What is Osteopathy?
Osteopathy Healthcare Week is right upon us and we explore what exactly osteopathy is and how it can be helpful to patients.
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.
In Australia, osteopaths are government registered practitioners who complete a minimum of five years university training in anatomy, physiology, pathology, general medical diagnosis and osteopathic techniques.
Osteopaths are primary healthcare practitioners and are trained to recognise conditions that require medical referral. They are also trained to perform standard medical examinations of the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory and nervous systems.
The vast majority of osteopaths will predominantly deal with musculoskeletal issues, such as low back pain, neck pain, headaches, sports injuries etc. Some osteopaths have completed additional training in their area of interest, such as women’s health issues (e.g. period pain) and gastro-intestinal issues (e.g. constipation). We work within an allied health setting, with input from other healthcare professionals, such as GPs, exercise physiologists, psychologists, personal trainers and so on.
Your First Osteopathic Consultation
During your first consultation your osteopath will ask questions about your problem and symptoms. They may also ask about your medical history, any medications you are taking, as well as factors that may not appear to be directly related to your problem. If your medical condition changes between osteopathic appointments you should tell your osteopath at your next consultation.
Next, your osteopath will conduct a full osteopathic examination and if necessary, clinical tests. This may involve diagnostic, orthopaedic or neurological tests, postural assessments and activities or exercises that will help determine how best to manage your condition. The examination may include passive and active movements, such as the osteopath lifting your arms or legs.
Osteopathy takes a holistic approach to treatment, so your practitioner may look at other parts of your body, as well as the area that is troubling you. For example, if you have a sore knee, your osteopath may also look at your ankle, pelvis and back.
Your osteopath may also provide education and advice to help you manage your condition between appointments. This may include giving you exercises to do at home or work.
The difference between osteopathy, chiropractic and physiotherapy
It’s one of the most frequently asked questions that I hear, and my answer depends on a couple of things: how much detail the person asking the question wants, and how much time they have.
In a nutshell, all three are recognised under government regulation as separate allied health professions; all three are trained in university and all three treat musculoskeletal conditions or problems, but work with different underlying treatment philosophies to solve those problems. Many techniques are common across all three.
The key aspect of osteopathic care is looking at the whole body. Treatment is very holistic rather than focusing on just the injury or problem area. Osteopaths train to assess, diagnose and treat patients to reduce pain and injuries with the aim to help the body function well.
The Chiropractic Association of Australia defines chiropractic as focusing on the relationship between structure (primarily the spine, and pelvis) and function (as coordinated by the nervous system) and how that relationship affects the preservation and restoration of health.
The Australian Physiotherapy Association defines physiotherapy as a profession that assesses, diagnoses, and treats through physical means. They look at movement and function, and work with patients, assisting them to overcome movement disorders.
Collaboration with pharmacists
The main conditions osteopaths treat are headaches and back pains. So next time you have a client complaining of a musculoskeletal issue, and you are satisfied with their pharmacological management and GP care, consider an osteopath. Osteopaths treat the individual, with a whole-body view to their function and health care.
Osteopaths are registered under AHPRA and are seeing a significant rise in GP referrals under Medicare’s Chronic Disease Management Plan. In effect, osteopaths are liaising more frequently with GPs and will also have an interest in the patient’s pharmacological management.
Is my treatment covered by health funds?
Osteopathy is covered by most private health funds and by Medicare’s Chronic Disease Management (CDM) Plans. Osteopaths are registered providers for DVA patients, as well as by workers’ compensation schemes and motor accident insurers.
Do I need a referral from my GP?
Many patients are referred to osteopaths by their doctors, other health practitioners or personal trainers. However, as osteopaths are primary care practitioners, you can make an appointment directly without a referral.
Is osteopathic treatment painful?
Osteopathy is a manual therapy, so hands-on treatment may include massage, stretching, repetitive movements, mobilisation and/or manipulation.
Most osteopathic treatments are gentle and should not cause undue discomfort. If your injuries do require hands-on treatment of painful and tender areas, your osteopath will exercise care to make you as comfortable as possible.
Some people experience mild soreness for a day or two after treatment, similar to that felt after mild exercise. If this soreness persist or increases significantly, call your osteopath to discuss your concerns.
How many appointments will I need?
This depends on your condition. Generally you would expect to see some changes in your symptoms after one or two visits. Long-term or chronic conditions may require more treatment. Your osteopath will discuss this with you.
How much does an appointment cost?
The cost of an appointment varies from practice to practice and across the country — ask when booking.