Vital Club

Osteopathy is an approach to healthcare that emphasises the role of the musculoskeletal system in health and disease. This form of complementary medicine emphasises a holistic approach and the skilled use of a range of manual and physical treatment interventions in the prevention and treatment of disease.

Dr Guy Ashburner, registered osteopath, introduces us to this complementary therapy

Osteopathy is an established system of complete medical practice, diagnosis and treatment, as recognised by the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa. Dr Andrew Taylor Still, an American medical doctor and surgeon, founded osteopathy in 1874. In the western world, Dr Still is widely considered as the first physician to treat each patient as a whole, while searching for the cause of dysfunction rather than treating the symptoms. Osteopathy is not the same as chiropractic or physiotherapy. Osteopaths take into account not only physical symptoms, but also the patient’s lifestyle and attitudes, as well as his or her overall health, effectively treating the patient as a whole. The osteopath considers physical, environmental and stress factors simultaneously, whereas the general medical practitioner would usually treat these factors individually and in isolation from each other. ‘hands-on’ manual therapy Osteopathy is a ‘hands-on’ manual therapy that doesn’t simply look at symptoms that present themselves. Osteopaths believe that symptoms often hide the underlying cause of disease.

By paying attention to the significance of any alteration in structure or function (the joints, muscles, ligaments, bones and connective tissue), an osteopath is able to interpret whole patterns of aches, pains and general health problems.

Alteration in the structure of the body leads to reduced or impaired function in its organs and tissues. Compensation gradually builds up until the body is unable to accommodate more change, at which time it may break down at the weakest part – even as a result of something quite trivial. Headaches, for example, could be the final symptom of lowerback or foot-related problems of which the patient may not even be aware. Osteopathic patients benefit because the underlying cause of the problem is treated.

Osteopathic treatment can improve many parts of the body by restoring normal movement in areas that have become dysfunctional. This allows for the restoration of normal function and enables the tissues to repair themselves more naturally.

While immediate pain relief is an important consideration, the aim of osteopathy is to get patients well and to keep them well. Therefore, depending on the needs of the patient, treatment may be used in conjunction with other treatment methods such as medication, surgery and X-rays.

How Is Osteopathy Applied?

The aim of osteopathy is to correct problems in the body frame, making it easier for your body to function normally and reducing the chance of problems occurring in the future.

In seeking to maintain good health and prevent future problems, the osteopath’s plan may include advice on posture, diet, lifestyle and stress. While ‘biomechanics’ has become one of the most rapidly developing areas of medicine in recent years, osteopathy was one of the first professions to incorporate biomechanical 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. He or she 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 involvement of other areas with a mechanical relationship to the knee, such as the foot, hip, lower back and pelvis, and the associated soft tissues.

Osteopathy For Children

Paediatric osteopathy is based on the principle that all ailments – whether minor or serious – are a result of an imbalance somewhere in the network of the body’s systems.

After making a diagnosis, following a full medical history and examination, a paediatric osteopath will use refined and subtle manual techniques to bring about profound changes within a child’s body through gentle manipulation. This will allow the musculoskeletal system, the gastrointestinal tract, the nervous system, the immune system and the circulatory system to work effectively and optimally. The treatment uses no drugs and is non-invasive.


The small amounts of movement that exist in the infant skull permit a baby’s head to adapt to the forces of labour. However, when birth is complicated by being unduly slow or fast, or when other complications occur (such as the need for forceps delivery) the infant head may not fully recover from the distortion. This may result in subtle changes in function, leading to problems such as feeding difficulties, colic and disturbed sleeping patterns. The gentle, skilful application of osteopathic treatment by an osteopath experienced in treating babies can often bring about a significant improvement in these distressing cases and is increasingly being considered as a treatment of choice for some conditions caused by difficult or traumatic birth.


