A system of therapeutics, based on the normalising of the body and its functions on the principle that health depends on the maintenance of proper relationships among the various parts of the body. According to osteopathic theory, defects in the musculo-skeletal system-the muscles, bones, and joints-influence the natural function of internal organs. To correct structural abnormalities, osteopathic therapy, or treatment with the hands or by mechanical means, is used (including massage to relax stiff muscles, stretching to help joint mobility, and manipulation and high-velocity thrust techniques which can restore easy movement to the body). Using these techniques, the osteopath will endeavours to remove the abnormalities and thus re-establish the normal functioning of the body's activities.
Osteopathic medicine holds that true health involves complete physical, mental, and social well-being, rather than merely the absence of disease. The body is viewed as having a capacity for health that the osteopath can help the individual fulfil. He or she must therefore treat the whole patient, considering such factors as nutrition and mental habits in addition to the physical symptoms.
The fundamental principles of osteopathic medicine were formulated in 1874 by the American doctor Andrew Taylor Still. Still organised the first osteopathic medical school at Kirksville, Missouri, in 1892. According to Still, all diseases are caused by obstruction of arteries or nerves because of the pressure of maladjusted bones, especially of the vertebrae of the spinal column. He therefore maintained that most ailments can be prevented or cured by techniques of spinal manipulation.
Osteopaths are generally consulted to treat problems of the musculo-skeletal structure such as back pain, and many doctors refer patients to them for such treatments. It can also be used to ease pain during pregnancy, for asthma, constipation and pre-menstrual syndrome.
According to a Which? Way to health survey published in October 1993, an estimated 100'000 people in Britain visit an osteopath every week.
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