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What exactly is Osteopathy?


What exactly IS Osteopathy? Isn’t it about bones?

How do you differ from a Physiotherapist, Chiropractor, or Myotherapist?

We are commonly asked variations of these questions by our patients. The answer can be sometimes a bit confusing, so in this blog post we will elaborate on what our team at St Kilda Osteopathy believes best explains what we do and how we help create optimal health for our patients.

“What IS Osteopathy?”

Osteopathy is a philosophy about how to best treat a person, rather than a condition. We treat all kinds of complaints, including those of the musculoskeletal system, vascular system, nervous system and visceral (organ) systems. Osteopaths recognise that the human body is all intertwined. For instance, our blood vessels supply our muscles and nerves with oxygen and nutrients, our muscles contract to assist with blood movement back to the heart, and our nerves relay messages from our brain to our muscles and joints, and so on and so forth. Osteopaths recognise that if you have pain, movement restrictions and stiffness or injury in one of these systems, it may likely impact upon another.

Commonly, we will see patients complain of tight shoulder muscles that lead to muscle or nerve pain in their neck and arm, headaches and/or jaw pain. We also commonly see people with digestive issues or fatigue as a result of poor posture. That’s why we love the Osteopathic philosophy – it allows us to treat the whole body unit by treating the source of the problem. We therefore attempt to prevent or decrease the impact of the complaint upon the other body systems too.

Osteopaths apply this philosophy to musculoskeletal problems. For instance, if you were to see an Osteopath with a sore and swollen ankle after rolling it while playing sport or even walking down the street, we would be likely to assess not only the ankle itself, but all of the tissues that attach to the ankle or influence its strength and position. More specifically, our assessment of a patient such as this would include looking at the ankle, feet, knees, hips and low back. We would be checking if the patient had a longer leg, twisted pelvis, weakness of leg muscles, flat feet, tight calves, knock knees, slouched posture (plus others!). All of these findings could cause a person to compensate with their ankle, increasing the amount of work that the ankle has to do. That game of sport or the bump in the footpath might just be the straw that breaks the camels’ back, and the rolled ankle might be an indication of a larger problem that may need to be addressed to prevent recurrence in the future.

Osteopaths are problem solvers of the human body. As such, we will take a thorough medical history in your first consultation to make sure that there are no underlying causes for pain or dysfunction, no family history of anything that might influence the complaint, and no other social, psychological or biological reasons for the complaint. This would be then followed by ‘hands on’ treatment of the rolled ankle and surrounding tissues. It would also include using many different treatment techniques that aid in promoting fast healing time, minimal swelling and pain. We would also advise on management of rehabilitation and return to sport and work.

“So, you look at the whole person. Gotcha. But what do you actually do?”

We often get asked what to expect during treatment when coming for an appointment. As Osteopathy encompasses a very broad range of ‘hands on’ treatment techniques it gives us the ability and after years of training the skill and expertise to enable us to best help our patients.

Your Osteopath will always assess your condition before applying treatment. Assessment may include movement testing, strength testing, balance testing, and palpation (“feeling” parts of the body to see if they are tight or swollen etc). Depending on the complaint, your Osteopath may test your lungs or reflexes, as well as testing your nervous system. We’re trained to apply the same examination techniques as you would have done at the GP, for things like cardiovascular or respiratory systems. This allows us to come up with an accurate diagnosis of the complaint or injury. We may also refer you for an ultrasound, X-Ray, MRI or refer you on if necessary.

“What happens next?”

Your Osteopath will always provide you with the best kind of treatment for you and for your condition. This treatment may be more firm for some patients, or very gentle for others. We explain what we are doing and why with every step during the treatment process our patients have a thorough understanding of their treatment plans and outcomes. If you have further questions as to why your Osteopath has chosen to use a certain technique for your treatment or any other questions – ask! We will always only apply treatment that we think will best benefit our patients and with your consent.

Some of the more common techniques that our team at St Kilda Osteopathy use are (but not limited to)

  • massage
  • articulation and mobilisation (rhythmic movements at joints to improve movement)
  • manipulation (only where necessary, and only ever with patient consent)
  • dry needling
  • stretching
  • myofascial (connective tissue) release
  • cranio-sacral therapy (treatment that addresses the central nervous system via the skull bones and cerebrospinal fluid movement)
  • Visceral treatment (massage/stretching/releasing organs)

Osteopaths are trained to assess and rehabilitate muscular and joint problems. The ankle pain described above would generally require more than just one treatment to be improved. If that patient had very tight calves, or weak muscles across the bottom of their feet, as well as hand on treatments, we would be advising upon the best rehabilitation exercises they could do at home to improve their strength and flexibility.

We are also very experienced in working out why injuries occur. Often we ask “what seems to have caused your pain?” and our patient will say “I don’t know – it seems to have come on for no reason.” Most of the time, we can get to the bottom of a behaviour or pattern (usually repetitive) that is causing their pain. The best example of this is the current scourge of “iPhone neck”. In the last couple of years, many patients are presenting with a mysterious stiffness and pain in the back of their necks, but, surprise surprise, it happens to disappear once they stop craning their necks to read on their smart phones on the tram or train and are aware of their posture. These insidious behaviours might be invisible to the patients, but not to us! Small things such as posture, leg crossing, and desk set up will all play a part in many conditions. We also provide advice on how best to alter these habits to prevent or improve pain.

We get a kick out of improving the lives and wellbeing of our patients and reducing or removing their pain! We often tell our patients that whilst we enjoy treating them and its great chatting to them, we would prefer not to see them all that often. What we mean by that, is that it’s our job to provide our patients with fast, effective and comprehensive treatments and strategies to improve their pain and function long term. We therefore may reduce the frequency of treatment and hence the cost of coming in continuously for an appointment.

Hopefully, this helps you to understand Osteopathy a bit more! We really do believe in the benefit of our unique style of care, and our Melbourne Osteopaths at St Kilda Osteopathy are enthusiastic about helping our patients and putting our knowledge to good use! Since we are a South Melbourne Osteopathic Clinic, our  Osteopaths see patients not just from St. Kilda but from surrounding suburbs like Middle Park, Prahran, Elwood, Caulfield and Melbourne CBD as well.

Categories: General Information, Pain Relief