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What is Osteopathy?
Osteopathy focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal disorders and the effects of these conditions on patients' general health.
Using many of the diagnostic procedures applied in conventional medical assessment, osteopaths seek to restore the optimal functioning of the body, where possible without the use of drugs or surgery. Osteopathy is based on the principle that the body has an intrinsic ability to heal, and osteopathic care focuses on strengthening the musculoskeletal systems to treat existing conditions and to prevent illness.
Osteopaths' patient-centred approach to health and wellbeing means they consider symptoms in the context of the patient's full medical history as well as their lifestyle and personal circumstances. This holistic approach ensures that all treatment is tailored to the individual patient.
Osteopathy: with and without referral
One in three adults suffers back pain at some point in life and a great many seek relief through osteopathy. Osteopathic care is by no means restricted to back pain, however; osteopaths commonly treat a wide range of other conditions, many relating to postural problems, sporting injuries, muscle and joint deterioration, restricted mobility and occupational ill-health. Most patients 'self-refer' to an osteopath for treatment. Although referral by a GP is not necessary, patients are encouraged to keep both their GP and osteopath fully informed so that their medical records are current and complete and the patient receives the best possible care from both healthcare practitioners. Osteopaths are skilled in diagnostic techniques and trained to identify when a patient needs to be referred to a GP. Similarly, GPs refer patients to osteopaths where they believe this intervention would be beneficial. This integrated approach to the provision of care by medical practitioners is increasingly common and reinforces osteopathy's position as a central part of the modern healthcare framework.
Visiting an Osteopath
In a first consultation, an osteopath will compile a full case history of the patient's symptoms, as well as information about their lifestyle and diet. Osteopaths are trained to examine areas of the body using a highly developed sense of touch, called palpation, to determine conditions and identify the body's points of weakness or excessive strain. The osteopath may also observe the patient doing some simple movements to facilitate diagnosis. The patient will usually be asked to remove some of their clothing near the area of the body to be examined. A gown or a towel, and a screen, will be provided to preserve patient modesty. The osteopath will discuss with the patient the most appropriate treatment plan, estimating the likely number of sessions needed to treat the patient's condition effectively. If the condition is unlikely to respond to osteopathic treatment, the patient will be advised on how to seek further care. In general, the first treatment lasts about 45 minutes, and subsequent treatments around half an hour. Osteopathy is a 'package' of care that includes skilled mobilising and manipulative techniques, reinforced by guidance on diet and exercise. Key to this is the aim of the osteopath to establish the sound patient-practitioner partnership necessary for ensuring quality care.