Frequently I get asked “so what do you do?” and I usually stumble over some overly complex explanation of manual Osteopathy. I do this out of a belief that to oversimplify what I do would not do it justice or be accurate. In these circumstances my wife of 26 years gets on my case about the need to develop an elevator speech to use as the first response, and then, only if there is a glimmer of interest, go into more detail.
The rules for an elevator speech (so I am told) are that it be no more than 27 words long, contain no more than three ideas and that it can be delivered in 9 seconds. And, my wife adds, it should not be overly “dense”. With that in mind:
Osteopathy is a manual therapy that seeks to restore wellness and decrease pain. I use my hands to identify restrictions and release tension, and through that improve function.
So dear reader, are you interested in hearing more? If so read on.
There are lots of types of manual therapy which include chiropractic and massage therapies of many flavors. Some physical therapists also specialize in developing orthopedic manual skills and some occupational therapists develop manipulative skills often limited to the upper extremities. There is some cross fertilization that takes place between these disciplines. What sets the osteopathic approach apart? Osteopathy traditionally is a form of healthcare that accepts that the body has an inherent ability to heal and repair itself (assuming adequate nutrition) the building blocks for the chemicals the body needs for health are present. This is not meant to imply that disease and severe injuries don’t exist nor does it represent a claim that all conditions can be treated with osteopathy alone. Osteopathic theory believes that the joints of the body need to move efficiently and be balanced and that the nerves of the body should not be pinched or under tension, from joint alignment, scar tissue, twisted organs or connective tissue. There should be no area in the circulatory system that the blood doesn’t reach; no blockage of lymph flow or of nerve signals. So too the cerebrospinal fluid must be free to circulate within the cranium and spinal column. When fluids flow there is no stagnation; oxygen and nutrients reach their targets, the immune system can defend all tissues. When fluids flow cells are nourished and are capable of self-repair of tissues. There are patterns of tissue movement that well trained hands can feel that are part of the circulation of extracellular fluid (the fluids in the body that are outside of the cells and bloodstream). In the skull these movements help with getting mucous to flow in the sinuses so it doesn’t build up and create problems such as sinusitis. In the abdomen fluids keep the organs lubricated so that they can slide on one another with activity and during flow of food to stool in the GI tract. In the muscles lack of fresh blood causes lack of oxygen leading to accumulation of acids and other waste products that irritate nerves and sustain spasm. This is true for the back and neck, muscles of the head arms, etc. Feeling and appreciating the movement and flow of fluids in the body is one third of the skill set of the osteopath. The osteopath also understands how parts of the body relate to one another. Tissues are related by virtue of being part of the same body. More direct relationships may be based on tissue growth in the developing embryo or based on disturbances of the alignment of the body relative to gravity. Twists, shears and bends shift the center of gravity. There are common places for compensation to take place if one understands where to look. The final skill set is the art of using the hands, sometimes with the help of other body contact points, to restore motion of the tissues, all with the intent of assisting the patient's body to be as healthy as possible. So if you are bent out of shape and your juices don’t flow, consider a trial of osteopathy.