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Treating Chronic Back Pain with Osteopathy

Commonly recommended for the treatment of hack problems, osteopathy has become accepted by mainstream medicine to such an extent that is no longer considered an “alternative” therapy. In the United States in particular, osteopaths have the same professional status as medical doctors.

The physical manipulation of the skeletal system to maintain and regain health is believed to have been practised first in ancient Egypt. Throughout history a great number of manipulative techniques were developed in China, Japan, India and North and South America.

Hippocrates, in ancient Greece, described manipulation of the spine, as did Galen, the Greek-born physician of ancient Rome. The Dark Ages and Middle Ages in Europe saw healers known as bone-setters, who combined massage, manipulation and herbal remedies to treat the sick. The ancient manipulative healing techniques continued to be practised by the Arab civilizations of the Middle East.

However, as with many other traditional therapies, manipulation was all but forgotten in the excitement surrounding the rise of modern, drug-based medicine in the 19th century. Then, in 1874, Andrew Taylor Still devised osteopathy and manipulation was given a new lease of life.

Born in Virginia in 1828, Still was a conventional physician for 20 years and served in the Union Army as a surgeon’ with the rank of major during the American Civil War. In 1864, a year before the end of the war, three of Still’s children died in an epidemic of spinal meningitis. This tragedy rocked Still’s faith in conventional medicine and set him on the path toward a new form of holistic therapy to which he would devote the rest of his life.

Osteopathy and your back

Surveys of people using complementary therapies in Europe and the United States show that back pain and pain from other joints in the body are by far the most common reasons for seeking help outside conventional medicine. In addition, surveys of user satisfaction with complementary therapies invariably put osteopathy and chiropractic top of the list. In fact, these therapies are now almost wholly embraced by conventional practitioners as the most effective treatments for back pain. If your back pain is due to a mechanical problem, then these two forms of treatment are probably the therapies of choice for you.

Osteopaths regard the body as an integrated unit and believe that a problem in any area can have a knock-on effect causing dysfunction and pain elsewhere. For example, they believe that if a misaligned vertebra puts pressure on nearby nerves, this can lead to dysfunction of various internal organs as well as the glands that produce the body’s hormones. So, according to this view of the human body, once the misalignment in the spine is corrected the body is able to heal itself.

Osteopathy in practice

When you first consult an osteopath the practitioner will make his or her diagnosis of the cause of your back pain in two different ways.

In common with most other complementary therapists, the osteopath will first want to build up as complete a picture as possible of you and your symptoms. You will be asked when the problem started, where exactly you feel pain, whether it is permanent or intermittent, and you will be asked to try to describe the pain. Osteopaths believe that it is important to take into consideration all aspects of your health and lifestyle before making a diagnosis.

The osteopath will then carefully examine not only the painful area of your back but also the rest of your body, to determine whether problems elsewhere are causing or contributing to your pain. You may be developing problems in areas you would not normally associate with your back. The osteopath will check the movements of your joints and observe how your body responds to the normal demands of everyday life, such as sitting down, standing up and walking.

Once the diagnosis has been made, the osteopath will use various manipulative techniques to correct the problem. They can include flexing, stretching and massage. He or she may also suggest ways in which you can help yourself between consultations. Osteopathy is especially suitable for the treatment of back and neck pain, sciatica, sprains and strains and headaches.

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