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What is Osteopathy?

Osteopathy is a "whole body" system of manual therapy, based on unique biomechanical principles, which uses a wide range of techniques to treat musculo-skeletal problems and other functional disorders of the body. It was developed in America in the 1870's by a Missouri Doctor, Andrew Taylor Still, and has developed to the point where it is now widely recognised throughout the world as one of the most scientifically validated and effective "complementary" therapies.

The World Health Organisation recognises the Osteopathic concept of somatic dysfunction as being scientifically proven, and the British Medical Association also recognises Osteopathy as a discrete medical discipline. In Australia, Osteopaths are statutorily registered practitioners and five year, full-time university training is available, which covers anatomy, physiology, pathology and general medical diagnosis in addition to Osteopathic technique. Osteopaths are primary care practitioners, and are trained to be able to recognise conditions which require medical referral. They are also trained to carry out standard medical examinations of the cardiovascular, respiratory and nervous system.

What conditions do Osteopaths deal with?

Osteopathy is best known for the treatment of a wide variety of musculo-skeletal problems, but it also has a role to play in the management of a number of other conditions. Osteopathy may help with -

  • back and neck pain,
  • sciatica,
  • headaches,
  • pains in peripheral joints such as shoulders, knees and ankles, tendinitis and muscle strains,
  • work-related and repetitive strain injuries,
  • sports-related injuries.
  • TMJ - Jaw problems
  • Osteoarthritis


However, Osteopathy can also play a significant role in pain management in arthritic conditions, and when used in conjunction with medical treatment, can be of value in reducing the severity of symptoms in conditions such as asthma, gynaecological dysfunction and chronic fatigue. Many mothers-to-be find Osteopathic treatment very beneficial both to reduce back pain during pregnancy and also to help prepare the body for birth. In addition, there is a wide variety of gentle non-manipulative techniques for use on infants and small children. These can be used in the management of problems such as forceps trauma, infant colic and glue ear.

 What's the difference between osteopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists?

It's not the role of any health professional to try to define what another health care professional is, and what they do. If you want a definition, it would be best to ask people in those professions. What we can do is tell you about the defining characteristics of Osteopathy, which are its underlying philosophy and its broad range of techniques.

While "Biomechanics" has become one of the most rapidly developing areas of medicine in recent years, Osteopathy was one of the first professions to incorporate biomechanical analysis of how injuries occur and what the secondary effects are likely to be. To take a simple example, if you go to an Osteopath with a knee injury, the Osteopath will do much more than just examine and treat your knee. They will want to know exactly how the injury occurred in order to assess not just which tissues in the knee are injured, but also whether there may be any involvement of other areas with a mechanical relationship to the knee, such as the foot, hip, low back and pelvis, and the associated soft tissues.

They will then want to analyse any possible secondary effects. For instance, you may be "avoiding" the bad knee and putting more weight on the other side. Over a period of time, this may lead to problems developing in the low back or the "good" knee. The Osteopath will then use this information to prescribe a treatment plan that addresses not just the knee, but all of the other areas of the body and associated tissues that may be involved. The plan will include attention not just to the joints and their associated soft tissues, but also to the blood supply to the affected areas, the lymphatic drainage, the nerve supply etc., in order to include all those factors which will affect the success of healing. It is this "whole body, multi-system" approach that has been the basis of Osteopathy's success over the last century.

Modalities Used

Acupuncture –

Safe and painless use of fine needles to re balance the flow of energy through your body. It can also be used to release muscle spasm under trigger points, this is now widely adopted as dry needling.

Muscle Energy Technique –

involves stretching and resisting to release restrictions of movement, this technique can work with large muscles or the very small muscles in between vertebrae

Spinal Manipulation –

Spinal Manipulation or back cracking positions the spine in such a way that individual segments can be freed by a small but high velocity thrust. This helps with the health of the spinal joints and can also reset feedback loops in the surrounding muscles relieving spasm and restriction.

Counterstrain –

This is an indirect technique where a dysfunction is put in a position of ease, the tissues relax, blood flow normalizes and muscles relax.

Visceral Osteopathy –

An osteopathic technique developed largely in France, where the natural movement of internal organs is re-established allowing function to be normalized.

Cranio-Sacral Therapy –

This technique releases restrictions in the bones of the cranium, and allows access to the dura which covers the central nervous system.

Kinetic Tissue Massage –

This is a deep form of massage used on muscles close to the spine.

Feldenkrais Method –

Has two parts Functional Integration a hands therapy and Awareness Through Movement a system of movements to help establish freedom of movement in the body and to enhance co-ordination.

Trigger Points –

Areas of pain which may be used to treat the body, sometimes these cause referred pain. For example rotator cuff trigger points on the shoulder blade may refer pain down the arm.