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Common steps and sub-activities


I am deeply indebted for the description which follows to Els Vercruysse Msc, an osteopath and ROB member.   

Els has 3 Master Degrees in Sports and Physical Health Education, Motor Revalidation and physical therapy and Osteopathic Medicine / Osteopathy. She is also the author of a children's story ‘Lucas, het komt dik in orde.’  described in the section on obesity. Els has her own practice in Jabbeke (Belgium/ Europe) and is an assistant Teacher of Osteopathy at the IAO (International Academy of Osteopathy). She is also working on her PhD thesis in collaboration with the U-GENT (University of Gent). She can be reached on Tel: +32 495 45 90 22 and via email els.vercruysse@gmail.com

Osteopathy is a full therapy which relies on knowledge of both anatomy and physiology. It is a manual technique, whose aim is to diagnose and then treat 'function disorders', caused by loss of mobility of any kind of tissue. Loss of mobility means reduced 'moveability', stretch ability and 'compressibility' of tissue in every sense of the word.


Osteopathy is of American origin and is based on the theories of A.T. Still. It is classified as 'manual medicine'.  The scientific underpinnings for osteopathy can be found in the science section under Osteopathy

An osteopath is specialized in the muscular-skeletal system of the human body. He/she can help mobility disorders of joints, muscles, bones and sinews by ‘loosening’ these structures with his/her hands.

The special thing about osteopathy is that it can also trace mobility disorders back to different bodily systems (the muscular-skeletal system, nervous system, cardiovascular system, respiratory system and metabolic system) and provide treatment here too. The different bodily systems are related to each other and influence each other constantly. An osteopath has different techniques to improve mobility between these different systems.

An osteopath will search for the source of the complaint. It may well be that the cause of lower back pain lies within the organs. The osteopath may thus work on your organs, as well as working on the lower back, in order to make them function correctly again.

Thus through treatment, the body's functions will be balanced again and the self-healing ability of the body will be stimulated.  In effect, the patient unconsciouscly heals themselves, but the trigger to the healing process is the rebalancing provided by the treatment.

How many treatments you need is dependent on your complaint, and what your objective is in seeking help. 

The period between treatments may vary from 1 week to 2 months. This is the time the body needs to acquire a new balance. After two to three treatments improvement should be noticeable. If the symptoms are persistent, complete recovery will take longer and more treatments may be necessary.

The more acute the complaint, the quicker treatment will give results. If the complaints are more chronic, the body balance will be more extensively disturbed and the frequency and duration of the treatment will also be more extensive.

What kind of complaints are treated by the osteopath?

An osteopath is trained to treat newborns, babies, children and adults.

People with back problems are frequently treated successfully with osteopathy. These complaints may be caused by an accident, surgery, incorrect posture, bad lifestyle and physical or mental overload. They cause joints to block, restrict mobility and cause tension in different body tissues ; sometimes the consequences of some event thta is the ultimate cause can emerge years later. The following 3 types of complaint can often be treated successfully by an osteopath :

 Cranio-sacral System (skull-sacrum) 

  • Headache (migraine, chronic sinus complaints, tension headaches)

  • Migraine

  • Facial pain

  • Whiplash

  • Vertigo

  • Tinitis

  • Temporo-mandibular joint dysfunctions

  • Chronic otitis

  • Throat, nose, ear complaints

  • Babies with problems (babies who cry a lot, skull asymmetry, babies with reflux)

  • Children (learning difficulties, orthodontics, sleeping problems)

Visceral System (organs) 

  • Abdominal pain as a result of stress, postoperative, acidification

  • Palpitations

  • Hyperventilation (-syndrome)

  • Incontinence

  • Period cramps

  • Complaints at the pelvic organs (uterus, bladder)

  • Fertility problems

  • Digestive problems (bloating, burping, flatulence)

  • Babies (crying babies, reflux, intestinal cramps)

  • Children with obesity  

Parietal system (a.o. vertebrae, ribs and joints) 

  • Joint pains (such as rheumatism and osteoarthritis)

  • Muscle aches (tense or tight muscles)

  • Backaches (osteoarthritis, lumbago, bulging disc or herniated disc, blockages)

  • Neck pain (torticollis, whiplash, pain radiating into shoulder…)

  • Shoulder pain

  • Pain radiating into limbs

  • Nerve pinching

  • Spinal blockade

  • Asymetric spinal column

  • Limbs (foot problems, inflammatory symptoms tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow, PSH, knee pain)

Depending on the location and cause of the complaint, an osteopath may use parietal, visceral, cranio-sacral or fascial techniques as a treatment.

