What is the difference between Osteopaths, Chiropractors and Physiotherapists?

It’s not the role of any health professional to try to define what another health care professional is, and what they do. If you want a definition, it would be best to ask people in those professions. What we can do is tell you about the defining characteristics of Osteopathy, which are its underlying philosophy and its broad range of techniques.

While “Bio-mechanics” has become one of the most rapidly developing areas of medicine in recent years, Osteopathy was one of the first professions to incorporate bio-mechanical analysis of how injuries occur and what the secondary effects are likely to be. To take a simple example, if you go to an Osteopath with a knee injury, the Osteopath will do much more than just examine and treat your knee.

They will want to know exactly how the injury occurred in order to assess not just which tissues in the knee are injured, but also whether there may be any involvement of other areas with a mechanical relationship to the knee, such as the foot, hip, low back and pelvis, and the associated soft tissues. They will then want to analyse any possible secondary effects. For instance, you may be “avoiding” the bad knee and putting more weight on the other side.

Over a period of time, this may lead to problems developing in the low back or the “good” knee. The Osteopath will then use this information to prescribe a treatment plan that addresses not just the knee, but all of the other areas of the body and associated tissues that may be involved. The plan will include attention not just to the joints and their associated soft tissues, but also to the blood supply to the affected areas, the lymphatic drainage, the nerve supply etc., in order to include all those factors which will affect the success of healing. It is this “whole body, multi-system” approach that has been the basis of Osteopathy’s success over the last century.

What can I expect on my first visit to an Osteopath?

At the first consultation, the osteopath will compile a full case history of your symptoms, as well as asking for information about your lifestyle and diet. The osteopath will also observe you making some simple movements to help them make a diagnosis.  You will usually be asked to remove some clothing near the area of the body to be examined.Osteopaths are trained to examine areas of the body using a highly-developed sense of touch, known as palpation, to determine conditions and identify the body’s points of weakness or excessive strain. Osteopathy is a ‘package’ of care that includes skilled mobilising and manipulative techniques, reinforced by guidance on diet and exercise.
The osteopath will discuss with you the most appropriate treatment plan, estimating the likely number of sessions needed to treat your condition effectively. If the osteopath thinks that your condition is unlikely to respond to osteopathic treatment, you will be advised about how to seek further care. Osteopaths are skilled in diagnostic techniques and trained to identify when a patient needs to be referred to a GP.

How long do osteopathic appointments usually last?

The first treatment lasts about 45 minutes, and subsequent treatments around half an hour.  Your first appointment is usually slightly longer to allow for a full case history to be taken.

Can I see an Osteopath through the NHS?
Currently the NHS(OPCT) does not fund osteopathic treatment. Most private health care insurance does.

Can I claim on my private medical insurance?
Many private health insurance policies provide cover for osteopathic treatment.  It may be possible to claim for a course of treatment but you should check in advance with your insurance company before seeking osteopathic treatment, in order to confirm the available level of cover and whether you will need to have a referral from your GP or a specialist. Gitte is registered with BUPA, AXA and HSA but please check with your provider.

What is Osteopathy?
Osteopathy is a primary care profession, focusing 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 the 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 well-being 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.

What do Osteopaths treat?
Osteopathy focuses on the diagnosis, management, treatment and prevention of musculoskeletal and other related disorders without the use of drugs or surgery. Commonly treated conditions include back and neck pain, postural problems, sporting injuries, muscle and joint deterioration, restricted mobility and occupational ill-health.

Do I need a GP referral to see an Osteopath?
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.

Do GPs refer their patients to Osteopaths?
Yes. GPs can refer patients to osteopaths where they believe this intervention would be beneficial. Referral guidelines are provided by the General Medical Council and British Medical Association.

How do I know if an Osteopath is registered?
All osteopaths must be registered with the General Osteopathic Council. You can use the register to check whether your health professional is currently registered.

Can anyone call themselves an Osteopath?
The title ‘osteopath’ is protected by law, and only those included on the register are entitled to practise as osteopaths. Unregistered practice is a criminal offence in the UK.

What training do Osteopaths have?
Undergraduate students follow a four or five-year degree course combining academic and clinical work. Many osteopaths continue their studies after graduating. Osteopaths are required to update their training throughout their working lives. They must complete at least 30 hours every year.

What to expect / What does treatment feel like?
A typical assessment and treatment will involve a full medical case history, careful examination both standing and lying and some hands on work generally whilst lying comfortably on the couch. This is usually performed in loose clothing but occasionally it is necessary to examine in the underwear. Every effort is made to make the patient comfortable in every way while this is going on. If there are no contraindications then sometimes specific bony manipulations are indicated. However if patients specify that they want to be treated without this type of work then their wishes will always be accommodated. The most common observations by patients about Cranial Osteopathy is that at first it seems too gentle to be doing anything. The practitioner’s hands mostly take various gentle holds around the head and under the sacrum although other contacts are used from time to time. There is then often a period of apparent stillness that can last for several minutes at a time. People sometimes experience heat, pins and needles and other usually pleasant changes in their body during a session. Often there is a sense of tension being drawn out of the body and at the end a profound sense of relaxation is achieved. Most enjoy the experience and intuitively are aware that their bodies have been helped even if they are unsure initially as to specifically how. Changes most commonly make themselves obvious after one to two days. Sometimes this period will include a temporary worsening of symptoms but this is usually followed by noticeable improvement.