Why did I choose Manual Osteopathy as an adjunct profession?

Written by Katolen Yardley, MNIMH, RH (AHG) ~ Medical Herbalist

Classical Osteopathy, or Manual Osteopathy is a very gentle non invasive, hands-on form of manual therapy that focuses on supporting the bodies self healing mechanisms to restore optimal health – seeking to address physical structure and resolve underlying tissue imbalances, not only treat symptoms of dis-ease. Manual Osteopathy does not involve pharmaceutical medications or surgery but instead focuses on removing restrictions to physical structure to assist the bodies self regulation abilities within set homeostatic principles.

“To find health should be the object of the doctor. Anyone can find disease.” – Andrew Taylor Still MD, DO. Osteopathy Research and Practice

Reviewing the philosophy of Osteopathy, Dr Still, the founder of Osteopathy affirmed several osteopathic principles of which manual osteopathy therapy is based on:

Founder of Osteopathy, Dr Still
  1. The body is considered one whole functioning unit- it is impossible to have injury or restrictions in function of one area without involving and affecting other areas.
  2. Body structure influences the body’s functions – both are interrelated. If any structure is out of place, injured or otherwise not working properly, the body will not function at its best.
  3. The body has self regulating mechanisms which ensure it functions within set homeostatic range.
  4. The body contains self defence mechanisms and the capacity for self healing; when restrictions to function are alleviated, the body can proceed with maintaining the highest state of optimal health possible at any given time.

Dr Still recognised the essential importance of the circulation of fluids to keep tissues healthy, reinforcing the doctrine that the body’s fluids must be allowed to flow without restriction. Thus blood flow and its circulation from head to toe, lymphatic movement and neurological motor and sensory impulses must be without restrictions. The vascular system is involved in sending nutrients and needed oxygen to local cells and tissues as well as removing waste material from a cell for its elimination from the body. The nerves are involved in cell to cell and whole body communication through rapid electrical message relay.

  • Dr Still held the work of the nervous system in high esteem, viewing it as the messaging system or essentially the ‘internet highway’ of the body and spoke of the importance of safeguarding this communication pathway from inhibition.
  • Ligaments hold bones in position- regardless of whether the bones are set in perfect position for unhindered movement of fluids beneath.
  • One cannot work on the soma – the body- without facilitating a degree of change to tissues from head to toe; similarly, dis-ease also manifests as influencing the physical body and its function in some degree or another.

In my personal 20 year quest to comprehend practices (both ancient and modern) that enhance the highest possible expression of health and wellness; the discovery of the philosophy of Osteopathy and how its classical manual techniques can enhance wellbeing – is in alignment with my pursuit.

One of the ways Manual osteopathy can assist with homeostasis is to address the body’s structure, gently impacting the function of any underlying anatomical routes responsible for transporting nourishment to the body’s cells. Here is a possible analogy for better understanding of the Osteopathic process:

  • Full flow of circulation is essential as the flow of blood sends required oxygen full blood, nutrients, immune cells and other vital support to all tissues and cells throughout the body. 
  • The pumping action of the heart along with its electrical system plus the inspire/ exhalation of  lung tissue ensures that oxygenated blood is pumped unimpeded to all cells via the arteries and deoxygenated blood along with waste material is removed from the cells in veins.
  • The lymphatic system is responsible for removing waste from a localised area.
  • The nervous systems role is to activate electrical signalling pathways which modulate cardiovascular and pulmonary function, as well as relay motor and sensory information from the peripheries.
  • If any one of these pathways is not functioning as it should, or is impeded or blocked then overall performance would be less than optimal -possibly leading to a domino effect of long term health insufficiencies.  
  • So in the examples of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome or Brachial Plexus injury, perhaps there was an initial injury with a bone out of alignment and development of scar tissue; this could potentially lead to a narrowing in the brachial plexus area or shoulder girdle with pressure and impingement on underlying nerves and decreased blood flow. How dis-ease unfolds will be unique to each individual, however some examples of a possible progression: over time there could be possible muscle atrophy in a limb, loss of function and pinched nerves could lead to chronic pain radiating down the arm; numbness and tingling. There may be decreased sensation in the arm, or possibly development of raynauds syndrome with subsequent cold hands and fingers, perhaps even the development of carpal tunnel syndrome.  So the initial injury and changes in structure of the scapula could impact the function of the arm and even lead to symptoms in the fingers.
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
  • A manual osteopathic practitioner would follow the path of the lesion, assessing the proper alignment of fascia, bones and connective tissue above the arteries and nerves, alleviating any restrictions and treat the area of the shoulder girdle and neck, decompressing nerve fibres, reducing pain and trigger points while maintaining range of motion to the shoulder and neck.

