You are suffering with back pain and can’t get out of bed…
You may have neck pain and can’t turn your head to reverse the car…
You or your child may have a knee injury affecting your ability to play your sport…
You know you need to get help, but who to see?
Top of the list may be your GP, but you might also consider physiotherapy, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, therapy or osteopathy to name a few.
All provide musculoskeletal health services, but each brings different training, experience, insights and character to the table.
So how to find a treatment type and then a therapist who is right for your needs?
Let’s look at the professional labels:
General Practitioners (GPs)
General practitioners are doctors who provide medical care for patients in the community. They diagnose and treat illness, disease and infection.
They will have completed a five-year degree course in medicine and a two-year foundation programme of general training. They will also need specialist training in general practice which will take three years.
GPs often treat the symptoms using medication and refer to specialists if the problem is more complicated where further medication and surgery is usually offered.
Physiotherapists help people affected by injury, illness or disability through movement and exercise, manual therapy, education and advice. They are closely linked with the NHS and this is who you are most likely to be referred to by a GP. It is a degree qualification.
The majority of my patients who have had physiotherapy treatment locally say that the focus is on being given exercises to do at home with little, if any, hands on treatment.
Massage therapy has a long history in cultures around the world. Today, people use many different types of massage therapy for a variety of health-related purposes, including to relieve pain, rehabilitate sports injuries, reduce stress, increase relaxation, address anxiety and depression, and aid general wellness.
Massage therapy, often referred to as bodywork or somatic therapy, refers to the application of various techniques to the muscular structure and soft tissues of the body that include applying fixed or movable pressure, holding, vibration, rocking, friction, kneading and compression using primarily the hands, although massage therapists do use other areas of the body, such as the forearms, elbows or feet. All of the techniques are used for the benefit of the musculoskeletal, circulatory-lymphatic, nervous, and other systems of the body.
Massage training varies greatly, from as little as a weekend, so check carefully. The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council is a good place to start.
Acupuncture originates from China and has been practiced there for thousands of years. Acupuncture involves the insertion of very thin needles through the patient’s skin at specific points on the body – the needles are inserted to various depths. There are varying training programmes so I would recommend that you should find a practitioner registered with The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC)
According to the General Chiropractic Council (GCC), chiropractic is “a health profession concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, and the effects of these disorders on the function of the nervous system and general health”.
Chiropractors (practitioners of chiropractic) use their hands to treat disorders of the bones, muscles and joints. Treatments that involve using the hands in this way are called “manual therapies”.
Chiropractors use a range of techniques, with an emphasis on manipulation of the spine. They may also offer advice on diet, exercise and lifestyle, and rehabilitation programmes that involve exercises to do in your own time.
Chiropractic is the most similar to osteopathy and we both are specialists in manipulation techniques of joints – the “click and crunch” that you may experience during treatment.
There is increasing evidence that therapy can help with pain. Therapy, also called psychotherapy or counselling, is the process of meeting with a therapist to resolve problematic behaviours, beliefs, feelings, relationship issues, and/or somatic responses (sensations in the body).
On the whole, you can expect that your therapist will be someone who supports you, listens attentively, models a healthy and positive relationship experience, gives you appropriate feedback, and follows ethical guidelines. Good therapy should be tailored to you and your experiences. To find a therapist visit British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
The General Osteopathic Council says “Osteopathy is a system of diagnosis and treatment for a wide range of medical conditions. It works with the structure and function of the body, and is based on the principle that the well-being of an individual depends on the skeleton, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues functioning smoothly together.
To an osteopath, for your body to work well, its structure must also work well. So osteopaths work to restore your body to a state of balance, where possible without the use of drugs or surgery. Osteopaths use touch, physical manipulation, stretching and massage to increase the mobility of joints, to relieve muscle tension, to enhance the blood and nerve supply to tissues, and to help your body’s own healing mechanisms. They may also provide advice on posture and exercise to aid recovery, promote health and prevent symptoms recurring.”
Why choose osteopathy?
Most other treatments focus just on the bit that hurts – the dodgy back, the ankle you keep twisting, tennis elbow, that recurring headache. But osteopaths look for the trigger that sets these problems off.
Osteopathy is a system of medicine that uses the musculoskeletal system to bring about important changes to improve the overall health in a patient. It is a manual therapy that uses massage, movement of joints and mobilisation to areas of the body, which don’t move freely or are out of balance, to improving the body’s structure and function.
People often suffer from simple aches and pains because they have lost the ability to compensate for the stresses, strains and traumas of everyday life. There is often ‘no slack left in the system’ as constant sitting at desks and computers, in cars, or getting overly stressed by work commitments and deadlines, makes us the victims of bad posture and shallow breathing
Osteopathy treats the cause, not the symptoms. Osteopaths assess and treat your body as a whole, seeking to identify areas of the body that are not functioning optimally then gently easing these restrictions so that normal function can resume.
