This question plagued me for years. As a teen, I had back issues and a number of knees issues. Despite seeing a handful of health professionals in different fields, satisfactory solutions were hard to come by.
I was given a diagnosis. I was given treatment plans. Hands on therapy. Exercise prescriptions. Orthotics. Maybe it was health professionals refusing to humour a kid…but I never got a satisfactory reason for my issues.
Sure, the meniscus was damaged. But why? Why did this happen? What can we do to ease my anxiety over the same thing happening again?
This cycle replayed itself a number of times in different iterations through high school and university. Through that time I studied kinesiology, trained like a professional athlete and worked as a personal trainer and strength coach.
Without realizing it, dots started connecting themselves. Studying biomechanics, psychology, physiology, and applying these concepts in the gym was doing something to me. I was beginning to see the many layers of complexity of the human body. I was beginning to see how they interact.
This is when I discovered osteopathy. Though osteopathy has been around since the 1870’s, I hadn’t heard of it until my fourth year of university. The field used the right keywords to catch my attention: holistic and comprehensive.
Holistic is among the most misused words in health and fitness. Despite this misuse, osteopathy is an excellent embodiment of the term for one reason; the term guides the practice. The principles that underly the founding of the field are the same ones that drew my interest. These are the same principles that feed this idea of holistic practice. The same principles that guide my work today.
Osteopathy is built around the idea that the human body inherently tends toward health. In the absence of barriers to health, the body will be healthy. The human body is an incredibly complex machine. Far more complex than any technique a human mind can apply through a human hand. The osteopathic goal, then, is to help the body do its thing.
Osteopathy is largely a manual therapy, meaning that the majority of the work is applied through hands-on techniques. We’ve got a vast repertoire of techniques at our disposal; some resembling other therapies like massage and joint mobilization. Some are unique to osteopathy, like cranial-sacral therapy and visceral manipulation.
It’s tempting to look at osteopathy as this collection of hands-on techniques and little else. You come in with back pain and we use the “back pain techniques”. Not so. We’re a patient-focused profession and I work as hard as I can to live up to this terminology.
Patient focused means that this therapeutic effort is about you. When you come in to see me in the clinic, we’re forming a partnership to change your experience. It’s not about applying the right label. It’s not about proving anything or making sure that you fit into the osteopathic system. It’s about using the skills in the room to solve your problem.
When we first meet, we’ll spend some time talking about you. I want to know about you; the way you view your body, your symptoms, your therapy expectations, your work, your life. These may not become major factors, but they all contribute to this holistic picture that helps me understand where you’re coming from.
As it turns out, where you’re coming from is incredibly important. A single mother of three that works full time is in a very different position from a student athlete. It’s not to say that one is better than the other. It simply means that we must take the realities of your life into account when we plan our work together. This is the essence of a patient-centred approach.
I want to know the story of your injury, your pain or your diagnosis. Knowing how events have unfolded and the path you’ve walked so far is incredibly important. Again…the more we know and understand here, the better.
Eventually we’ll come to some conclusions about how to proceed. All of that talk about your views and your perspective come into play in this moment. What do we expect to do with our therapy work? What would an ideal outcome be? How much time and energy can we devote to that? How would life change if we could achieve that goal?
After we’ve decided what we’re shooting for, we can decide how to measure it. How do we know when you’ve hit your goals? When you can sit comfortably? When you can return to sport? When you can walk without pain? These are not only good goalposts, they’re also good criteria to guide us.
Now we can get to the fun part. Another of the fundamental principles behind osteopathy is that structure and function are inherently linked. The structure of your body is inherently linked to how that body functions. This is intuitive and it helps us guide our work.
Among the first things I’ll do is investigate affected areas and the areas I think are likely to contribute heavily to the issue. If you have lower back pain, there’s a very good chance that I’ll palpate your lower back, investigating soft tissue quality, joint movement and your sensitivity. There’s a good chance I’ll look at your hips and your upper back as well. These areas will all give me structural clues to work with.
