Osteopathy is a medical field that aims to improve the overall health and wellness of individuals by treating the whole person rather than the specific disease or condition they have. Practitioners of osteopathy are licensed physicians and receive the distinction of doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO).
These physicians can perform surgery, prescribe medication, and use technological imaging in every province and region across Canada to diagnose and treat health conditions.
Are you wondering whether visiting an osteopath is right for you?
If so, let's take a look at what you need to know about osteopathy so you can make an informed decision in support of your health and wellness.
History of Osteopathy
The practice of osteopathy can be traced back to Andrew Taylor Still, who founded the practice in 1874. This American physician, legislator, and Civil War surgeon claimed that human illness seemed from problems in the musculoskeletal system. He therefore argued that osteopathic manipulations could lead the body to repair itself.
Still set out to reform the orthodox medical system after his wife and three daughters died due to spinal meningitis. He wanted to establish a practice that didn't so quickly resort to harsh invasive therapeutics, drugs, and purgatives. It is thought that Still was also influenced by spiritualist figures who proposed ideas of magnetic and electrical healing.
Still attracted support for his philosophy over the next quarter-century. Main components of these ideas included the notion that function and structure are interrelated and that each body part is important in reaching a state of harmonious function.
The American School of Osteopathy was established by Still in 1892 in Missouri. The right to award the MD degree was granted by the state of Missouri, but Still was unsatisfied with this. He instead chose to retain the DO degree distinction because he was dissatisfied with the limitations of conventional medicine.
It took many years and a lot of struggles for osteopaths across the US to establish law that would legitimize their medical degrees.
How Are Osteopaths Trained?
Osteopaths must earn a bachelor's degree and then attend medical school for four years. They also much receive training in manipulative medicine.
There is a rigorous national licensure exam that osteopaths must pass after graduating from medical school. This exam contains the same material one would take if they were becoming an MD.
Osteopaths also must complete a residency. Depending on their practice area, this can last for one to seven years. Another 200 hours of coursework is also required that focuses on the musculoskeletal framework of the body.
What Does an Osteopath Do?
Osteopathic manipulative treatment is considered to be only one component of osteopathic medicine by the American Osteopathic Association. There are a number of primary techniques used to help improve patients' health.
It's worth understanding the major principles around which osteopathic medicine is formed. These include:
- The body is an integrated unit of body, spirit, and mind
- There are self-regulatory mechanisms in the body that are inherently capable of repairing, defending, and remodeling itself
- There is a reciprocal interrelation between structure and function
- The first three principles provide the basis upon which rational therapy is carried out
The techniques used by osteopaths are not necessarily unique to osteopathy. Other disciplines, including chiropractic or physical therapy, use techniques that are similar to those used in osteopathy.
This is a technique intended to address somatic dysfunction. Through muscle contraction and stretching, patients with conditions including crush injuries, recent surgeries, and severe illness can improve the range of motion of their joints.
This technique is also used by massage therapists, chiropractors, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and athletic trainers.
High Velocity, Low Amplitude
This technique employs therapeutic force for a short period of time in a targeted way. The goal of this technique is to release restrictions in the body by engaging with the restrictive barrier.
High velocity, low amplitude (HVLA) is not suitable for all patients. Patients with down syndrome, those with vascular disease, or carotid artery diseases can have contraindications to the treatment. People who have local metastases or who are taking anticoagulants or ciprofloxacin shouldn't receive this treatment.
Counter-strain is a technique that is used to treat somatic dysfunction. This technique uses what are called tender points that are thought to result from reflexive muscular spasm that are related to dysfunctional motor segments.
Lymphatic Pump Treatment
The human body has a lymphatic system that is a part of the immune system and the circulatory system. The lymphatic vessels in this system carry a clear fluid known as lymph towards your heart. This system serves to provide an accessory return route for blood circulating through the body as well as a form of immune defense.
This is a manual technique used to encourage the function of an individual's lymphatic system. Techniques to encourage lymph flow have been used by osteopaths since as early as the late 19th century.
Fascia is a type of connective tissue that is tough, thin, and elastic. It wraps most of the structures found within the human body. This includes your muscles.
This connective tissue both protects and supports the structure of your body. In osteopathy, the idea is that this soft tissue can become restricted due to trauma, overuse, psychogenic disease, inactivity, or infection agents. This can then result in muscle tension, pain, and diminished blood flow.
This alternative treatment targets the fascia and its corresponding muscles. Some people believe that it can help to treat skeletal muscle immobility and pain.
The term myofascial release wasn't coined until the 1960s. However, it was put forward as a concept in alternative medicine by Andrew Taylor Still. The two primary founders of myofascial release are considered to be physical therapist John Barnes and osteopath Robert Ward.
