This article outlines the role of the osteopath and the different reasons that you may wish to seek treatment from an osteopath for you or your child.

What is an Osteopath?

An Osteopath is a health professional specialising in a form of bodywork where the bones, muscles and joints are manipulated in order to facilitate order and healing in the body, called Osteopathy.

While traditionally osteopaths were consulted for problems of the back and spine, osteopathy is now understood to have benefits for a myriad of health problems, as diverse as asthma through to helping the body adjust through the months of pregnancy.

This holistic healing modality had an interesting beginning in the mid-west of America during the 19th century. Andrew Taylor Still, who was a medical doctor, healer and church minister became seriously disillusioned with traditional medicine, after he was unable to help three of his children who died from viral meningitis. Looking for alternatives, Andrew Still read the beliefs of ancient healer Hippocrates who said `the cure of disease lies within the body’. To this he added his knowledge of engineering to arrive at the idea that many illnesses and injuries were caused by strain – especially from tension in the muscles and badly aligned bones.

Osteopathy was born as Andrew Still began manipulating the body to allow it to resume full health in the muscles, bones and nervous system. Eventually Andrew Taylor Still taught others his method and today osteopathy is taught and used all over the world.

A form of osteopathy called cranial osteopathy has surged in popularity in New Zealand over recent years, with publicity on how it can assist babies with colic and other conditions following a traumatic birth. Cranial osteopathy uses very gentle fingertip pressure on the skull and along the spine and is also useful for those with headaches and tinnitus (ringing or noises in the ears) and in the elderly.

When should I see an osteopath?

The grounding philosophy within osteopathy is that the body has tremendous powers of healing when it is properly aligned and the inner systems are working well.

Some of the conditions that can be helped by osteopathy include:

  • Breathing problems, such as asthma
  • Problems with posture, particularly in pregnancy when these can be common
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Sore back
  • Sore joints and muscles
  • In pregnancy and postnatally
  • Sports injuries
  • Repetitive strain injury
  • Digestive problems
  • Arthritis and rheumatoid conditions
  • Pre-Menstrual Syndrome

Consider cranial osteopathy for babies after a traumatic birth and/or who may have problems with sleeping, crying incessantly or colic. Some osteopaths may recommend this during pregnancy.

How do I find an osteopath?

  • Ask friends and family for a recommendation
  • Ask your general practitioner for a recommendation
  • Look in the Yellow Pages of your phone book
  • Visit the Osteopathic Council or the Osteopathic Society of New Zealand at the websites listed below
  • Many medical clinics now have an onsite osteopath

Expect to pay around $30 – $60 for a 30 – 40 minute treatment. Some osteopathic treatments may be covered by ACC, Work and Income New Zealand or medical insurance.

What will an osteopath do?

  • Take a detailed history of your child’s medical background – especially focusing on falls, accidents and injuries and also medication or remedies you are currently taking
  • Gather detailed information about the health problem – what happened, when did it begin, how does the problem present
  • The osteopath will then examine your child’s posture standing, walking and sitting and may also check their reflexes
  • X-rays may be needed before treatment commences
  • The treatment will involve sitting or lying down while the child is massaged and the muscles and bones gently manipulated
  • The osteopath may also give advice about posture, nutrition and lifestyle factors
  • During cranial osteopathy the manipulation is incredibly gentle – it may feel that nothing is happening or just a slight sensation of being touched or muscles being pulled.

What can I do?

Osteopaths believe the body has enormous powers to heal itself, if it is helped to do so, for example by promoting:

  • A healthy lifestyle
  • Good nutrition
  • Avoidance of alcohol and drugs
  • Ensuring the body is in alignment though good posture and osteopathy to allow the blood to flow easily and the nervous system to work efficiently.

Some people visit an osteopath for a ‘Warrant of Fitness’ every 6 months or so, to prevent muscular problems occurring or recurring.

Be sure to tell your osteopath if you are pregnant, or there is a possibility that you may be pregnant.

Useful websites & articles related to osteopathy:

To find out more about the role of a Chiropractor or other Health Professionals, visit our articles in this section.

www.osteopathiccouncil.org.nz– Visit this website for information on osteopathy and also to find a practitioner

www.osnz.org– The Osteopathic Society of New Zealand has an informative website, which will help you to find an osteopath in your area.


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Kimberley Paterson is a writer and public relations expert living in Whangaparaoa. She had an initial career as a registered nurse and has spent the last 20 years writing about health and well-being.

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