• Christina Hellmann

What makes osteopathy different from other manual health therapies?

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

It’s a common question – how is an osteopath different from a chiropractor or a physiotherapist? Is one better than another? In my opinion, no. A good osteopath, a good chiropractor and a good physiotherapist all have a common goal when it comes to their patients – to help manage pain and to use techniques that primarily enable the body to remain as balanced and run as efficiently as possible. You don’t have to see one practitioner for one type of injury and another for something else. We all have a thorough understanding of anatomy and physiology and many of the techniques we learn are actually very similar. Each of us is taught a set of principles that we use in our work, a set of benchmarks that define our profession and although these principles may differ slightly between us, again, our common goal is to help our patients in pain.

If you are thinking about trying osteopathy, chiropractic medicine or physiotherapy and you’re not sure which one is right for you, my advice for you is this – the individual practitioner you see is far more important than worrying about which of the three professions they come from. There is no one superior therapy than another in this case. And within osteopathy for example, although we all learn the same principles and have our common goal, the techniques one osteopath uses may be different to another. Do some research – look at websites, reviews, ask your friends and family who they see. Finding a practitioner who works for you, understands and listens to you is so important because you’ll likely get better results with your pain than someone who doesn’t.

A short history of osteopathy

Osteopathy was developed by Andrew Taylor Still, a physician and surgeon in the United States in the mid-1800s. He established the first independent school of osteopathy in 1892 and many of the osteopathic principles we follow today. As osteopaths, we rely on manual contact for diagnosis and treatment and use a wide variety of manual techniques to improve the body’s overall function and support homeostatic balance. Osteopaths treat the body from a holistic point of view - that is to look at the whole body and not just the individual parts that you may feel your pain is coming from.

Principles of osteopathy

· The human being is a dynamic functional unit, whose state of health is influenced by the body, mind and spirit

· The body possesses self-regulatory mechanisms and is naturally self-healing

· Anatomical structure and function are interrelated at all levels of the human body

· Within these principles, osteopaths incorporate current medical and scientific knowledge to patient care

· Osteopaths recognise that each patient’s clinical signs and symptoms are the consequences of the interaction of many physical and non-physical factors

· It is a patient-centred, rather than disease-centred form of health care

· Osteopathic manipulations facilitate normal self-regulating and self-healing mechanisms in the body by addressing areas of tissue strain, stress or dysfunction that may impede normal neural, vascular and biochemical mechanisms

Structure function models

Alongside the principles of osteopathy, there are five models of structure-function relationships which are usually used in combination to provide a framework for our holistic approach to treatment.

· The biomechanical model – to do with the integration of different parts of the body and how stresses or imbalances can affect them

· The respiratory/circulatory model – to do with how efficiently the body is able to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the body’s tissues whilst removing cellular waste products

· The neurological model – to do with how the nervous system has an impact on the body and the neuroendocrine network

· The biopsychosocial model – to do with recognising the various psychological stresses which can affect a patient’s health and well-being

· The bioenergetic model – to do with recognising that the body seeks to maintain a balance between energy production, distribution and expenditure

It is through combining the principles of osteopathy and our structure function models that guide our holistic approach to a patient’s individual diagnosis and treatment.