Osteopathic analysis 

An osteopath spends far longer with a patient trying to find the causes of the problem than perhaps most doctors.  The entire hour of a first appointment may be spent in finding out root causes of a complaint.   First of all your complaint will be extensively discussed, but because the aim is to treat the body as a whole, additional information is needed. Questions may also be asked about medical history, diet, emotional problems and so on.

"The questions we ask are not only linked directly to the symptoms of your complaint, we also ask questions about other body systems, because these may be related to your current complaints. Not only does it guarantee an efficient treatment but also a safe therapy" (Els Vercruysse).

The osteopath will examine you carefully and extensively. They  observe your posture, the exact location of any pain and they carry out a mobility assessment and safety test. The pain and motion restrictions are then analysed in a cause-effect pattern. The osteopath’s treatment plan will be determined by the severity of the pain and the degree of motion restriction.

In Europe - excepting the UK which appears to be strangulated by the restrictions of the NHS - Osteopaths are recognised as part of multi-disciplinary teams that may include a psychotherapist to help with emotional problems, physiotherapist to help with the more straightforward muscle problems, nutritionists and dieticiens who help adjust the diet to improve nutrition intake and doctors.

The doctor may help with corrective surgery, for example, or provide the resources to help in diagnosis with scans, Xrays and other diagnostic tools and machines.  There is far greater use of plant based medicines in mainland Europe [like the Chinese and Indian systems] and doctors may also prescribe these where needed.  In mainland Europe a person may go to an osteopath without referral by a doctor and it is covered by medical insurance, but most osteopaths work in multi-disciplanry teams that include doctors.  In the UK the same multi-disciplinary teams exist but they suffer from being outside the NHS free treatment and are usually not affiliated with any doctor.  [An approach incidentally which is both extraordinarily expensive for the patient and the NHS - a sort of lose lose situation]

Possible reactions after osteopathic treatment

It is not unusual for a person to feel a little 'odd' after treatment.  But feeling odd is actually a good sign.  The body needs time to process the changes thta treatment produces and after therapy it will be searching for a new balance. Depending on the manual techniques used, the seriousness of the complaint and the person's general physical condition, various reactions may occur which may be felt up to 2 to 5 days after treatment.  For example the following reactions are not uncommon… 

  • muscle pain

  • headache

  • nausea

  • thinner or discoloured stools

  • general discomfort

  • emotional sensitivity

  • reduced appetite

  • weariness
  • vertigo

It is even possible that the original complaints that brought the person to the therapist become temporarily worse. 

Whilst the body is rebalancing itself and getting used to the changes, the person is usually advised by the osteopath to take some action themselves, to further stimulate the recovery and healing ability of the body.

For example the person may be given advice about living and eating habits, as well as specific exercises that will help the healing process. Patients are also in general told to rest for an hour after treatment.

As treatment tends to result in the person releasing a lot of waste materials from their body, patients are also told to drink lots of plain uncarbonated water for some time after the treatment to help the body flush the toxins away. At least 2 liters of water in 24 hours is the minimum. Patients are also generally advised to avoid heavy emotional stress or physical effort after treatment.

"After treatment you will find yourself in a ‘gray zone’ ; complaints have been treated, but they have not completely disappeared. If the body is physically or emotionally too much burdened after treatment, there will not be enough energy left to integrate the mobility gains. The body may return to the condition it was in before starting treatment" (Els Vercruysse).

Walking, cycling and light exercises are recommended.

References and more information 

 The official webite for the UK Osteopathic federation and council can be used to get more information - similar sites exist for other countries. 

The General Osteopathic Council regulate the practice of osteopathy in the United Kingdom. By law osteopaths must be registered with them in order to practise. 

They work with the public and osteopathic profession to promote patient safety by registering qualified professionals, and setting, maintaining and developing standards of osteopathic practice and conduct. 


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