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News - The work of an osteopath

By Suzie Sawyer DipION MBANT NTCC

Hundreds of people will visit an osteopath each year in the UK alone. We decided to find out a little more about their valuable work and its benefit to overall health. Osteopath Mandy Cohen, who has a busy practice in Shoreham, Kent, talked to Suzie Sawyer. 

How would you describe the work of an osteopath?

In simplistic terms, osteopathy re-facilitates the body to heal itself. We know that a patient’s medical and physical history is written within the body’s structure. Therefore, if there is an underlying problem within the structure, this will affect all other body systems. Osteopathy takes advantage of the body’s natural tendency towards maintaining a state of health and homeostasis. We know that structure governs function. An osteopath is trained to palpate the body’s living anatomy and flow of fluids.

One excellent example of the relationship between the body systems and osteopathic principles is known as ‘facilitated segment’. It is a ‘disorder’ of function of the musculoskeletal system that brings about palpable changes in tissue texture, which seem to develop a ‘shoddy’ feel, with joints in the area becoming less mobile. Facilitated segments at different levels of the spine will influence the physiological functions of organs, such as the gallbladder, kidneys and stomach, at the specific spinal levels, and are associated with a variety of physiological imbalances. 

There are a number of different techniques used by osteopaths – perhaps you could discuss some that you are using?

In actual fact, as well as helping to mobilise joints, I also do quite a lot of soft tissue massage to free up the muscles around the joints, in order to help improve blood flow and release tension in the muscles. Other gentle techniques include passively stretching the muscles. I use what is known as ‘muscle energy technique’, which involves gently moving a joint up to the point where it reaches the muscular resistance barrier. I then get the patient to contract the muscle (using less than half their strength) for a few seconds, and release, and then I repeat the process. The muscle will then start to release.

Another very effective technique is known as ‘myofascial release’, which focuses on the fascial tissues that surround the muscles. Firstly, finding the painful area at the edge of the barrier to movement, palpating the tissues and, with the patient’s breathing, the muscles may start to ‘unwind’ and I can follow the joint to the point of ease.

‘Strain and counter-strain technique’ is where the practitioner finds the tender point, moves the joint that is connected to where the pain becomes less, holding this position, and then releasing it. If you move the joint to the point where the patient doesn’t feel pain, this allows the muscles to relax around the joint, thereby helping to release it. 

How do you incorporate nutrition into your treatments?

It is very important, in terms of the body’s natural healing processes, that we work towards alkalising the body. Therefore, I ensure the patient’s diet contains good quantities of fruit and especially vegetables – obviously, I refer them to a nutritionist if their nutritional status seems poor. Equally, I always encourage patients to drink enough water, as, time after time, I find intakes to be far too low.

I will also look at a patient’s stress levels. Clearly, stress will create a more acidic environment, which will impair the body’s healing processes, but will also cause increased muscle tension.

B vitamins are, of course, great for supporting a stressed body and fish oils are important for dealing with the inflammatory response. I find MSM particularly helpful after surgery where there is scarring. Glucosamine hydrochloride is a favourite. I find it supportive for those who have had trauma or have old injuries to joints and where there is significant ‘wear and tear’. Encouraging people to lose weight definitely has a positive effect on all joints, especially the hips.

Mandy Cohen can be contacted on 01959 525350. 

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