It can often be confusing for patients coming to see an osteopath when we end up working on a part of their body seemingly unrelated to the problem they came in for. Often what happens at the osteopaths is hard for people to explain to their friends and family, and it can be hard for us to explain to our patients. This blog series is an attempt to explain some of the ideas that underpin what we do, and hopefully make it clearer why we do what we do.
Let’s start with the first osteopathic principle – The body is a unit.
This is not a unique idea to osteopathy, and it’s thankfully not controversial anymore.
Let’s illustrate this idea with an example. Take the seeming difference between a muscle, the tendon that attaches it to the bone, and the bone itself. If you were to look at these, at first, these appear to be different things. But, there are a few clues that they are not different, or separate at all, they just seem different because it’s possible to cut them apart, and they occupy different spaces in the body.
The first clue of these three things being inseparable or a unit is that you don’t find muscles without tendons, and you don’t find tendons without bones. They always occur together. Wherever you find a muscle, you’ll always find some form of a tendon, and then you’ll always find a bone or something that is moved by that muscle.
A second clue is that if you were to follow the muscle as it ‘turns into’ a tendon, and the tendon as it attaches to a bone on a microscopic level, you would find that there is no clear dividing line where one ends and the next one begins. They blend into one another as they go.
A third clue is that none of these could do what they do when it comes to movement (muscles and bones have other functions as well) without the other structures around them. Muscles can’t pull on bones without tendons, and bones can’t move without muscles. They are a unit.
This idea can be extended beyond the physical body, to include other ‘parts’ that make up who we are as a person, such as psychological and social aspects of our being. An example might include if someone is depressed or anxious or joyful. It is often possible to see these psychological and emotional states reflected in their physical states of being. These states can then affect our physical well-being and ongoing posture.
Sometimes when people come to see us with a pain in their body, it is possible to link this back to how their emotional state of being is causing them to use their body. The way they use their body then strains it in a particular area and this drives their pain. In this case, just working on the physical body will usually not result in a lasting change. It’s important to deal with the underlying emotional driver, and perhaps seeing a counsellor or psychologist would be useful for the person in that case.
Reasoning from the observation that the body is a unit, allows us to get a better sense of what is underlying the issue that people may come in for. Because of this, the part of the session where we ask questions and assess you is so important. By doing this we’re trying to find out how you are related within yourself, and which relationships are working well, and which ones are not. This then tells us where best to work, to try and resolve the issue that you have come in for.
If we discover in the process of doing this that the underlying issue is beyond our knowledge or scope, then that’s good too, because we can direct you towards somebody or something more appropriate.