Who Can an Osteopath Benefit?
Many different individuals could potentially benefit from osteopathic treatment. This is a non-invasive, drug-free manual therapy that works to improve health across all of the systems of the body. Some people who might be helped by osteopathy include:
- People with arthritis
- People with back pain, neck pain, or sciatica
- People with foot, ankle, knee, or hip pain
- People with shoulder, elbow, or hand pain
- People who suffer from headaches
- People with tennis and golfer's elbow
- People with postural problems due to pregnancy, driving or work strain, digestive issues, and sports injuries
Osteopathy can provide treatment and relief for a wide range of disorders and conditions. Another alternative treatment that is used by people with musculoskeletal problems is acupuncture. You can learn more about this practice here.
What Can an Osteopath Help With?
Osteopathic treatment can benefit both the musculoskeletal system as well as other systems in the body. Let's take a look at some of the ways that osteopathy can help you feel your best.
Managing Pain in the Body
One common reason that individuals approach an osteopathic physician is due to back pain. However, it can also be used as a preventative treatment. Treatment for pain in the body involves subtle and gentle manipulation, particularly of the soft tissues and muscles.
Getting enough, high-quality sleep is an integral part of your overall health and wellness. However, discomfort and pain can lead to restless nights or a lack of sleep. Not getting enough sleep can make it harder for you to cope with pain and reduce the ability of your body to function properly.
Studies have suggested that osteopathy can reduce sleep apnea for young infants. It is also thought that osteopathy can reduce insomnia and sleeplessness that results from chronic pain.
Other Body Systems
A number of different systems in the body can be positively impacted by osteopathic treatment. These include the circulatory, nervous, and lymphatic systems. Lymphatic health might be improved by certain osteopathic techniques and it can help to improve internal conditions in the body without using invasive surgeries.
What to Expect in an Osteopathy Treatment
You will want to make sure that the osteopath you visit is licensed to practice and accredited by the American Osteopathic Association. You can either refer yourself to an osteopath or get a referral from a primary care physician. Since this is a patient-centered practice, there will be an initial consultation before any management or treatment begins.
After you have had an initial consultation, your osteopathic physician will give you a physical assessment. This typically takes between one and two hours. During this time, you might need to remove some of your clothing in order for the doctor to carry out the diagnosis.
During the examination, you will be asked to demonstrate simple movements and stretches. This will help the doctor make an accurate assessment of your mobility and posture.
The osteopath will also take a look at the health of your ligaments, joints, and tissues. They will use a technique known as palpitation in order to do so.
Methods of Treatment Used
At this point, the physician will put forward a treatment plan for your needs. This plan will include how many sessions they anticipate you will need, though the number of sessions might change over time.
Self-healing is a big part of osteopathy. For this reason, they might also advise lifestyle adjustments as well as home exercise programs and dietary changes. One popular diet for health-conscious people is the Mediterranean diet, which you can learn more about here.
It is possible that you will feel sore for the first 24 to 48 hours after your treatment. That being said, the hands-on work and manipulation used in osteopathy are gentle.
Risks of Osteopathy
There are some risks involved with osteopathy, as there are with any type of treatment. Let's take a look at some of the risks you'll want to be aware of before attending a session with an osteopath.
Feeling Stiffness of Soreness After Treatment
It is not uncommon to feel stiff for 24 to 48 hours after treatment. If you continue to feel stiffness or soreness after two days, talk to your physician.
Some People Get Headaches
Another side effect of osteopathy is headaches. You might experience pain in your head for a short while after treatment.
Older Patients May Experience Less Common Side Effects
A number of less common side effects might be experienced by older adults. These include numbness, severe pain, and tingling. Patients with osteoporosis can also experience rib fractures.
If any of these side effects occur, you will want to talk to your physician or osteopath. If you experience severe adverse effects, emergency medical treatment might be necessary.
More severe side effects include:
- Prolapsed disk
- Nerve damage
- Pain radiating to a limb
- Bladder or bowel problems
- Muscle weakness
It's worth noting that most of these risks are very rare. However, it is important to know about them before choosing to engage in osteopathic treatment.
Do Provincial Healthcare Plans Cover Osteopathic Treatments?
This form of medical treatment involves manual and hands-on techniques, and have shown to be successful. The aim is to increase physical mobility, reduce pain, and improve the circulation of lymphatic fluids and blood. Both conventional treatments and osteopathic manipulative medicine may be used by DOs. Unfortunately however, provincial health care plans do not cover the cost of osteopathic treatments as it not considered to be a federally regulated practice under the Ontario Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991.
At Insurdinary, we offer health insurance plans that cover osteopathic treatment. You can get a quote for health insurance here.
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