What Is An Osteopath?
Lets set the scene..
You're in pain, a lot of pain. Perhaps have had a massage, seen a physiotherapist or chiropractor...sometimes all 3. Unfortunately, nothing's working. A friend tells you 'you should see my osteopath'. You say 'What is an osteopath'? Sound familiar?
You're probably reading this right now in search of an answer to clarify what this mysterious osteopath is before you make an appointment. Here are the facts that you need to know.
An Osteopath Is Not A Cross Between A Physiotherapist and Chiropractor
This is the most common description I hear when someone describes what an osteopath is. Why is this?
I think the reason why people say this is probably because without understanding the fundementals of each profession, they relate to the techniques that we use to treat them. As a generalisation most physios use a lot of exercise & rehab with a bit of massage. Chiros tend to go more for adjusting/cracking patients spines with minimal massage. You'll find most (but not all) osteopaths will combine some massage with adjusting joints, prescribing exercises and a few other techniques. Of course this is not what all Osteopaths, Physiotherapists and Chiropractors do all of the time - as I said, I'm generalising.
The reason why we do these techniques and how we form our diagnoses is really what sets us apart.
As i'm not a Chiropractor or a Physiotherapist I can't go in to great detail about how they diagnose and treat - but what I can do is provide the descriptions from their respective professional regulatory bodies.
From the Australian Physiotherapy Association "Physiotherapy is a healthcare profession that assesses, diagnoses, treats, and works to prevent disease and disability through physical means. Physiotherapists are experts in movement and function who work in partnership with their patients, assisting them to overcome movement disorders, which may have been present from birth, acquired through accident or injury, or are the result of ageing or life-changing events."
Chiropractors Association of Australia "Chiropractors in Australia are a nationally registered and a regulated health care profession. Chiropractic is a drug and surgery free modality of treatment concerned with the diagnosis, management and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system; this includes the effects of these disorders on the function of the nervous system and general health. It is based on the teachings of Galen and Hippocrates and the premise that the body can respond appropriately to its environment provided that the nervous system is free of interference. This was further developed by Palmer which lead to a focus on the spinal column and its functioning. In summary, chiropractors focus on the detection and correction of aberrant spinal function and its subsequent effect on how the nervous system controls and coordinates the body in response to its environment."
So, What Is An Osteopath Then?
Osteopathy Australia says that:
"Osteopathy is a form of manual healthcare which recognises the important link between the structure of the body and the way it functions. Osteopaths focus on how the skeleton, joints, muscles, nerves, circulation, connective tissue and internal organs function as a holistic unit.
Using skilled evaluation, diagnosis and a wide range of hands-on techniques, osteopaths can identify important types of dysfunction in your body. Osteopathic treatment uses techniques such as stretching and massage for general treatment of the soft tissues (muscles, tendons and ligaments) along with mobilisation of specific joints and soft tissues".
As an Osteopath, we're trained to consider the whole body when treating pain or dysfunction. In fact, whatever we do should abide by the following laws of Osteopathy:
Osteopathy, Physiotherapy and Chiropractics All Sound Similar. Why Not Just One Profession?
It's a fair question, and something that may happen in the future. You need to look back in hirtory to see how all 3 professions came about.
Physiotherapy was started in 1830's in switzerland.
Osteopathy was founded by A.T Still who was a medical doctor. Back then, load of people doed from medication and on the operating table. A.T Still thought there must be a better way of treateing these people. At the time AT Stil thought that all problems arose from the bone (osteum) therefore giving the name osteopath.
Palmer, who started Chiro was reported to be a student of osteopathy, who had his own ideas on what caused problems on the body. He founded the idea of 'subluxations' which were misaligned bones which put pressure on ther nerve and caused problems form there.
Keep in mind, that a lot of these theories are outdated now. At that time Doctors still used leeches for infections. With medicine so much more advanced, more and more research being produced and the internet spreading information like wildfire, I'm seeing more & more of one healthcare profession (not just osteo, physio or chiro either) borrowing treatment techniques from others. It's creating a huge overlap on what our respective professions do. I don't believe it's a bad thing - in fact it's much the opposite. It's better for the patient to have each of these professions using the best treatments for a condition - no matter where that treatment idea came from.
Next Time Someone Asks You What Is An Osteopath Tell Them This.
Next time someone asks you this question, a good answer is:
An Osteopath can treat everything a physiotherapist or chiropractor can. The difference is how they think about your problem. They'll see other areas related to your problem area and fix those as well.