Lots of people ask me what osteopathy is and how it helps.  They assume osteopathy means bones, but Osteopathy is bigger than that.  Originally, the word was coined by Andrew Still in 1974, using the Greek words to describe “Bone” and “Sensitive to” as a description of his starting point for assessing and treating pathological conditions.  Over the years the profession has evolved to encapsulate the whole body, using the body’s ability to heal itself through self-regulation.  Osteopathy helps to restore function and promote vitality within the body.

For those of you who have received treatment, trying to describe it can be difficult.   Patients sense the touch as being gentle – they say – “it doesn’t really feel like anything”, but after treatment they feel better?

For those of you who might be considering treatment, it is tough to describe because the prescription for everyone is different.  Based on a thorough history, assessment of the body, consideration of life factors and presentation of current state of physicality, the osteopathic manual practitioner will treat accordingly.

The standard definition of Osteopathy is

“A natural medicine which aims to restore function in the body by treating the causes of pain and imbalance. To achieve this goal, the Osteopathic Manual Practitioner relies on the quality and finesse of his/her palpation and works with the position, mobility and quality of the tissues.”

What does this mean?

The body has an amazing ability to heal itself – if you get a cut, the body patches it with a scar and over time the scar disappears along with the pain and function is restored.  Problems occur when the body is under too much pressure (trauma, stress, poor posture, gravity etc.) and it cannot easily repair itself.  This creates dysfunction in tissue, which sometimes results in pain, pressure, poor function or disease.   Osteopathic practitioners try to locate the original dysfunction, the epicenter of the problems, remove the dysfunction through appropriate treatment, which then allows the body to start the healing process and run efficiently again.

Another question I get often is, “sure you helped my mom with back pain, but can you help me with …”

The optimistic answer is yes!  As an osteopathic manual practitioner, we try to get the subjects body to run efficiently by removing the barriers to health.  This can be done in various ways which may include gentle techniques like cranio-sacral therapy, visceral mobilization, muscle energy techniques or a more specific structural osteoarticluar correction.  These techniques in combination of the body’s amazing ability to heal itself can help kick-start health, positive healing and better environment for your body’s functions to function.

My story is one that is pretty common for both patients and practitioners.  As a student I had the pleasure of being taught by an osteopathic practitioner in a sport injury course.  It was easy to see at the beginning of the course that this person was looking at things differently, but from a logical perspective.  They presented the anatomy, physiology and functionality all together which made so much sense.  I then sought treatment from an osteopathic practitioner for a cranky low back that had been plaguing me for years.  After seeing multiple therapists and practitioners, it was osteopathy that was able to marry my description of pain, history of falls and car accidents, examine other complaints and quickly remedy my physical barriers and correct my low back pain.  It was at that point that osteopathy would be my next educational goal; to gain a better understanding of healing and assist my patients in attaining their goals.  I enrolled at the Canadian College of Osteopathy in Toronto, a private school which includes a 5 year academic calendar and topped off with a defence of a thesis of independent, original research.  There are some other educational institutions that are teaching osteopathic principles, but in my experience, it is just scratching the surface.  There are so many levels of osteopathy, the body’s anatomy and physiology, as well as the healing process, that future patients need to choose their practitioners wisely.

-John Sage