Interview with Robert Grech: Osteopathy

What is the concept behind osteopathy?

Osteopathy is a distinct system of manual medicine where the core philosophy is that the human body possesses self-regulatory and self-healing mechanisms. The body’s structure and its function are mutually related, and the role of the Osteopath is to restore a balanced structural environment in the body, through the application of techniques such as joint and soft tissue manipulation, stretches and other manual techniques, without the use of drugs or surgery. Osteopathy’s core philosophy is also focused on the fact that the body is a single unit, therefore all physiological processes and systems can have an impact on each other. It is for this reason that Osteopaths do not generally focus on a particular disease or ailment, but rather, the overall state of health of the person, through their vast knowledge and training in anatomy, physiology and bio-mechanics. To quote the founder of Osteopathy, Dr. A.T. Still: “To find health should be the object of the doctor. Anyone can find disease.”

Who can benefit from osteopathy?

Osteopaths treat people from all walks of life: from newborn infants to pregnant mothers, sports people and the elderly. Although Osteopaths predominantly treat disorders of the neck and back, they may also be able to help with certain types of headaches, pregnancy related lower back pain, jaw dysfunction, shoulder, wrist, foot, ankle and knee injuries. Some also focus on the treatment of infants: they are particularly helpful in relieving distress in colicky babies by gently unwinding tense areas and sorting out imbalances brought about during gestation and labour. Most importantly, Osteopathy is not considered to be a quick fix, but rather a way to help your body heal itself. It may not be helpful for people who expect the osteopath to sort out their problem without them taking an active role in the healing process.

What happens during a typical osteopathy therapy session?

The osteopath will first take a thorough case history and the patient will be asked to give as much detail as possible about the presenting complaint. Any previous medical history, even if the patient feels that is not directly relevant, will need to be taken in detail as well (any previous hospital stays, operations, accidents etc.). This will include a list of current medication that the patient may be taking, as well as a brief account of any previous treatment undertaken.

The patient will then be asked to partially undress in order for the osteopath to observe posture and movements of the whole body. Osteopaths are highly trained in the use of ‘palpation’ which means the use of touch: areas of tension in the body can be detected by the osteopath and noted, even if it is in a different body part from the one presenting with the complaint or injury (remember that the body is a single unit!).

Special tests in order to diagnose the problem may be used. These may be the same tests that other Doctors or specialists use and are standard in diagnostic medicine. A working hypothesis is then formulated by the osteopath and a plan of treatment is explained to the patient. Treatment may be different for the type of individual and the condition: e.g. Although osteopaths are highly skilled in the use of spinal manipulation (making the joints ‘click’ in the process), these techniques may not be used on the very young or elderly frail patients. A wide range of other techniques including myofascial release, muscle energy technique and trigger point therapy are just a few amongst the repertoire. Advice on lifestyle changes may also be given, as well as some exercises or stretches to do at home.

Is a one-time treatment sufficient normally or is osteopathy more effective as a continuous maintenance therapy?

There are some cases where a single session is enough to sort out a problem and reassure the patient. However, on other occasions, a follow up session is scheduled in order to monitor progress. The process is dynamic and further sessions are scheduled depending on the outcome of the previous treatments as there is no standard recipe for a particular complaint. Some chronic conditions may require follow-up sessions for a few months whilst others are quicker to resolve.

In Malta, Osteopathy is regulated by the Council for Professions Complementary to Medicine (CPCM), meaning that only individuals registered with the said Council are legally allowed to practice the profession and call themselves ‘osteopaths’ .

It is therefore advisable before booking an appointment, to check that your osteopath is registered by contacting the CPCM: link