you need. Osteopaths are trained to identify when a patient needs to be referred to a GP.

Treatment

An osteopath will aim to restore normal joint stability and function to help the body heal itself. They will use their hands to treat your body in a variety of ways, using a mixture of gentle and forceful techniques:

  • massage - to release and relax muscles
  • stretching stiff joints
  • articulation - where your joints are moved through their natural range of motion
  • high-velocity thrusts - quick, forceful movements to the spine

These techniques can reduce pain and swelling and improve movement in parts of your body. They also encourage the movement of blood to and from your tissues and organs.

An osteopath will sometimes focus on your head and base of your back to encourage the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, which is found in the spinal cord.

Advice

An osteopath may also advise on changes you can make to your lifestyle to avoid the problem happening again, such as improving your posture, changing your diet, and exercises to do in your own time.