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Osteopathic treatment involves a huge variety of techniques. Some of the most common are soft tissue manipulation, articulation, manipulation and stretching. All these techniques have far reaching effects on the body and can be applied in many ways.

Soft Tissue Manipulation
Soft tissue techniques (some of which are similar to massage) are used to aid the healing process. They have profound mechanical and neurological effects beyond simply stretching the tissues. Inflammation is reduced, mechanoreceptors are retrained, lymph and venous blood is returned and old scar tissue is broken down. These are just a few of the effects covered in more detail in our article on soft tissue manipulation. Perhaps most important of all is that massage makes you relax and feel good, as the psychology of a person has the most profound effect on healing.

Articulation is the passive movement of a joint to improve the quality and range on movement of that joint. Joint surfaces do not have a good blood supply and are nourished by the joint fluid in the joint capsule. Wear and tear of the joint surface eventually leads to osteoarthritis as the body fails to repair the cartilage of the joint. Articulation pumps the joint fluid over the surfaces bringing a fresh supply of nutrients. Mechanoreceptors in the surrounding muscles are activated and the movement in that joint is retrained. The pumping motion of articulation also helps return blood and lymph back to the heart so that waste products can be removed and disposed of by the liver.

Manipulation is a highly specialised form of joint articulation that takes a restricted joint to its artificial barrier and then thrusts through this barrier with a short thrust. This breaks the restriction by stretching the muscles which have caused it and resetting their nerve supply. There is sometimes a 'pop' or a 'crack' associated witht the manipulation and this is believed to be due to a sudden release of nitrogen within the fluid surrounding the joint. It is not a necessary part or sign of an effective manipulation. Manipulation can be very effective in resolving acute joint restrictions in the minimum space of time. Osteopaths are experts in safe, effective manipulation which is taught as a core part of a four or five year degree course. Osteopathic manipulative techniques are specifically applied to the joint involved and use the minimum degree of force required to achieve the effect. If a patient does not wish to have manipulation carried out, Osteopathy has the advantage of having a wide range of articulation and gentle mobilisation techniques that can be used instead.

Stretches can either be actively performed by the client against resistance, or passively by the practitioner on the client. Stretching affects not only the muscles and connective tissues, but also works on the mechanoreceptors that report position and movement back to the nervous system. This allows the body to move with poise, harmony and ease as the muscles work in synchrony rather than against one another. Stretching also engages muscle pumps that return venous blood and lymph back to the main circulation, removing toxins from the system.

Visceral Osteopathy
Although more commonly associated with the musculoskeletal system, Osteopathic techniques can be used to directly treat the viscera or organs of the body. The hollow organs of the gut are constructed from smooth muscle tissue and can respond to soft tissue techniques. Many people suffer with minor dysfunction or discomfort to their organs, without having reached a point of breakdown that a Doctor will recognise as a 'disease'. Medicine finds these cases difficult to treat, because no observable pathology exists, and any drugs will have side-effects that may be worse than the discomfort suffered. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for example, is a diagnosis of exclusion. If a patient suffers from regular episodes of diarrhoea and constipation, and all other pathologies have been excluded, then IBS is the likely diagnosis. Visceral Osteopathic techniques can be used to reduce any spasm to the small and large intestines and help promote correct functioning.

Hitchin Osteopathic Clinic, Old Park Dental Surgery, 72 Old Park Road, Hitchin, Hertfordshire SG5 2JT 01462 432609