Frequently asked questions

What's the difference between osteopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists?

It's not the role of any health professional to try to define what another health care professional is, and what they do. If you want a definition, it would be best to ask people in those professions. What we can do is tell you about the defining characteristics of Osteopathy, which are its underlying philosophy and its broad range of techniques.

While "Biomechanics" has become one of the most rapidly developing areas of medicine in recent years, Osteopathy was one of the first professions to incorporate biomechanical analysis of how injuries occur and what the secondary effects are likely to be. To take a simple example, if you go to an Osteopath with a knee injury, the Osteopath will do much more than just examine and treat your knee. They will want to know exactly how the injury occurred in order to assess not just which tissues in the knee are injured, but also whether there may be any involvement of other areas with a mechanical relationship to the knee, such as the foot, hip, low back and pelvis, and the associated soft tissues.

They will then want to analyse any possible secondary effects. For instance, you may be "avoiding" the bad knee and putting more weight on the other side. Over a period of time, this may lead to problems developing in the low back or the "good" knee. The Osteopath will then use this information to prescribe a treatment plan that addresses not just the knee, but all of the other areas of the body and associated tissues that may be involved. The plan will include attention not just to the joints and their associated soft tissues, but also to the blood supply to the affected areas, the lymphatic drainage, the nerve supply etc., in order to include all those factors which will affect the success of healing. It is this "whole body, multi-system" approach that has been the basis of Osteopathy's success over the last century.

How do osteopaths treat!

In carrying out treatments, Osteopaths can call upon what is probably the largest range of techniques used in any manual therapy. These include: Massage and stretching techniques Articulation techniques - in which joints are mobilised by being passively taken through their range of motion. Muscle Energy techniques - in which contracted muscles are released by alternately being stretched and made to work against resistance. Counterstrain techniques - which achieve release of restriction by placing the affected joint or muscle in a position of comfort, while applying a "Counter" stretch to the antagonists of the tight muscles. Functional techniques - which involve gentle mobilisation of joints in a way that "probes" barriers to normal movement until a way is found through the restriction. Manipulation - which may be used where it is appropriate and safe to do so, though it is not the mainstay of most Osteopathic treatments. Osteopathic manipulations are carried out using minimum force levels in order to maximise safety and minimise patient discomfort. Many Osteopaths also use what is known as "Osteopathy in the Cranial field", which is a gentle release technique particularly suited to young children and the physically frail. "Visceral" techniques are used in the management of conditions affecting internal organs. These involve gentle and rhythmical stretching of the visceral areas. Osteopathic treatments are tailored to the requirements of the individual patient, and techniques are selected which are appropriate to the patient's needs.

Is osteopathy proven? Does it work?

It is a common misconception that Osteopathic theories have not been scientifically validated. In fact there exists a great deal of research which not only provides a physiological basis for Osteopathic concepts and techniques, but also provides statistical data on outcomes. Reports have shown not only a consistent level of successful outcome, but also a high degree of patient satisfaction. If you wish to read further on this subject, a list of references is provided in the further reading section of this site.

Is osteopathic treatment safe?

There's no such thing as a form of medical treatment which is guaranteed 100% safe in every case. Even the painkillers you buy in the supermarket for a headache may cause severe side effects in some patients. That said, however, Osteopathy has one of the best safety records of any medically-related profession. Osteopaths are trained to recognise any condition that might make Osteopathic treatment inadvisable, and will refer patients for appropriate medical attention in such cases. Just as a Doctor regards safety as the most important factor in selecting the appropriate medication for a particular patient, so an Osteopath will also select the most appropriate style of treatment with safety as the prime consideration.

Do I need a referral to see an osteopath?

The only times you will need a referral are if you wish to consult an Osteopath under the Veterans' Affairs scheme or for WorkCare in Queensland only. (Remember that not all Osteopaths are Veterans' Affairs providers.) Otherwise you can simply contact an Osteopath directly.

Who pays? Am I covered?

With the federal government initiative under Medicare Plus, patients with chronic conditions may be referred by their GP for osteopathic treatment under an Enhanced Primary Care (EPC) plan. Patients under the Veterans' Affairs scheme and the various State WorkCare/WorkCover and Transport Accident compensation schemes have their treatment costs covered by those schemes. (Not all Osteopaths are Veterans' Affairs providers, so you should check before making an appointment.) Partial rebates are available for those members of Private Health Funds with ancillary or "extras" cover, but the amount of rebate and the conditions vary from insurer to insurer, so check the details of your policy.