In my 20 years of studying health and wellness through my lengthy training as a Medical Herbalist, it is apparent that some causes of dis-ease can be due to restrictions or changes to physical structures.  Certain health states can be benefitted by Osteopathic Manual therapy including structure versus function examples- such as:

  • A client suffering from a concussion who has developed disabling migraines.
  • Lack of movement and immobility in seniors can lower flexibility, decrease range of movement and increase the risk of slip and falls.
  • Adhesions after surgery may affect underlying tissue health and function.
  • Poor posture can influence breathing capacity, enhanced vitality and overall wellbeing.
  • Addressing chronic inflammations and injury related to occupational hazards or repetitive movements in ones occupation (painters elbow, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome).
  • Sports injuries (golfers elbow, swimmers knee) or contact sports injuries.
  • Tissue lymphodema (tissue swelling) related to surgery can be minimised through manual therapy and lymphatic drainage techniques.
  • Individuals with type 2 diabetes, for example, are at higher risk of peripheral neuropathy, have slower wound healing time and experience reduced circulation of oxygenated blood to the peripheries, and are in a higher risk category for development of opportunistic foot ulcers, neuropathies, poor healing sores, trauma and possibly more serious complications. Foot care along with osteopathic manual techniques can play a role in slowing dis-ease progression, improving quality of life and decreasing mortality.
  • A simply fall can change the structural alignment of the body, resulting in bone compression, jarring vertebrae or jamming ribs  –consequently pressing heavily on and possibly restricting blood flow; hindering the movement of clean pure blood in and out of a local region and diminishing motor or sensory nerve supply to areas of specific nerve innervations.
  • Even a simple strain or sprain may impede function of local related structures,
  • This is where the role of the osteopath comes in, a manual osteopathy can locate areas of restriction, treating those areas to free up tissues and underlying structures, enhancing the bodies self healing mechanisms and facilitate greater range of motion and assist in addressing underlying and alleviating possible long term compensations.

In my own journey in this hands-on paradigm, I have experienced alleviation of sinus congestion through the gentle treatment of cranial bones, an increased sense of wellbeing and deep relaxation. I have observed improvement in digestive health through visceral tissue work, as well as observed clients attaining greater range of motion, lessened pain sensations and greater mobility when dealing with chronic health issues.

Gentle repetitive movements are used to stimulate all tissue in a localised area including the fascia, ligaments, joints, tendons, bones as well as stimulate underlying tissues to remove congestion, stagnation, improve blood flow and ensure unimpeded flow of fluids and nerve impulses. While an Osteopathic wellness program is never a one program fits all scenario; manual osteopathic therapy seeks to treat the individual, thus treatment is also tailored to the individual.

Manual osteopathic therapy is the perfect adjunct to the internal use of Phytotherapy (aka herbal medicine) and vice versa, allowing options for client centered health care which offers support both internally and somatically (via gentle hands on treatment). I look forward to offering manual osteopathic care to my clients in the near future.

To find out is Osteopathic manual therapies are right for you, email our office at Alchemy & Elixir Health Group.

Read our previous blog postings on “What is Osteopathy” and “Manual Osteopathic Techniques”.