One in four visits we make to the GP is for pain affecting the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and nerves (musculoskeletal pain). Osteopathy, a hands-on therapy devised in the 19th century by the US physician and surgeon, Dr Andrew Still, offers a gentle way to help relieve such pain and stiffness without the need for medication and more invasive treatments such as surgery.
Ease back and neck pain
Although often thought of as a treatment for back and neck pain, osteopathy can help a wide range of conditions, including
- repetitive strain injury
- postural imbalances caused by driving or work strain
- arthritis and minor sports injuries
“People over 50 often have some osteoarthritis in the spine, which can manifest itself as stiffness and aching and the occasional acute spasm. Osteopaths aim to reduce chronic tension in the muscles and ligaments to improve mobility of the spine, which in turn can make the back or neck feel much easier and reduce the number of acute episodes,” says osteopath James Adatia, who practises in Brighton and Hove. “Osteopathy can also help with aches and pains associated with osteoporosis, although obviously it can’t cure the condition itself,” he adds.
What happens at an osteopathy session?
- An initial consultation usually takes from 45 minutes to an hour and subsequent treatments 30 to 40 minutes.
- At a first visit the osteopath will want to know all about the problem that brought you there and will ask about other medical conditions before performing a physical examination.
- You will be asked to perform a few simple movements so the osteopath can observe your posture and mobility, and he or she will gently palpate your joints, tissues and ligaments to detect any tenderness or imbalances.
- After this he or she will treat you using a number of different techniques. “These include soft tissue stretching, massage, something called ‘muscle energy technique’ that helps to reduce muscle spasms, manipulation of the spine and other joints and other gentle techniques designed to rebalance the body and stimulate healing,” explains Adatia. “Treatment is usually quite gentle but can be a little firmer depending on the patient,” he adds.
Exercises for pain relief
You keep your clothes on but some people like to change into a vest top and loose shorts for examination and treatment.After the treatment the osteopath may prescribe specific exercises to help keep you supple and prevent pain returning and/or advise you on the use of ice packs and other non-invasive ways of easing pain, posture and other lifestyle habits. If you can’t get to a clinic the osteopath may be able to visit you at home, although this is likely to be more expensive.
How many osteopathy sessions should you have?
Recent injuries can often be eased within just one to three sessions. More chronic problems may take longer to resolve – usually between three and six sessions but sometimes more. “Some people find that coming in occasionally for maintenance treatments is helps keep them mobile and pain-free, in conjunction with exercising and a healthy diet,” says Adatia.
How much does osteopathy cost?
Expect to pay between £35 to £50 for a session outside London and £50 to £65 plus in London.
Can I get osteopathy on the NHS?
Your GP can refer you or you can refer yourself. Most osteopaths are in private practice, but in some areas you can get osteopathy on the NHS; ask your GP if this is available in your area, and/or contact your local primary care trust (England), health board (Scotland), health authority (Wales) or health and social service board/group (Northern Ireland). Find out more at www.nhs.uk.
How do I find an osteopath?
By law all osteopaths practising in this country must be registered on the UK Statutory Register of Osteopaths, which guarantees that they have done four or five years’ training and work to a high standard. To find an osteopath in your area visit www.osteopathy.org.uk or call 020 7357 6655.