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Osteopaths work with the body’s musculo-skeletal system, which is comprised of the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and connective tissue. Osteopaths use their hands to diagnose and treat abnormalities in the way the body is working, as well as damage caused by disease.

Treatment techniques that osteopaths use include muscle manipulation, joint movements and ‘high velocity thrusts’, which are short, sharp movements. These techniques are designed to reduce stiffness and tension in the muscles, and to help the spine and joints to move more freely. This in turn can improve circulation and promote the body’s own healing processes. The treatment also includes advice about lifestyle.

An American doctor, Andrew Taylor Still, started osteopathy in the 1870s. He believed that many illnesses are caused when parts of the body are even a little out of place and developed these techniques to help the body return to normal. The first school of osteopathy in Britain was established in London in 1917. Today there are around 3,000 qualified osteopaths in the UK, and more than six million consultations every year. Osteopathy is becoming widely recognised by the medical profession, and is now made available by one quarter of GP practices.

What is osteopathy commonly used for?

Osteopaths most often work with patients with low back pain and neck pain, and there is research evidence that osteopathy is helpful for these conditions. Osteopathy is also used to help people with muscle, joint and postural problems. These include pain during pregnancy, sports and repetitive strain injuries, sciatica, headaches, osteoarthritis, digestive disorders and menstrual pain.

What will happen when I see an osteopath?

When you visit an osteopath for the first time, he/she will take a full case history, and will give you an examination. You will normally be asked to remove some of your clothing and to perform some simple movements. The osteopath will then use a highly developed sense of touch, called palpation, to identify any points of weakness or strain throughout the body.

The osteopath may need additional investigations such as x-ray or blood tests. This will allow a full diagnosis and suitable treatment plan to be developed for you.

Treatments usually take 30-45 minutes. Osteopaths say that most people get maximum benefit from 3 to 6 sessions. At the first session, your osteopath should be able to give you an indication of how many treatments you might need. For some acute pain one or two treatments may be all that is necessary. Chronic conditions may need ongoing maintenance.

You may feel a little soreness for a day or two after treatment. Always tell your osteopath if you feel pain for longer than this.


Tell your osteopath about any serious health problems before having treatment.

This information in taken from Complementary Healthcare: a guide for patients, consultation draft, The Prince of Wales's Foundation for Integrated Health, March 2004, and reproduced with kind permission.

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