Treatment Expectations

Amongst the community, we have seen [in the last 3 years] an ever-growing appreciation for osteopathy and its role in helping with many painful conditions. One question we are commonly asked at the first visit is: What can you expect from osteopathic treatment?

To answer this question, one must understand that osteopathy works to enhance your body’s own healing potential by removing any obstacles from its path. This could include:

  1. Activities in your daily life that aggravate the problem (e.g. lifting, sitting too long, etc),
  2. Stiff areas that are overloading the injured tissues,
  3. Tightness in the injured or surrounding tissues,
  4. Old strain patterns that affect the functioning of an area.

Ultimately the recovery rate is governed by your general health and healing mechanisms. As a general rule those with a number of medical conditions will take longer to recover then those without.

Irrelevant of your medical history we would however expect to see a steady improvement in your symptoms within the first three treatments or 2 to 3 weeks. Symptom improvement may constitute anything from, the pain being less constant, the pain being of a lower intensity, the area of pain decreasing in size, an increased ability to perform activities, sleeping better and greater mobility.

The total time for recovery is largely dependent on how long you’ve had the symptoms for. As a general rule if the problem is:

6 to 12 months2 to 4 months

Duration of problem Approximate recovery time
Less than 1 month 2 to 4 weeks
1 to 6 months 1 to 2 months
Greater than 12 months 6 months

We would obviously expect to see an improving picture over this time frame. In some cases a 100% resolution is unrealistic however we are usually able to make the situation much more manageable. Babies and children tend to be more responsive to osteopathic treatment as their bodies are much more adaptable. Therefore, most problems are usually resolved within 1-2 months.

To summarise osteopathy works with your body to help it recover from injury. Thus the pace of recovery is ultimately governed by your body, we are merely guiding it in the right direction.

Cranial Osteopathy

In our previous article (see Cranial Osteopathy) we discussed what cranial osteopathy is. This article looks to build on this by exploring what exactly is the cranial rhythm.

Cranial rhythm
Starting at the beginning, all of our cells are continuously breathing, i.e. taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. This breathing, in a similar fashion to the expanding of our lungs, causes our cells to undergo a shape change (as the influx of oxygen into a cell will cause the volume to alter). If we use assume all the cells are doing this at the same time then not only will it create a body wide rhythm but also the rhythm will be enhanced. This enhancement allows the trained osteopath to feel it and we term it the cranial rhythm. It is a subtle rhythm and not visible (like our lung breathing). Therefore to feel it, we must use a light touch as a strong touch will inhibit the cellular shape change.

The cells in our body are located everywhere, in our connective tissue, our nerves system and even in our bones (i.e. via our bone marrow). So, this rhythm can be felt throughout the body by lightly placing our hands on any part of your body.

Fluid rhythm
In addition to the cranial rhythm, there is another rhythm of note termed the fluid rhythm. In our bodies we have a number of different fluids moving around;
1- the flow of blood in our arteries and veins,
2- the movement of fluid into and out of our cells,
3- fluid motion within our digestive and nervous system,
4- the flow of lymphatic fluid

The fluid moves in waves or pulses and therefore the net sum of this fluid movement creates a pulsating rhythm. This rhythm is very different to the cranial rhythm yet can be felt via the same approach, i.e. light pressure on certain body parts. Where there is greater fluid (i.e. near the heart) the sensation will be stronger.

By feeling thousands of cranial and fluid rhythms the osteopath is able to determine a basic shape and rate change for each rhythm. This gives the osteopath an understanding for what is ‘normal’.

In the event of injury, the cells locally are irritated or damaged. As a result their ability to exchange oxygen/ carbon dioxide and fluid alters. Therefore so does the rhythm. By comparing the rhythms between different aspects of the body and what is perceived as a ‘normal’, we are able to identify which is the abnormal rhythm and therefore where to work.

How do we treat
Here the concept differs to more commonly used techniques. When using soft tissue or joint movement techniques, our intention is to force the joint back into the correct range of movement or stretch a muscle into a length we (as the osteopath) perceive to be correct. When using a cranial approach we are simply looking to help correct the rhythm and thereafter relying on your body to sort its self out. Essentially, we are supporting the bodies endeavour to return back to normal whilst when using stronger techniques (e.g.. muscle stretching) we are telling the body what to do.