Osteopathy together with chiropractic is one of the two major systems of manipulative therapy. Osteopathy dates back to the nineteenth century, but it has philosophical connections right back to the Hippocratic school of medical thought in the fourth century BC. Founded by Andrew Taylor Still, an American doctor , in 1874, after several years of trying to find a better way of treating his patients than bleeding and purging. Basing his ideas on the ancient notion that the body can cure itself, and on the concept of the need for the structure of the body to be correctly aligned in order to release our innate self-healing power.

Even though we stand upright our anatomy is still basically that of a creature which moves on all fours, there is a constant strain on the framework. The effect of gravity is particularly severe on the spine with much force being taken on the vertebrae and the cushioning discs between them. Still’s earlier training as an engineer assisted him in his assessment of the problems that may result from misalignment of the patient’s skeletal structure. His philosophical outlook emphasized the interconnectedness of the body and its self-healing abilities.

Still therefore developed the use of manipulative techniques to treat not only the spine but also the whole body. Structure and function were seen as interdependent, and attention to the former would improve the latter. In 1892, he founded the first school of osteopathy, in Missouri. In the US, osteopaths are also medically trained, and represent some five per cent of American doctors; in the UK they considerably outnumber chiropractors, and recently were granted State Registration as a recognized and statutorily regulated profession.

Osteopathic treatments will involve a case history of your general health, as well as particulars of any accidents/injuries and the current problem, and then a total physical examination to determine the range and freedom of movement of the body. Manipulative techniques, perhaps accompanied by some deep neuromuscular massage may be used to help restore normal structural balance and functioning.

A number of specific techniques have been developed over the past hundred years or so, ranging from gentle movements of joints to increase their mobility, to quick thrusting movements which rapidly guide the joint through its normal range. The latter can often cause the characteristic “ker-chunk” noise that many people experience during a session. They may also temporarily cause irritation surrounding tissues and give some minor discomfort until the area settles down again.

A fairly recent development within some schools of osteopathy has been the use of cranial-osteopathic treatment. This involves very gentle movements to help the flow of cerebro-spinal fluid, a lymph-like fluid which moves rhythmically around the brain and spinal cord, bathing and nourishing the nerve tissues. Any impediment in this rhythm is seen as creating imbalance within the body, with subsequent ill-health . Cranial-osteopathic treatments are especially helpful for infants ? say, after a difficult birth – and in London, for example, there is an osteopathic hospital centre for children that uses these gentle methods in such circumstances.

Since osteopaths in America may also be family doctors. and in the UK they are not only State Registered but are starting to work in doctors’ surgeries or even hospitals. osteopathy has become well integrated into conventional medicine; however, not all doctors accept that it is anything more than just a “back treatment”.

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