Osteopathy is a system of healthcare that identifies imbalances of motion in the body’s structure and uses hands on manual therapy to realign them. It varies widely in its scope of practice from the more physically oriented techniques like massage, stretching, and joint manipulation, to the more gentle myofascial release and craniosacral approaches. Although it is used primarily for musculoskeletal complaints there are many health conditions in which hands on techniques can benefit the patient and their ability to cope with their respective condition. Osteopaths are often asked “do you treat this or that condition?”, but the answer is always that the osteopath treats people, identifying their needs, addressing those of which they are able and referring to the appropriate avenues where they are not. Specifically in relation to cancer, osteopathy is unable to affect the cancer or influence cancer cells as such, but, as with any systemic health condition the osteopathic treatment aims to assist the person’s body to better deal with the stresses placed upon it. For example an osteopath can help restore movement and manual therapy can improve circulation, reduce swelling, and ease pain.
For a person dealing with cancer osteopathy is primarily sought for the relief of side effects of cancer therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Specifically, osteopathic treatment can provide relief of pain, muscle stiffness, stress, fatigue and sometimes nausea. Because osteopathic treatment improves the alignment and movement capacity of the body, afterwards patients often report a general sense of feeling better, as well as often the alleviation of specific tensions and pains, depending on the cause of that pain. Furthermore, the dynamic of touch and body work involved in osteopathy can help the patient come to terms with altered body image and to talk openly about anxieties. (1)
It is important to note that treatment responses vary from person to person and can depend on the complexity of the individual’s health history. People sometimes undertake a course of treatment as in the case of rehabilitation post-surgery. However, others may require or prefer maintenance treatment at varying intervals if they are suffering from a chronic condition and they find that treatment supports their ability to function.
Osteopathy is a safe therapy for most individuals. Side effects are possible and are often mild, including a slight soreness in the treated area, mild headache, or tiredness. These symptoms usually go away within a couple of days however if they do not it is best to contact the treating osteopath for advice. (2)
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