What is Osteopathy and what do Osteopaths do? By Fergus O'Connor

Posted on February 23, 2017 at 1:40 PM

What is Osteopathy and what do Osteopaths do?

As a Licensed Manual Osteopath based in Toronto I’m always having to explain what Osteopathy is and what Osteopaths do. Many people don’t know who Osteopaths are and its surprising that the profession is still relatively unknown to the general public compared with Physiotherapy or Chiropractic approaches. Having worked in Physiotherapy and Sports Injury clinics, I myself misunderstood the Osteopathic approach and what the difference and similarities were between Osteopaths and similar professions. I went on to train in Toronto within Osteopathic Manual Treatment and now working as a Osteopath I figured it would be useful to sum up the approach.

Here are 7 interesting facts you may not have known about the Osteopathic approach that help explain the approach and clarify what makes Osteopathy unique:

1.Osteopathy was invented by Andrew Taylor Still, a physician and surgeon. Still developed Osteopathy as an alternative means of treatment to the common use of prescribing drugs and antidotes at the time. He believed that using hands on manipulation of the musculoskeletal system Osteopaths could offer just as effective treatments for many health conditions.


2.The term Osteopathy can be a bit deceptive. Therefore many people assume that because of the word “Osteo” that Osteopaths work specifically with bones. This is not at all the case however and Stills theory was that disease and dysfunction could be traced to disorders in structure and function of the musculoskeletal system (Bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, fascia, etc.). Osteopaths work with a variety of systems and techniques to alter and improve the functioning and structure of the musculoskeletal system.

3.Still was also one of the first physicians to promote the idea of preventive medicine. Consequently he followed the philosophy that physicians should focus on treating the disease rather than just the symptoms. As a result Osteopaths apply the same principles. We don’t treat just the symptoms but rather look for the cause of the illness.


“Let the foundation be level, and all will be well”

Dr. Andrew Taylor Still

4.In the United States, Osteopathic Medicine is a branch of the medical profession. Students in Medical school can choose to study traditional Medicine or Osteopathic Medicine. Physicians are fully licensed doctors and can practice Medicine and Surgery throughout the United States. This is also the case in all Canadian provinces, including Toronto and over 65 other countries worldwide. Manual Osteopaths are not physicians. Manual Osteopaths use hands on treatments to treat disease but do not prescribe medication or perform surgeries.

5.Manual Osteopaths assess, and treat injury and disease in the body using the same principles of Osteopathic medicine. The 4 principles of Osteopathy and the Osteopathic approach are:

• The body is a unit; the person is a unit of body, mind, and spirit.

• The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing, and health maintenance.

• Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated.

• Rational treatment is based on an understanding of these principles: body unity, self-regulation, and the interrelationship of structure and function.


6.In Osteopathic practice there is no single protocol applied across the board to all patients or conditions. This is where Osteopathy differs from say Physiotherapy, where there are treatment protocols for specific conditions. Another key difference is Manual Osteopaths only use their hands for treatments. Chiropractors and Physiotherapists often use tools such as ultrasound or instruments to aid adjustments which differs from Osteopaths.

7.Osteopaths utilize a “whole body” approach. Manual Osteopaths focus on the whole body. If you arrive with shoulder pain we will assess your shoulder, and your spine, and continue throughout the whole body to ensure there are not some restrictions elsewhere which may be causing the dysfunction. We don’t limit our view of dysfunction to just the spine or just the area that presents with pain. Structure and function of the whole body and how it all works in unison is important to us and our approach to treatment reflects this.

Osteopathy has a lot of similarities with other professions and involves similar techniques such as soft tissue mobilization, therapeutic stretching and releasing of dysfunctional muscles and fascia. However, the unique approach of treating the whole body and treating the individual patient not the symptom are some of the defining qualities of Osteopaths and their approach.

Sessions with our Toronto Manual Osteopaths are generally about an hour-long and are very hands on. We focus only on one patient at a time and do not leave the room during the treatment. If you haven’t experienced an Osteopathic treatment before you will be surprised at the level of attention you receive and the multiple areas of tension that a good therapist can identify and release within a single session.

At Osteofitrehabwe offer Manual Osteopathic treatments in our Toronto location for a variety of conditions. Although we specialize in working with sports injuries and all forms of Arthritis, our treatments are applicable to any type of pain or dysfunction. If you would like to experience a treatment contact us today!


Fergus O' ConnorFergus is a Manual Osteopath and Certified Personal Trainer with over 16 years of experience in Osteopathy, therapeutic exercise, manual therapy, personal training and exercise rehabilitation. He is the owner of Osteofitrehab in Toronto.



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