11 mins read

Origin, benefits, efficacy and precautions

Human race has developed a wide array of therapeutic systems in course of finding effective treatments for illnesses. Now-a-days, the focus is on evidence-based medicine that has scientific proof of its efficacy and its safety. However, there are several other branches of medicine that do not strictly adhere to this norm. One such branch is that of alternative medicine, of which osteopathy forms a vital part.

What is osteopathy? Where did it originate?
Osteopathy was first practiced in the United States in 1874. Andrew Taylor Still, a physician and a surgeon, came up with the term “osteopathy.” This branch of medicine involves treating patients primarily by moving, massaging, or stretching the muscles and joints of the body. Practicians of osteopathy believe that the body cannot stay healthy unless there is harmony between the muscles, ligaments, bones and connective tissue.

Still founded what is now called the A.T. Still University of Health Sciences in 1982 to teach osteopathy. The Journal of Osteopathy was begun by the American Institute of Osteopathy in 1898, giving wider recognition to the practice.

How is it beneficial?
Osteopaths claim the treatment can cure several disorders which include:

  • Lower back pain or stiffness
  • Neck and upper back pain or stiffness
  • Shoulder pain
  • Chronic conditions, such as asthma and arthritis
  • Digestive problems
  • Pain during menstruation
  • Injuries sustained during sports
  • Back pain due to pregnancy
  • Effects of trauma, such as whiplash
  • Issues with the ankle, hip, knee and foot
  • Issues with the forearm, wrist, upper arm or elbow
  • Strain sustained at the workplace
  • Stiffness related to wear and tear
  • Problems due to improper posture

Studies or research on its efficacy
Osteopathy has not proven to be effective in large, scientific trials. However, there is limited evidence that osteopathy may work for few conditions.

  • The UK back pain exercise and manipulation trial (UKBEAM) conducted in 2004 involving 1334 participants, concluded that patients who received manipulation, exercise and advice responded to treatment better than those who did not, both in the short-term as well as the long-term.
  • Also, as of February 2008, the NICE guidelines for osteoarthritis recommend manipulation and stretching, strengthening exercises and advice as part of the treatment system.

How is osteopathy done?
During an osteopathic consultation, patients describe their symptoms, their past illnesses or injuries, and their immediate environment to the practitioner. Osteopathic manipulative treatment can be categorized into four methods:

  • Active method: The patient voluntarily performs a motion directed by an osteopath.
  • Passive method: The patient does not voluntarily perform muscular movements.
  • Direct method: A restrictive barrier is used and an activating force is used to correct dysfunction.
  • Indirect method: The restrictive barrier is removed and the dysfunctional body part is moved away from the barrier until tissue tension is equalized.

How can you get started with osteopathy?
Osteopaths use a highly skilled technique called palpation to touch and move your body, in order to identify the dysfunction as well as to treat it. Massaging, stretching stiff joints, articulation and high-velocity thrusts are used to treat the disorder.

Usually, osteopathic treatment does not cause pain. However, if the patient is suffering from any other painful inflammation, there may be some discomfort felt during treatment.

Talk to your osteopath therapist to understand if it works for any of your specific ailments as listed above. Make sure you are clear about discussing your entire medical history while doing so.


  1. DiGiovanna E.L., Schiowitz S. Dowling D.J. An Osteopathic Approach to Diagnosis and Treatment, 3rded. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2005. 707 p.
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