Osteopathy: what it is and what it is for

Osteopathy: what it is and what it is for

Osteopathy is a set of manipulative techniques aimed at restoring the specific functions of the body and is based on the principle according to which all parts of the body are interconnected and integrated. Let’s find out what it is and when it can be useful.


Osteopathy  consists of a series of  manipulative techniques  aimed at restoring some  specific functions of the body.  Let’s find out better. 

  • What is osteopathy
  • The principles of osteopathy
  • Benefits and contraindications of osteopathy
  • What the osteopath does and differences with the physiotherapist
  • The law in Italy and abroad


What is osteopathy

The meaning of the term osteopathy derives from the Greek “ostéon”, bone, and “páthos”, suffering, and indicates a medical discipline that heals the body by restoring its intrinsic healing abilities.

Osteopathy was founded at the end of the 19th century by the American doctor Andrew Taylor Still , born in Virginia in 1828, who during the Civil War experienced firsthand the horrors of war and the lack of effectiveness of conventional medicine of the time and decided therefore to adopt a different and innovative technique for the care of their patients.

In 1892 Still founded the world’s first osteopathic school in Kirksville, Missouri, now known as AT Still University, in his honor.

According to Still, the deformation of some skeletal sectors and their interference on adjacent structures – organs, nerves, blood vessels – would be the cause of most of the diseases and disorders of the body which, after osteopathic manipulative treatments, should be able to to heal itself.

Osteopathy has excellent results as a curative treatment , but already in Still’s intentions it has above all a preventive action: “ the doctor’s goal must be to seek health, everyone is capable of finding the disease ”.


The principles of osteopathy

The principles of osteopathy originally defined by Still are still the basis of the guidelines of all schools of osteopathy in the world. These are four assumptions from which osteopathic treatments take note:

  1. The organism is an integrated unit of body, mind and spirit.
  2. The body has mechanisms of self-regulation, self-healing and maintenance of balance. 
  3. Structure and function are mutually related.
  4. Rational therapy is based on the application of the three previous principles.

The role of the osteopath is therefore to eliminate obstacles or interferences that make it difficult for the organism to activate and exploit its own and innate ability to regain balance and health.

Benefits and contraindications of osteopathy

According to the principles listed above, the pivot on which osteopathy is founded is the integration between body, mind and spirit . In a healthy organism, the structure of the organs and their function is strictly correlated and the good functioning of the former guarantees a harmonious balance of the whole. On the contrary, the disease is a state of disharmony between the various components.

Osteopathy, through specific manual therapies, acts on muscular, bone, craniosacral, myofascial and visceral structures , and is effective in the treatment of multiple disorders, including: 

  • Neck pain , back pain and sciatica ;
  • joint and muscle pain ;
  • pathologies of the pelvis;
  • arthrosis and discopathies;
  • migraines and headaches;
  • neuralgia;
  • disturbances in balance, tinnitus and dizziness;
  • otitis, sinusitis and rhinitis;
  • digestive , gynecological and respiratory disorders;
  • constipation , irritable bowel and abdominal pain ;
  • postural syndromes;
  • chronic fatigue ;
  • stress , anxiety , panic attacks .

Osteopathic treatment is aimed at all types of patients , from infants to the elderly, from sportsmen to pregnant women, and in general it is not a painful or dangerous therapy. 

Some contraindications concern its application in case of medical emergencies, serious impairment of the cervical spine or injuries and pathologies that involve serious organic damage, for which the intervention of doctors or surgeons is required.

For this reason, the damages of osteopathy are not comparable to its benefits , but it is certainly always advisable to turn to serious professionals, with long certified studies behind them, and possibly in-depth knowledge in the medical field. 

What the osteopath does and differences with the physiotherapist  

The first difference between these two professions concerns the training path.

  • The figure of the osteopath has been identified as a health profession a few years ago (Lorenzin Law 2/2018, art. 7) and was officially established starting from 25 June 2021.  To date, the title is obtained after attending private training centers because   there is no dedicated university course.
  • The physiotherapist , on the other hand, is qualified for the profession after a three-year or master’s degree course in Physiotherapy.

The institution of a degree to become an osteopath is a hypothesis that could materialize shortly: both the didactic organization of university training and any additional courses for those who have so far obtained extra-university qualifications are being defined.

The second distinction, on the other hand, has to do with the methodological approach : if the osteopath mainly uses manual therapy and manipulative techniques, the physiotherapist also uses therapeutic exercises and medical equipment, including lasers, ultrasounds, tecar and waveforms. bump.

Osteopathy also has a preventive component that physiotherapy does not have and a holistic approach in both diagnosis and therapy, taking into consideration the overall psychophysical well-being of the person; on the contrary, the physiotherapist is more oriented towards treating the local symptomatic aspect and the rehabilitative one. 


The law in Italy and abroad

In Italy, osteopathy is still considered by many to be a pseudoscience , due to the lack of proven evidence on its effectiveness, although the number of osteopaths and patients who use it is constantly increasing: we are talking about over 10 million people turn with satisfaction to osteopathic care.

On the contrary, in many other countries of the world the spread of recognized schools, university courses and study programs has been going on for several years, and osteopaths are recognized and protected health professionals:

  • In America, osteopathy has entered the public health services since 1991;
  • in Australia it spread in the early 20th century and was recognized in 1992;
  • in England, where a British Osteopathic Association has existed since 1911, the profession has been part of the health system since 1993;
  • in countries such as Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, recognition has existed since 1994;
  • in New Zealand the HPCA law has regulated the profession since 2003 and entered into force in 2004;
  • more recent are the recognition in Brazil, Portugal and Switzerland, respectively in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

In all countries where the figure of the osteopath has not yet been regulated, the reference standards have been defined by the CEN EN 16686 standard , approved on 30 April 2015, which contains indications and provides quality criteria relating to care, treatment , training, safety and professional ethics.

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