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What is osteopathy?

Osteopathy is a type of manipulative therapy used to treat certain problems of the joints and muscles without using medication or surgery. It is based on the idea that how you move your body influences how it functions.

Osteopathy is a type of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in which a specialist known as an osteopath is specially trained to gently move, stretch and massage the muscles and joints of the body. By applying the right type of manipulation, an osteopath can reduce muscle tension, improve movement of the joints and increase blood supply to body tissues.

This therapy is typically used for treating problems of the musculoskeletal system (muscles and bones) - back pain, problems with the pelvis, hips and legs, feet and ankles, neck and shoulder pain, problems caused by poor posture, sports injuries such as tennis elbow, and arthritis.

What happens during a session with an osteopath?

The first appointment will be the longest because the osteopath will need to make an assessment of your general health by asking a number of questions and doing a physical examination. You will need to provide information about any other medical conditions and treatments you are receiving, including any medications that you are taking.

You will need to remove some clothing to be examined properly, but you should be provided privacy for undressing and a gown or towel. If you wish, you can bring a relative or friend with you if it makes you feel more comfortable during the examination.

Discomfort in one location can be caused by a problem elsewhere - for example, a knee problem could be affecting your hip or spine - so the osteopath will need to consider your body as a whole. You will be asked to perform simple stretches and other movements, and the osteopath will use palpations - a way of identifying tissue problems through touching with fingers and hands - to examine your joints, ligaments and other tissues.

It may be necessary for the osteopath to request your doctor to make a referral for you to have an X-ray, scan or other test. If the osteopath finds a condition that should not be treated through osteopathy, you will be advised to see your doctor. You should be given a letter for your GP to explain the osteopath's findings.

Once the osteopath makes a diagnosis, you will be given a treatment plan. Not only will it include manipulation techniques, you may also be advised to make lifestyle changes such as how to sit at a computer and advice on exercise.

The osteopath will provide hands-on treatment in which bones, joints and muscles are manipulated or massaged. One type of movement is known as articulation, in which a joint is moved through its ranges but without exceeding its natural limits. A high-velocity thrust is a type of short, sharp movement that produces a clicking noise. It is normally used for the spine.

The first session may be enough to treat your problem, but you may need further sessions. If being treated on the NHS, up to 9 sessions will be covered during a period of up to 12 weeks.

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