My work from this point on is about connecting those clues and forming basic ideas about how these clues feed into your issues. For example, your lower back pain may be evident in the tension in your lower back muscles. This doesn’t mean the lower back is the ‘at fault’ area, though. It’s just as likely that there are important factors in your hips, ankles, feet, and upper back all contributing equally to this issue.
As I assess these clues, I’ll work on bring them back to balance. Much of the time that means releasing tight tissues and mobilizing tight joints. This is all done with an intensity we agree upon together; though more pressure may lead to a faster release, a sensitive person may end up more tense as a result of deep work.
These techniques are all hands-on, meaning I’ll use my hands to affect some change in your body. We use a collection of soft tissue release techniques, muscle energy techniques, joint mobilizations, visceral manipulation, whatever is necessary to remove the barrier.
This is where our vast collection of techniques comes in handy; we don’t have to dig deep if it doesn’t work for you. There are other ways. As Dan John would say, “the goal is to keep the goal, the goal”. You aren’t in the clinic to fit into my system. You’re here to benefit from my expertise, and we can only expect that outcome if I fit my expertise to you.
So we investigate contributors and culprits. We order them from biggest to smallest offenders. Then we set about addressing these culprits. Recall; the human body will take care of itself in the absence of barriers. If we can remove these barriers, good things will happen.
Sometimes these changes can be swift and sweeping, taking place over the course of just a couple of visits. Much of the time the issues are chronic by the time they get to me and a little more time together is warranted. It’s a difficult thing to predict off the bat because the process is dependant on tiny factors…like your body and how you live your life.
The goal with all of this work is to help you live the life you envision for yourself. This may mean living pain free, it may mean optimal performance, it may simply mean doing the things you want to do without fear of injury. Whatever the vision is, that’s our goal together.
I won’t beat around the bush with what this goal requires. Though I’m good with my hands, they aren’t entirely magical. It’s very likely that your issue will require homework on your part to maintain. It’s very likely that your issue will require a slight lifestyle shift in order for it to truly be resolved.
This may mean addressing your posture, addressing how you exercise, addressing if you exercise, or any number of movement or lifestyle habits. It’s not my job to sell you on the convenient approach; my work is about helping you find lasting resolution. If there’s a clear way forward, we’ll discuss exactly that.
Due to the relative obscurity of osteopathy in Canada, I tend to see a particular type of person. The majority of people I see in the clinic are those that have suffered through chronic pain and symptoms. They’re often people that have tried a number of other therapies and still have unresolved symptoms. Much of the time these are people that have given up on that vision a few times over.
Though I often work with those that have experienced chronic pain, I see all types. Osteopathy is actually applicable to an incredible number of issues. Musculoskeletal pain and injuries make up the majority of the work we do, which of course encompasses just about any ache or pain you can feel throughout your body. A number of other symptoms are equally well-served; like headaches and digestive issues.
Osteopathic therapy has many similarities to other therapies, but the differences are what really make us manual osteopaths. Any time I work with a new patient, the origins of the field are kept in the forefront of my mind; treat the person holistically, as a person, and seek balance between structure and function. Find the obvious barriers to the body healing and remove them from the equation.
These ideas may seem simplistic but they end up being the guiding lights that keep us on track when looking at the big picture. The big picture, after all, is you. It’s your body. It’s your ability to live your life. Every technique is applied through this lens.
Osteopathy was founded nearly 150 years ago with the same noble principles that drive the field today. Though the field may still remain obscure and the methods somewhat mysterious, the methodology is not.
Find the barriers to health. Remove them. Live a good life.
It was through my first osteopathic study that I learned to connect the dots in my own life. After almost a decade of injuries, pain and unsatisfactory answers, I was able to look at the bigger picture and understand the origins of my own issues.
If you find yourself asking, “but why?”, it may be time to book in to see me. If you want to understand why your body is doing what it’s doing, it may be a good time to book in. If you want to understand your circumstances and find a viable path to walk towards health, you know what to do.
Check me out at Body Balance Health & Physiotherapy!