Osteopaths view a patient as a whole person, taking into account not just the physical symptoms, but also lifestyle, emotional well-being, and environment.
Osteopathy is not exclusive to one demographic. Osteopathic clients include infants and the elderly, athletes and weekend warriors, pregnant women and those trying to conceive, manual workers and office professionals.
Clients seek treatment from an Osteopath for a wide variety of conditions, including back pain, joint pain, changes to posture caused by driving or a work strain, the pain of arthritis, and sports injuries.
Osteopaths undergo 4 years of full time or 5 years part-time training in the UK. Osteopaths are trained to recognise and diagnose conditions as well as understanding the pathology. This is because Osteopaths have to gain an in depth knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathology in order to be able to diagnose musculoskeletal dysfunction and be aware of pathological conditions that may be present in the musculoskeletal system. Osteopaths also study pharmacology, nutrition and exercise mechanics in order to achieve a sound knowledge of how the body works in health and disease.
Osteopathy is now regarded by many as a primary healthcare profession, with a growing number of osteopaths working in the NHS. The Government is also throwing its support behind the profession to help reduce the huge number of lost workdays due to back related injuries. The Osteopathy Act (1993) brought with it statutory regulation by the General Osteopathic Council, which regulates the safe practice of it’s 4960+ members in the UK and also protects the name.
This philosophical debate whether to focus on the patient’s disease or the total patient precedes osteopathy and doctors. It goes back to the beginnings of medical history when Hippocrates, the “father of medicine” believed in focusing on the patient. The rival Cnidian philosophy focused only on the disease itself. Unfortunately, modern medicine chose to follow Cnidian, where today symptoms and disease are fought with drugs and surgery. If we get a bug we go and get medication and we acknowledge our immune system is low. But why is our immune system low – what are we doing to help it get better and stronger?
Osteopaths believe strongly in the self-regulating, self-healing, and self-repairing ability of the body. Osteopaths promote the body’s own ability to heal itself through means that are safe, non-intrusive and without drugs.
Osteopaths emphasise that all body systems, including the musculoskeletal system, operate in unison. By recognising the critical relationship between body structure and body function, the osteopath is trained to recognise that a disturbance in one system can alter the functions of another system and/or all systems.
More that 7 out of 10 patients feel improved after their first osteopathic treatment. After 3 to 4 treatments more that 8 out of 10 had improved.
You choose osteopathy because:
- You are unique
- Your problem is individual
- You want to understand:
- What is causing the pain
- Why things have gone wrong
- Why it hasn’t recovered on its own
- What you can do to speed recovery
- How you can prevent recurrence
What does osteopathy do?
- Osteopathy gets to the root of the problem
- Identifies the cause of your problem
- Investigates to see why the problem occurred
- Works with you to restore and stimulate your own healing ability
- Increases your energy, vitality, efficiency and ability to relax
- Reduces aches and pains
- Increases flexibility
- Teaches you about your body
- Is safe & gentle and with minimal side effects
Osteopathy is for all ages. No matter how long you have had your problem, whatever your age. It is never too early or too late to begin using osteopathy.
We take time. No two people are alike. That is why osteopaths take time to enquire and learn about your problem in detail. Your story is unique and holds vital clues to the understanding needed to put things right.
The osteopath’s unique skill lies on a highly developed sense of touch, call palpitation, which is used in diagnosis and treatment
Treatment tailored to suit your individual needs, ranges from soft tissue massage, rhythmic joint movement and much more, all applied sensitively with the hands.
Osteopaths can advise you on appropriate exercise programmes, correct seating at home or work, how to lift correctly, how to improve your diet and many other aspects that may be appropriate to aid your full recovery.
Osteopaths focus not just on one symptom or complaint, but on the whole patient– including lifestyle, environment, diet, fitness, and emotional wellbeing.
- How long has the practitioner been in practice?
- How many patients have had your problem?
- What were the results?
- Ask about policies, fees, payment.
- Don’t bargain hunt for care / treatments.
They must be professional, credentialed, and competent, with no lawsuits against them. And they must be an intuitive fit — you can’t underestimate the absolute value of feeling a good intuitive match with somebody. Also, if you ask them questions about themselves, and they get defensive, go somewhere else.
- Do I feel reasonably OK with this person?
- Is the practitioner really listening to me?
- Is he or she asking enough questions? Especially in the first session, the practitioner should be asking many questions, to become acquainted with you and the issues you are dealing with.
- Has the practitioner asked what outcome you want from treatment? How will you know when you get there, if neither the patient nor the practitioner has established a goal?
Ultimately it is finding a practitioner and therapy that works for you. This may take a few attempts, both with the type of therapy and the practitioner within that therapy.