As children grow older, problems may become apparent which may have arisen because of earlier strains or as a result of trauma such as knocks on the head or falls. Recurrent infection in the nose and ears (glue ear) may be due in part to restrictions in the small yet important movements between the various bones of the growing skull. Many osteopaths experienced in this field also consider that mechanical stresses on the body can be an important factor in cases of development delay such as delayed speech, educational difficulties and problems with co-ordination and physical development that have no particular medical diagnosis. Such children often make better progress once osteopathic treatment has been started.


As young people grow, the body frame undergoes a number of changes. Osteopaths can help the body framework to adjust to the postural demands made on it. This may simply be due to lack o adaption to a slightly exaggerated spinal curve or to mechanical changes that occur in conditions such as osteochondritis. If these minor problems are left undiagnosed and untreated, they may lead to problems later in life. By analysing, treating and managing problems associated with growth, osteopaths can make an important contribution to ensuring that young people become, and stay, fit and healthy. To add to this, teenagers often take part in many sporting and recreational activities, which carry the risk of sprains and strains. Skilful diagnosis and treatment by the osteopath can prevent problems from developing and allow the body’s framework to heal naturally and adjust to the stresses and strains.

Osteopathy In Pregnancy

Osteopathy is a perfectly safe form of physical therapy that can benefit women during the different stages of pregnancy. Osteopathy during pregnancy can be applied as follows:

Aches And Pains

Aches and pains are common during pregnancy, as the body changes shape to accommodate the increasing size and weight of the uterus. This involves considerable changes to posture. If you have existing back problems or strains in your body from past accidents or trauma, it may be more difficult for you to accommodate these changes, and you may suffer from discomfort as a result. Poor posture may cause backache, neckache, headaches, aching legs and undue fatigue. Furthermore, the ligaments of the whole body soften during pregnancy due to the action of hormones. This allows the bones of the pelvis to separate slightly during the delivery to facilitate the passage of your baby’s head through the pelvis. Unfortunately, this softening affects your whole body and makes it more vulnerable to strain during pregnancy.

Osteopathy is helpful in assisting your body to make postural changes. It can also help to make your pregnancy more comfortable.

Preparation For Labour

An important part of preparation for childbirth is to ensure that your pelvis is structurally balanced and able to allow the passage of your baby down the birth canal. Trauma to the pelvic bones, coccyx or sacrum at any time in your life can leave increased tension in the muscles and strain within the ligaments and bones of the pelvis. This can limit the ability of these bones to separate and move out of the way during labour, and thus limit the size of the pelvic outlet.

Osteopathic treatment is extremely effective in releasing old strains within the pelvis, thus giving the best chance of an easy and uncomplicated labour. In most cases, osteopathic treatment to ensure that the pelvis and uterus are correctly balanced and aligned can help with discomforts of later pregnancy, and can often help your baby to turn into a better position.

Treatment After Birth

Birth can be traumatic for both mother and baby. However, osteopathy can be effective in helping both you and your baby to recover. Your pelvis is vulnerable to lasting strains from the forces involved, particularly after a difficult delivery. Some of these strains can have a profound effect on your nervous system, and may contribute to postnatal depression. After giving birth, your body not only has to recover from the changes it made during pregnancy, but also from the effects of delivery – all this while doing the very physically and mentally demanding job of caring for your new baby. Caring for a baby can place enormous strain on the back during such activities as nursing in poor positions, lifting car seats, reaching over the cot, or carrying your child on one hip.

Furthermore, unresolved childbirth stresses can contribute to ongoing back problems, period problems, stress incontinence, constipation, headache and more.

Osteopathic treatment can help you to return to physical and mental health after birth by releasing strains from both pregnancy and labour. This will allow you to relax and enjoy your new baby. It can provide relief from lower back and leg pain, as well as neck and shoulder pain, and ease discomforts around the thorax, indigestion, wrist pain and post-natal problems of the pelvis. Your baby can also suffer long lasting effects from the moulding process during birth, and an osteopathic check-up is recommended.

View a list of common complains that Osteopathy can assist with

Discovery the benefits of Osteopathy