More and more research is looking into how millions of people benefit from osteopathic treatment to provide evidence as well as anecdotal clinical experiences. The most recent advisory from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence informed medical practitioners that manipulation, exercise and massage can improve symptoms of low back pain.
Evidence and new information come forward all the time and we aim to keep up with it, below is my current understanding of how osteopathy works.
There’s more to osteopathy than just the hands-on stuff!
Osteopaths do more than hands on treatment, they work with you to find out what’s causing the symptoms and help you to understand how and why the symptoms have occurred, so that we can give you appropriate advice to help prevent frequent reoccurrences and reduce symptoms.
We have the opportunity to spend plenty of time with you to explore your symptoms and how your body is functioning, listening to your thoughts, feelings, concerns and aims for your recovery and improvement and help you towards achieving this. Patients find this extremely helpful as they feel listened to which in itself can be such a relief, this also gives us greater context to help you to achieve your health and recovery goals.
If after a case history and examination we feel that we can’t help you with osteopathic treatment alone, we will advise you of the next steps you can take or refer you to another health care professional to help you.
What is palpation and why is it so important?
Palpation is one of the skills osteopaths develop over their 4 years of training to be very accomplished at; using light touch and passively moving joints to feel underlying structures help us to recognise landmarks and abnormalities in the tissues, detecting quality of the skin, muscle, fascia and joints which can tell us a number of things about the underlying health and range of movement of the tissues.
By using the case history, palpation and examination we can then use appropriate hands on treatment (alongside advice) to encourage movement, increase circulation and relax tension in joints and muscles. This allows smoother functioning of the body and enables faster recovery and allows us to recognise when tissues are feeling freer and healthier as it is important not to over-do it.
How does hands on treatment work?
During the experience of pain, the body has a natural tendency to tighten up soft tissues and lose mobility, reduce function and start to become unhealthy which is helpful in the short term if there is damage, but this often carries on for too long or can become a learned habit which can make the symptoms feel worse, prolong them and even start to effect other areas.
The guided and gentle movements, stretching, joint articulations, manipulations and soft tissue work osteopaths do can help the brain and the rest of the nervous system (the body’s voluntary and involuntary control system) to recognise that it is a ‘safe’ movement and therefore help the tissues to relax allowing improved range of movement where previously ‘stuck’- Stretching and soft tissue techniques help improve circulation and take the tissues into positions to help them to release and free up joints.
Another important part of treatment is to get you and your tissues relaxed to allow your parasympathetic nervous system (AKA ‘rest and heal’ or ‘rest and digest’ system) to start the healing process (this happens when the sympathetic nervous system also known as ‘fight and flight’, allows it to), which is accommodated by relaxing and being guided through gentle movement.
Being able to move more freely allows the tissues to improve local and global circulation, and therefore nutrients, it allows improved lymphatic drainage and waste to move away from injured and symptomatic areas. This way of treatment can be thought of as ‘a pump’ allowing waste to leave and nutrient rich blood to enter tissues more fully to aid healing, these types of treatments include soft tissue work, stretching massage and joint articulations as well as manipulations.
It is also well documented that human touch received in a caring and comforting way can do wonders for reducing pain levels by inducing natural endorphins and reducing the ‘fight and flight’ cycle, aiding recovery and starting to reduce to pain cycle, receiving this within a professional capacity where we are well versed at knowing how to comfort and ease symptoms, allows you to feel reassured especially alongside an explanation about your pain and really assists your healing capacity.