What Is Osteopathy?

Osteopathy is a branch of medicine based on manual therapy whose aim is to restore physiological functions of the body by treating root causes of pain and imbalance. It is a special health care area that does not conflict with traditional medicine, for it does not treat pathological changes and/or does not apply same treatment methods. Osteopathy deals with functional problems, focuses on prevention and is complementary to conventional medicine.

Osteopathy is based on very precise palpation techniques and strictly defined principles. Palpation (listening) is a diagnostic technique used by osteopaths to feel the condition of the tissue or system they are examining. In this way, osteopaths identify the exact location of the tensions and blockages that may cause pain, limited range of motion, poor circulation as well as other dysfunctions. By using an osteopathic approach and applying specific osteopathic techniques, osteopaths release tensions in bone and other tissues, improve the blood and lymph circulation and release nerves in order to reduce pain, improve mobility and better functioning. By doing so, body balance is restored and its natural healing ability reactivated.

Art of a good palpation is a trained skill that needs several years to develop. Osteopathic studies, which last for at least five years, are based on anatomy, physiology, neurology, and biomechanics but also on knowledge of all necessary facts that might help osteopaths to find dysfunctions, tensions or blockages causing symptoms which led the patient to ask for help.

Osteopathy was established in the mid-19th century. Its founder father was Dr Andrew Taylor Still who believed in a whole-person treatment of the patient and addressed not only the local problem. He also highlighted the need for discovering and treating the mechanical imbalance hidden behind a disease. In 1872, A. T. Still established the principles of his medical approach and named it Osteopathy. The word osteopathy comes from two Greek words: osteon – bone, living matter and pathos – disease, suffering. According to this, osteopathy means bone or structure caused pain. Nowadays, osteopathy is much more complex and osteopaths treat not only the musculoskeletal part – consisting of bones, joints, ligaments, muscles and fascia – but also organs and the nervous system. Therefore, we distinguish musculoskeletal, visceral and cranial osteopathy. To become trained osteopaths, practitioners have to complete all three educational areas of work.

During an osteopathic therapy, osteopaths apply various techniques that can be roughly divided into sensory, functional, myofascial and structural. In fact, in osteopathy there is a whole range of techniques and many of them are the combination of the above mentioned. Some techniques have developed into their own unique systems. Therefore, there are osteopaths specialised in particular techniques or to work with children, which is a skill on its own and requires a particular approach as well as additional training. Every osteopath, no matter the area of expertise, has to follow osteopathic laws and principles.

Basic Laws and Principles of Osteopathy:

  • All body parts are functionally interrelated and influence each other. Fascias connect the whole body.
  • It is necessary to establish good circulation (venous, arterial, lymphatic, of the cerebrospinal fluid) which leads to better blood flow, cell nutrition, waste product removal from the cells, better tissue quality and the healing process support.
  • Structure governs the function and vice versa – only a healthy structure performs all designated functions and the other way around. The structure treatment (bones, nerves, blood vessels, organs …) releases the functions (blood flow, movement, sleep …) which are conditioned by those structures.
  • Autoregulation and homeostasis – the body has the ability to self-heal, which enables it to achieve health. In every human body there is a natural health mechanism that can never become sick, although some existing blockages can severely reduce its acting. This system, using the biodynamic forces, removes all restrictions and in this way helps the body to self-repair. We find autoregulation even in animals. When sick, they simply lie down and wait to self-heal. In osteopathy, this mechanism is known as the Breath of Life.
  • Osteopathic approach is global; it never treats the local symptoms only but also looks for the root causes of problems.
  • The patient is treated holistically – on a physical, emotional, psychical and spiritual level.
  • The focus is on heath rather than an illness. Osteopathy treats neither illnesses nor diseases, it treats the whole person. Every patient is approached individually.
  • Manual palpation is the most important part of osteopathic diagnostics. In osteopathy, there is an expression Tissue Dialogue, the art of tissue palpation consisting of listening, presence, neutrality and a broader view.
  • It is not osteopaths who cure the patient. They are only the fulcrum – the point of balance used by the patient’s body, whereas the healing process is done by the patient’s own self-repair health mechanism. The role of osteopaths is to enable the biodynamical forces of the body to heal itself.
  • Every person has their own vital potential.