What is Osteopathy?


The General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) provide the following explanation…

Osteopathy is a system of diagnosis and treatment for a wide range of medical conditions. It works with the structure and function of the body, and is based on the principle that the well-being of an individual depends on the skeleton, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues functioning smoothly together.

To an osteopath, for your body to work well, its structure must also work well. So osteopaths work to restore your body to a state of balance, where possible without the use of drugs or surgery. Osteopaths use touch, physical manipulation, stretching and massage to increase the mobility of joints, to relieve muscle tension, to enhance the blood and nerve supply to tissues, and to help your body’s own healing mechanisms. They may also provide advice on posture and exercise to aid recovery, promote health and prevent symptoms recurring.

Barrie Savory, D.O., in his acclaimed book 'The Good Back Guide', explains that osteopaths subscribe to two axioms based on the concept of the body as a unique interdependent system.  The first, ‘the rule of the artery is supreme,’ means that a healthy blood supply is likely to support a healthy bodily environment.  Thus, osteopaths take circulation carefully into account when assessing patients.  The second axiom, ‘structure governs function,’ concerns the fact that problems in the structure of the body, for example, too much tension in certain muscles or the misalignment of a bone, can inhibit the natural function of multiple bodily systems.  Though the root of the word ‘osteopath’ means ‘bone,’ osteopaths do not actually treat bones.  Rather, they use the bones as levers to improve the condition of other structures in the body like muscles, ligaments, tendons, fascia, and organs.  By treating these structures, osteopaths can aid the body’s natural healing ability. By working with the nervous system and blood supply they are able to influence all of the bodies systems, making them capable of alleviating the symptoms of a number of diagnosed medical conditions such as; asthma, stress, digestive disorders, period pain, migraine and many more.


Osteopaths employ a number of techniques in order to influence the body’s innate healing system. These include; soft tissue, muscle work, joint articulation and mobilisation/manipulation. Some osteopaths work with and thereby influence organ function and movement (visceral osteopathy) and movement of cerebrospinal fluid (cranial osteopathy). The specific treatment will depend upon the patient’s unique circumstances. Osteopathic manipulation consists of positioning a joint into its close packed position and imparting a small but rapid impulse in order to separate the joint surfaces within their normal range of motion. This may produce a pop or a cracking noise; it is not a painful technique. Manipulation has the effect of freeing up adhesions and encouraging better movement, it has a secondary, but very useful analgesic (pain relieving) effect.


The maintenance of good mechanical function is essential to good health. Problems in the framework of the body can disturb the circulatory system or the nerves to any part of the body, and affect any aspect of health. Thus mechanical problems can lead not only to aches and pains in joints, muscles etc., but also to disturbances in the internal organs and the way they work. 

Osteopaths work to restore the musculoskeletal system of the body to a state of balance and harmony. Health is not simply the absence of disease or pain, it is a state of balance and harmony between the body and mind of a person. In health, a persons homeostatic mechanism should be able to respond to events such as accidents, infections and emotional stress, deal with these events and restore itself to optimum health afterwards.

The majority of people are not in full health, but are carrying around an accumulation of the effects of different events that have happened to them during their life. This may result in various symptoms gradually building up over a period of years. Most of us have been exposed to physical trauma at some stage in our life. The body may have been able to absorb the effects of an accident at the time, but a lasting strain often remains. Illnesses and emotional trauma can also leave a lasting physical effect. Gradually the body may find it more and more difficult to cope with all these stresses, and symptoms may start to develop.