Osteopathy is a therapy that involves manipulating your bones and muscles to treat symptoms and illnesses.
- Osteopathy is a hands on treatment, it does not involve surgery or drugs.
- Osteopaths focus on the bones and muscles to help diagnose and treat you.
- It aims to reduce swelling, improve movement and ease pain.
What is osteopathy?
Osteopathy comes from two Greek words meaning bone and disease. Specialists trained in osteopathy are called osteopaths.
Osteopaths think that our bones and muscles are key to diagnosing and treating many disorders. Osteopathy tries to detect, treat and prevent health problems by stretching, massaging and gently manipulating your muscles and joints.
Some osteopaths also use very gentle movements of your skull and sometimes the bone at the bottom of the spine (sacrum). This is a form of treatment called cranial osteopathy or cranio sacral therapy.
Osteopathy is becoming more widely recognised by the medical profession. Many GP surgeries throughout the country provide access to osteopathy.
Most osteopaths don’t call themselves complementary therapists and are more likely to refer to themselves as primary healthcare practitioners.
Why people with cancer use it
There is no evidence to suggest that osteopathy will help treat or cure cancer. But some people who use osteopathy say it can help to control pain and tension. They also say that it helps them to relax, which improves their overall feeling of health and well being.
How you have it
On your first visit, your osteopath will ask about your medical history, as well as looking at your general lifestyle including work, diet and exercise. These questions aim to find out what is causing your symptoms.
They will then examine you, which might include checking your heart rate, reflexes, and breathing pattern.
They might want to contact your GP to make sure you should go ahead with treatment.
To have the treatment you may need to take off your clothes except your underwear. This is so the osteopath can see and work on your muscles and joints.
The osteopath might use their hands to stretch, massage and improve movement in your spine, joints and muscles. Sometimes they use a rapid thrust type action. This can cause a popping sound due to the sudden change of pressure in the joint space. This might sound alarming, but it shouldn’t be painful.
Tell the osteopath if you have any discomfort or want them to stop at any time.
Treatment sessions usually last about 30 to 40 minutes. Most osteopaths suggest that you have between 3 to 6 sessions to get the most benefit.
Your osteopath may suggest exercises that you can do at home to help prevent further muscle and joint problems.
Research into osteopathy for cancer
The National Council for Osteopathic Research (NCOR) promotes research into osteopathy in the UK.
Most evidence for osteopathy in cancer care is based on reports by patients, osteopaths, and some doctors saying that it has helped. This is called anecdotal evidence.
There was an international trial looking at whether osteopathy can help to reduce pain after breast cancer surgery. This closed in 2015 but the results have not been published yet.
Most of the research that has been done looks at how osteopathy can help with back pain and headaches. But this is not in people who have cancer it was in the general population.
Using osteopathy is generally safe. Of all the people who use it, half might have mild effects afterwards. These usually go away within a couple of days.
The effects might include:
- a slight soreness in the treated area
- a mild headache
Contact your osteopath for advice if these symptoms don’t go away.
There have been some concerns about the possible risk of having a stroke (an interruption to the blood supply to the brain) because of manipulation to your neck.
Your osteopath will follow strict guidelines about the kind of neck manipulation they can and can’t do if you are at high risk of stroke.
Tell your osteopath if you have:
- a history of heart or circulation problems
- had a recent trauma or injury
- sudden or unusual headaches or neck pain
Who shouldn’t have it
It is important that you tell your cancer specialist before you have osteopathy. And, that you make sure your osteopath knows that you have cancer.
In most cases it will be OK for you to go ahead. But most doctors and osteopaths won’t recommend using forceful techniques, such as the high velocity thrust technique for people who have:
- any type of bone cancer
- weakened bones (osteoporosis)
- broken bones or fractures
- cancer involving the bone marrow such as leukaemia, myeloma or lymphoma
- inflammatory joint disease such as arthritis
- bleeding disorders, such as haemophilia
- multiple sclerosis
You also shouldn’t have osteopathy:
- during a course of radiotherapy
- if you are taking drugs to help thin your blood (anticoagulants)
- if you are between 8 and 12 weeks pregnant
Your doctor might not recommend that you have osteopathy for other reasons, such as during a course of chemotherapy. So always ask them before having treatment.
How much it costs
Seeing an osteopath privately usually costs between £35 to £50 for a 30 to 40 minute session. Your first appointment may cost more (between £40 and £60) because it generally takes longer.
If you have private health insurance, your policy might cover osteopathy. Your insurance policy provider will advise you.
Some GPs might be able to refer you for osteopathic treatment on the NHS, but this varies between primary care trusts.
A word of caution
Osteopathy is not a cure or treatment for cancer. It may help with symptoms you are having such as pain or restricted movement. Always let the osteopath know that you have cancer before you start any treatment.
It is very important that your osteopath is properly trained and qualified. Practitioners are required by law to register with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) if they want to call themselves osteopaths. This means they have to meet the set of standards and code of conduct as well as have insurance.
Questions to ask your CAM therapist
- How many years of training have you had?
- How long have you been practising?
- Have you had training for treating and supporting people with cancer?
- Do you have indemnity insurance? (in case of negligence)
The NCOR carries out research into osteopathy in health care. There are summaries of the research on their website.
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